Senior Teniola Ayoola will attend this year’s dinner alongside some of the country’s most renowned journalists.
By Julyssa Lopez
Four years ago, senior Teniola Ayoola listened as a friend described her hectic day-to-day schedule: She was working multiple jobs, helping out at White House events, juggling a full course load and getting little sleep. But, the friend declared, all her hard work would be worth it in the end.
This steadfast determination and zeal touched Ms. Ayoola so much that she decided to share her friend’s story with the rest of the university community. She started Humans of GW, a popular Facebook page, radio show and student group modeled after the online photoblog Humans of New York, to highlight inspiring stories on campus.
Humans of GW has become a university staple and marks one of Ms. Ayoola’s first forays into storytelling. She’s worked toward her goal of becoming an international reporter by securing journalism and communications internships at the National Peace Corps Association, the BBC, the Washington Informer and the Department of Justice.
Now, she’s one step closer to her dream as the 2017 recipient of the George Washington University-White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) scholarship.
The award is in its third year and grants one senior in the School of Media and Public Affairs an opportunity to attend the annual WHCA Dinner and network with some of the country’s most prominent journalists. The winner also receives a $2,500 scholarship to be applied to his or her fourth year.
Ms. Ayoola was returning to D.C. from a trip to New York over spring break when she got an email from SMPA Director Frank Sesno. He scheduled a phone call that she assumed was related to schoolwork.
“I thought he was going to say something about a project we had just submitted. I didn’t have a clue. Then he called me and told me I’d won this scholarship, and I was really surprised. I didn’t even know I was being considered for it,” she said.
Several professors, including Assistant Professor of Media and Public Affairs William Youmans, had noticed Ms. Ayoola’s dedication to international journalism and diverse storytelling, and nominated her for the scholarship.
“She is a hardcore journalist and worldly in her outlook, as well as tremendously gregarious. She is a terrific ambassador for SMPA,” Dr. Youmans said.
In addition to hosting a show on the university’s WRGW radio station and working as a resident advisor, Ms. Ayoola spent ten months interning at the BBC’s Washington bureau, where she got her first exposure to broadcast news and helped reporters with research and assignments. Later, she spent three months reporting at the BBC's Nigeria bureau in her hometown of Lagos.
Returning to Lagos not only gave Ms. Ayoola practical and technical reporting skills, but it also made her more aware of how Western media covers issues in Nigeria and the rest of Africa. She became interested in how she could dispel stereotypes and tell more nuanced narratives that reflect local communities.
“Rarely do we receive a variety of stories that look at the positive or humanized everyday lives of people in Africa,” she said.
At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Ms. Ayoola hopes to meet and network with other journalists. Some of her SMPA classmates, selected to attend as guests of prominent news organizations celebrating the future of the free press, will join her at the celebration. She says the that as the media navigates a complicated relationship with the Trump White House and grapples with the best ways to report the news, the event comes at a compelling time.
“Professional journalists will have interesting things to say about the future of news and reporting the next four years,” Ms. Ayoola said. “I’m excited to hear about how we can cover the administration fairly and what our role is moving forward.”
Additionally, Ms. Ayoola said this is a chance to share her own personal narrative with others. She explained that at a time when anti-immigrant rhetoric seeps into the national conversation, she hopes to showcase the beauty of the country’s diversity through her own life experience.
“I see myself as Nigerian and American. I want to show that there are different kinds of Americans, and there are places that recognize the positive contributions of immigrants. GW noticed something in me and noticed what I have to offer. That’s why I’m here,” she said.