Rite Of Passage: Annual Photojournalism Event Welcomes Freshmen, Recognizes Award Winners

he 2013 Freshman Welcome and Photography Awards celebrated photojournalism students and welcomed the incoming freshman class

It was an evening of introductions, recognition and exhibition. The 2013 Freshman Welcome and Photography Awards brought undergraduate photojournalism students and faculty, Kent State University President Lester A. Lefton, CCI DeanStan Wearden and JMC Director Thor Wasbotten to JMC’s third-floor exhibit space and FirstEnergy Auditorium on October 7. 

Hosted by photojournalism director David LaBelle and instructors Gary Harwood and David Foster, the program was both an initiation and celebration for JMC’s talented photojournalism students, as faculty welcomed the incoming freshman class, with students recruited from locations as diverse as China, Texas and Akron, and acknowledged the accomplishments of the 2012-2013 academic year, the most award-winning year in the last 30 years for JMC’s photojournalism program. 

Award Recipients

Looking Ahead

The evening provided the perfect opportunity to focus on the future – specifically, what it will take to succeed in the photography business. Lefton, the evening’s keynote speaker and an accomplished photographer whose work is featured in the Fall 2013 JARGON, spoke candidly to the students about the future. “Becoming a professional photographer requires more than technical skill. You need to understand how to monetize the craft -- how to translate it into a job,” Lefton told students. He also offered focused advice:

•    “Network like crazy. Show your work to everyone who will talk to you about your work. Talk to a lot of people, go on interviews, be nice.”
•    “You need a website, in multiple formats.  You need to be on Instagram and Facebook and what every comes next. The world of social media is just beginning. Get in on it.”
•    “Be an entrepreneur. Use every opportunity to display your work in every place that will show it. Once you’ve established yourselves, don’t give away your work. Value your work.”
•    “Hone your skills. Take business classes and go to Blackstone Launchpad and learn how to write a business plan for yourself. It’s not too early and it’s not too late.”
•    “Do fabulous work.”


Lester A. Lefton

Wasbotten reinforced the president’s message. “You have the opportunity right now to find your voice – who you are and who you will be – your personal brand,” he told students. “On average, you have about 1,357 days from the start of your freshman year until you earn your degree.  Keep improving your writing skills. There is no better skill for storytellers to have. Choose your elective courses wisely. Work closely with our incredible faculty, Student Media and each other. The skills you learn at JMC will provide you an adaptable skill set that can take you anywhere.”

Wearden congratulated students and noted, “JMC is an extraordinary school – one of the best in the nation. The resurgence of our photojournalism program is nothing short of remarkable.”

Recognizing Excellence

Highlighting the evening were tributes to the remarkable work of students and faculty, who achieved national and international recognition in the 2012-2013 academic year. “In my 30 years at Kent State, I can’t remember a year like this, a year in which we won more than 50 awards,” Harwood told the crowd. Harwood held up the cover of Photographers Forum, which features “Exorcism,” the award-winning photo illustration of Brooke DiDonato, ’12. “This book is the who’s who of photography, but there is only one cover, and that belongs to Brooke DiDonato. That says something about the amazing year we’ve had. We are building a culture of energy, drive and passion. We have students entering major competitions like the College Photographer of the Year awards on their own initiative.”

One of the most notable awards of the past year was the “Ohio Understanding Award,” presented by the Ohio News Photographers Association (ONPA) to JMC photographers and the Massillon Museum for the “Tiger Legacy” project.  JMC photojournalists spent a year chronicling the Massillon Tigers high school football team for a successful exhibit last fall at the Massillon Museum.  “This


project started as a project about a football team. It became a cultural project – a project about a team and

its community,” Harwood said. “This project is still unfolding in front of us. We’ve been invited back for another year, and we’re planning a book project. We want our freshmen to participate in projects like this.”

JMC photographers were recognized in several other ONPA award categories as well, including:


  •  “Best of Show” and first place in the features category to senior Chelsie Corso.
  •  First place in the pictorial category to senior Alexis Pfeifer.
  •  Second Place, “Student Photographer of the Year” and the Larry Fullerton Scholarship to Hannah Potes, ’13.
  •  Second place in the spots news (small market) category to senior Matt Hafley.
  •  Third place, “Student Photographer of the Year” and third place in the news picture story category to senior Coty Giannelli.
  •  Third place in the pictorial category to adjunct professor David Foster, ’09.
  •  First place in the portrait personality category to instructor Phil Long.
  •  Third place in the issue illustration and “Award of Excellence” in the same category to Brooke DiDonato, ’12.

JMC recognized its promising students and an outstanding alumnus during the program. Three 2012-2013 freshmen,Rachel LeGoubin, Erin McLaughlin and Melanie Nesteruk,  and three seniors,  Chelsie Corso, Brian Smith and Tom Song, were given “2013 Exemplary Student” awards. 

Paul Tople, ’70, an Akron Beacon Journal photographer for 42 years who shares in three Pulitzer Prize team awards, including one for May 4, 1970 coverage, was given the “Friends of JMC Photography Award” for 2013 for decades of devoted mentoring to photojournalism students. “This job has taken me places I never thought I’d go, and allowed me to meet people I never thought I’d meet. I’ve had the opportunity to work with presidents and first ladies,” he told students. “If you really want to be a photojournalist, be a photojournalist. Be the best photographer you can. Through your eyes, people will see history.”

“The event revealed what a wonderful team we have, and how fortunate students have been to have mentors like Paul Tople to guide them,” LaBelle said. “We are blessed to have a dedicated, tight-knit and growing photojournalism family. We appreciate President Lefton, Dean Wearden and Thor making time in their busy schedules to attend and speak.  It meant a lot to the students.”


Kent State President, Dr. Lester Lefton, talked with students about photography and the job market during the annual Freshman Welcome and Photography Awards at the FirstEnergy Auditorium on October 7.

Photo by Eslah Attar

Members of the “Tiger Legacy” team who received the Ohio Understanding Award from the Ohio Newspaper Photographers Association include (from left to right):  Adrianne Bastas; Coty Giannelli; Alexandra Nicholis Coon, Executive Director of the Massillon Museum; Caitlin Bourque, Jenna Watson, Jessica White, Chelsie Corso, David Foster, Gary Harwood and Thor Wasbotten. The cultural project captures the connection between the Massillon football program and the Massillon community. The project will become part of the permanent collection at the Massillon Museum.
Photo by Kristi Garabrandt

POSTED: Friday, October 11, 2013 04:33 PM
Updated: Thursday, July 9, 2020 03:08 PM
School of Journalism and Mass Communication