BYU visiting professor leads Chilean journalism students to D.C.

Six journalism students from the Universidad del Desarrollo in Santiago, Chile pose with their professor, Myriam Ruiz. (Maddi Driggs)
Five journalism students from the Universidad del Desarrollo in Santiago, Chile pose with their professors, Myriam Ruiz, left, and Felipe Gálvez, right, in Washington D.C. (Maddi Driggs)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Chilean student Ángela Bielefelt dreams of becoming an international journalist or a TV news anchor someday.

Thanks to BYU visiting professor Myriam Ruiz and an opportunity to cover the U.S. presidential election in Washington D.C., Bielefelt’s dream is becoming a reality.

Ruiz and ten students from the journalism school at the Universidad del Desarrollo in Santiago, Chile, are spending a week in D.C. to cap off their semester-long project on the election. They have been producing articles and multimedia elements for their website, highlighting the candidates, swing states, Obama’s legacy, and breaking news on the election.

The students’ work is being published by Pulso, a Chilean economic and political newspaper. The U.S. embassy in Chile will also be streaming the students live from D.C. on Election Day.

“We feel important,” journalism student Nicolás Gacitúa said. “They (the media) take us as professionals and not like students of the university. They take us as professional reporters in the United States to cover the elections.”

A group ranging from first-year to fourth-year students, the Chilean journalists have been working together since July to report on the election. They met once a week and talked with Ruiz, their communications professor, on Facebook Live while she was in Utah.

“First we started learning about the U.S. and politics in the U.S. and how the government works,” Bielefeldt, a fourth-year student, said. “Then we got more into the elections. We did news reports and interviews with people and video and photography classes.”

Ruiz said one objective for her students in D.C. is to learn about the U.S. press and the functions of the media as they meet with the Washington Post as well as Chilean reporters and photographers at other American news outlets.

Other objectives include understanding American democracy and culture while touring the nation’s capitol and of course, learning the fundamentals of reporting.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for them,” Ruiz said. “It’s a huge experience on the battlefield. If they are able to do this, they can do anything.”

As a first year student, Gacitúa is grateful for the experience and knows it will be an important asset to finding a job in the future.

“I come here to cover the most important election in the history of the United States in my first year,” Gacitúa said. “Now I have four more years to see the process and make it more professional.”

Coming to the U.S. to report on the election also caught the attention of third-year student Rosario González.

“I love the United States and this was an opportunity to come here,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t like politics, but I think this year of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was very interesting.”

This trip is helping González get one step closer to her goal of writing for a fashion magazine in New York City. She would also love to be a radio producer in Chile, a more realistic option, she said.

Ruiz first brought a group of students to the U.S. for the presidential election in 2012. Some of her former students are now working for CNN in Chile. It was a trip that changed their life, she said.

“We had a great experience. It’s been four years since that, and most of my kids (students) now are working or finishing school,” Ruiz said. “A lot of them having gotten very good jobs and internships because their resumes say they covered the election in the United States.”

Ruiz continued to coordinate trips to the U.S. for her communications students for the next three years, covering topics such as economic recovery and the visit of the Pope in 2015.

Though it’s not easy for Ruiz’s students to pay their own way to the U.S. — not to mention communicating and conducting interviews in English — she knows the experience for them is worth it.

“We are doing so much more than just teaching a class and that’s why I keep doing this,” Ruiz said. “Even though it’s a big sacrifice for my family, it’s a great way to teach what real journalism is.”

Ruiz met Professor Ed Carter, director of the BYU School of Communications, while he was mentoring students on a multimedia project in Chile in 2014. Carter and Ruiz kept in contact, and Carter later invited her to come to BYU as a visiting professor during fall 2016.

She was happy to meet up with her students in D.C. and to help them report on the election, something she describes as a gratifying experience.

“When you feel like you’re helping someone so young to find out what he is going to be doing happily for the next few years, it feels good. I like it,” Ruiz said.

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