DENTON (UNT), Texas – Three graduates of the University of North Texas' Frank W. and Sue Mayborn School of Journalism won the prestigious Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Award in the category of online feature reporting for work they did while they were students.
Danielle Garcia, a December 2015 journalism graduate from Dallas, won the award for her piece "The Land of Royal Honey," about a beekeeper named David Carrillo from the town of Tunkas in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. Garcia spent a month in Mexico writing and interviewing people for the story.
"It took me the entire time to write and took me a while to nail down the heart of the story and the main characters," Garcia said. "Once I met David, it was clear that he was very knowledgeable and would be a main source for interviewing."
The piece is part of the Mayborn School's Heart of Mexico Literary and Visual Storytelling Project, which allows students to face the challenges of reporting in a foreign country. Students take classes at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico in Tenancingo and find local citizens to interview and profile.
Tyler Cleveland, a summer 2015 photojournalism graduate from San Antonio, also won the award for his short documentary film about a beekeeper named Ignacio Núñez. The film, "The Beekeeper," chronicles how Núñez became a beekeeper after living in the United States for 10 years.
Cleveland said he was taking a three-semester sabbatical and living with a group of missionaries near campus when he had a vision for the project.
"I had a vision [of] a honeycomb drawn with light," Cleveland said. "The story was a personal confirmation for me that there was a deep spiritual connection with beekeeping for me and many others."
A third student, Laura Jarriel, worked with Garcia and Cleveland in Mexico and took pictures for the piece. Jarriel, a December 2015 photojournalism graduate from Austin, now works as a multimedia news intern at the United Nations in New York. She said that she is proud of the project.
"I cannot express enough the value of the Heart of Mexico project," she said. "I hope it continues to push young journalists to become better."
The students previously won first place in the SPJ Region 8 awards before they could participate in the national competition.