Graduate student journey – from acceptance to fellowship Published: April 13, 2022 By: Pamela Estrada Mathew Miranda (he/him)UC Berkeley School of Journalism; narrative and investigative track Joy trails through each word Mathew Miranda shares about the day he received his acceptance to UC Berkeley. Miranda is a second-year graduate student on the narrative and investigative track at the School of Journalism. During his program, Miranda worked to refine his writing and develop his photography skills, something of which his mentor Photojournalist Ken Light has made a major impact. Miranda’s hard work and skill paid off, earning him the Jim Marshall Fellowship in photojournalism. Now approaching graduation, Miranda reflects on his time at Berkeley and looks ahead towards his career goals. Q: What was your reaction when you received your acceptance letter to UC Berkeley? Miranda: I was so, so happy. I have a specific memory. I was working at the time for the city of Chico Public Works departments, doing manual labor. We had just gotten our lunch [when] I got the news. I was shocked. It’s the only school I applied to for that year because it was my first choice. I figured, why not just give it a chance [and] apply there, [UC Berkeley]? If I don’t get in, the next year I [will] apply to all these other journalism schools, but I really want to [attend] Berkeley. I’m a native Californian, so I wanted to stay in California. I looked at USC’s program for a bit, but it’s only nine months and I wanted something that gave me time to develop, grow and form relationships. Berkeley’s program [is] two years, and, as you said, its reputation for being one of the best journalism schools in the country. A lot of the journalists have come out of [the] program just excelled tremendously. I was shocked that they [Berkeley School of Journalism] accepted me. I thought I didn’t really have a chance. I was coming from a small state school, [California State University, Chico]. I only had one year of professional journalism experience, and it was at a small local paper as a weekend reporter, working part time. In my head I was like: There’s no chance I’m getting [accepted] into the school. But I got it and I was really happy. I [will] never forget: My grandmother was the first person I called, and we had a good conversation. It was amazing. I called my parents after that. I was so happy. “I will never forget. My grandmother was the first person I called.” - Mathew Miranda Q: Why did you choose to attend UC Berkeley? Miranda: Like I said, being a native Californian, I wanted to stay in the state. I grew up in Southern California, L.A. area. [Completed] undergrad in Northern California. I went to visit the [Berkeley Journalism] school twice. The very first time it was just for [a] one on one meeting with… she no longer works there. Their name [is] Camille and we had a one-on-one conversation and [it] went great. I spoke to her very openly about my indecisiveness to apply because I felt I wasn’t qualified enough. You know, I’m coming from [a] small school and I had a 3.4GPA. But she really encouraged me to apply and [that] meant a lot. [We also] talked a little bit about my experience, my background, and life. If you ask me, that was a good first conversation. She also just showed me around the building. [The second time] I came on [campus], I believe it was open house. Right before the pandemic, a few weeks or months before the pandemic struck. I was able to walk into some classes and speak to some students. Another big reason I wanted to go to this school was because [of] a part time lecturer they had, Chris Ballard. He’s a Sports Illustrated writer, and I had read [his work] growing up. I was a big fan of his work. At the time he was teaching J200 in a sports class. [Miranda] had the opportunity to talk to [Ballard in] a small [group] discussion where [Ballard] spoke about the school and class [technique]. It felt hard not to jump at that opportunity [to be in classrooms with] one of [his] heroes, journalism heroes, essentially. Q: What relationships have you developed while studying at Berkeley? How have those relationships impacted your experience? Miranda: I feel like I’ve definitely [gained] relations[ships] out of the faculty. The one that stands out to me the most would probably be: I’ll say Ken Light. He’s my photography professor. This is the fourth class I’ve taken with him this semester, and I’ve taken three previous classes with him, this is actually a repeat course I’m taking with him again. Because I enjoyed his class so much. When I came to the school, I had very limited photography experience. The only photography experience I had was that year working, after I graduated from undergrad, at a small local paper, Chico Enterprise-Record. During the weekends, they didn’t staff a photographer. I was essentially forced to be a photographer for my stories. They gave me a camera and said, shoot. I’d always been scared of… Not scared. I mean, kind of scared of cameras. In undergrad, I just felt like I didn’t know anything. They seemed very techie. It seemed like a lot of work went into understanding them. All through undergrad, I use[d] my phone whenever they asked me to take a photo. [At Chico Enterprise-Record] I was forced to essentially work with a camera. I really started to enjoy it, and that was one of my favorite, if not the favorite parts of the job. When I got into J-school [at Berkeley], I knew that I wanted photography to be one of my focuses. My very first semester, I took Intro to Photography with Ken Light and immediately I just felt welcomed by him in his class. I encourage everybody to take his class whenever they mention they like photography or someone interested in photography. [Light is] so encouraging and he works with people from all different levels of experience. I was coming in with no experience but also people I know in his classes that have 10-15 years of professional experience, and he’s just so encouraging. [Light’s critique is] so helpful [while] not bringing you down. I continue to take all his classes and I feel like we built a great relationship with every class I’ve been in. I was honored that last semester he selected me as a Jim Marshall Fellow. I was so happy with that achievement, because again in my head, I’m like, I’m so limited in photography experience, and the committee would still select me. It just speaks to how my work has grown over the last year and a half that I’ve been here. I mean, a large portion of that is thanks to him [Light] and just being around students that have some kind of photography experience and learning from them. Q: What advice would you share with incoming students ? Miranda: There’s a few things, I mean, it’s funny because they’re kind of contradictory. The first one [is,] take advantage of the variety of courses the school has. I dabbled in audio and photography even though I came in on the narrative track. My primary focus was improving my writing. But at the same time, I took photography courses and I learned so much from Ken [Light]. My first year, I took two audio courses, so I think it’s great to take a variety of classes and just find out what you like and what you don’t like. A big part of this program is [finding the] career path you want. [Another] part of this program is learning the things you don’t like and the things you don’t want to do in the future. So that’s the first thing, and then the other thing, which I said was kind of contradictory: as soon as you can also figure out what you want to hone in on at this school and put your focus into that because it is only a two year program. It goes by very quickly. It feels like I just started here [and] now we have two months left. Q: What are your goals after graduation? Miranda: Long time ago and I still want to do this, [is to] one day teach journalism at a university level. I feel like the school has set me up for that because Betsy [Rate] and I have talked about that a lot. Last year, she let me plan a teaching journalism panel. I contacted three former alumni that had gone on to teach. They came in for an hour session and explained how they got their jobs [and] what their jobs consist of. [Gave] advice to students looking to go into teaching. That was really helpful and I found connections with those three people. About the author: Pamela Estrada (she/her) traveled from Los Angeles to the Bay Area in pursuit of the skills to grow as a journalist. She is a writer, reporter and photographer interested in investigative reporting, OSINT, and shifting the narrative on (im)migration. A first year graduate student at UC Berkeley School of Journalism. Estrada enjoys cinematic film, long distance running, traveling, and taking pictures when she is not reporting.