Bonnie Wong poses in front of graffiti during a reporting field trip for professor Alan Mittelstaedt's high school journalism summer program.
USC Annenberg / Alan Mittelstaedt

High school senior Bonnie Wong reflects on summer journalism program

Bonnie Wong is a senior at Mark Keppel High School in Monterey Park, California. One of 21 students selected, Wong participated in USC Annenberg's four-week summer journalism program for high school students, taught by professor Alan Mittelstaedt.

How did you hear about the program?

I heard about the program originally through my school's guidance office. My school counselor and I communicate on a daily basis and she forwarded me an email suggesting this program because she knows that I'm highly interested in journalism and that the USC Summer Program offered the News Reporting in the Digital Age course.

Why did you decide to apply?

I first heard about USC through my father who is an alumni of the school of architecture, so USC has always been an influential name to me. Just hearing the name "USC" has always sparked an interest in my mind. However, I never had that opportunity to experience campus life and work in a real world college setting, so I jumped on the chance to do so by applying.

What was your favorite memory from the program?

At my high school, I never really got the opportunity to work with others. In my community, people generally keep to themselves and use negative setbacks to motivate them to do better. The environment was completely different here, and it shocked me tremendously. What I enjoyed most about the program was the positive learning environment. Our professor encouraged group collaboration, and we often found ourselves working in a group setting and bouncing ideas off of each other as a whole class. USC really fostered such a great place to be at. From the moment I stepped on campus, I saw myself as a part of this welcomed Trojan family. Instead of being told I couldn't do something, my professor and classmates were always encouraging me that "I could" and these seemingly limitless possibilities was where I learned and grew so much from.

What were some of the stories and projects you worked on?

As a news reporting course, we focused on current events. Every day we would collaborate as a class to discuss the top trending stories and out of them came projects we worked on. I was able to cover the tragic Charleston, South Carolina shooting that occurred in June when a gunman killed several church members. We also took a new angle of the 2016 Presidential Election by featuring some of the lesser-known candidates who are running. Each week we would visit a new location around the Los Angeles area and get a few interesting interviews on topics ranging from California's drought to the quality of life in L.A. For my project, I decided to write about high school censorship. The topic is very dear to my heart because I am Editor-in-Chief of my school's publication. What interested me in this topic was that a school in our district's rights were violated when the principal censored their newspaper for writing a story about a popular teacher's dismissal. Even though the summer program has come to a close, I still find myself referring back to it on a daily basis. For example, I recently found out that our school's online news website will no longer be able to act on it's own, rather the school district will have control over it. Through writing my article, I see that "censorship" is even more relevant to our school today too.

What were the field trips like; where did you go?

The field trips were a time where I really got to put myself out there in the world and interview strangers about their opinions. It's fascinating to see people's responses and behaviors and how that can be interwoven into a story. Our first field trip was to the Central Park across the street from the Department of Water and Power John Ferraro building. There we interviewed people about California's drought. Ironically, the park has a huge fountain where many children were playing in. The second field trip we attended was to the Arts District. It was an interesting scene because you could tell that the new buildings and progressively creeping up on the older artwork and urban gentrification threatens the preservation of the original area. Another field trip we went to was the Broadway District where tourism affects the community greatly and made for a great article. Lastly, we toured the Grand Central Market and surrounding areas where we were able to interview locals and visitors alike. The field trips were highly memorable for me because I was able to exercise what I learned in the class.

Are you interested in journalism as a possible career?

Journalism has always been my career of choice. I have such a strong desire and passion to expose the truth through writing. However, just a few weeks before the summer program, I started to become hesitant about pursuing journalism because of the many negative things I heard about the profession. In addition, in my community nearly no one majors in journalism and many people have tried to persuade me to against doing so. However, I think the point where I became 100% confident that this was something I wanted to do was because of the wonderful experience I had from the USC Program. The course really cemented my faith in the journalism world and extinguished all my prior fears.

I can honestly say that the USC Summer program provided me with the best four weeks of my life. As cliché as that may sound, I feel that I was able to accomplish so much and make an impact in the world. I was able to make friends who are as equally passionate about journalism as I am. In addition, I'm so grateful to my professor for all that he has done for me. The program was truly an experience never to be forgotten and I always joke around with others saying I'm having "USC withdrawals" because of how much I miss it.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.