Sharp Journalism Seminar students at William & Mary shared insights from their year-long research and writing journeys to an audience of more than 40 students, staff and faculty March 26 in the Grimsley Board Room. 

Shradha Dinesh
Dinesh is investigating rising sea levels and their impact on communities in Norfolk, Virginia. (Courtesy photo)

The four-credit, two-semester seminar, which is a partnership between the Charles Center and the Pulitzer Center, serves as William & Mary’s incubator for investigative reporting.  Undergraduates receive close mentorship from Pulitzer Center-sponsored journalists as they learn and practice how to write for a broad audience about important topics of their choosing.

Shradha Dinesh ’24, a data science and self-designed political journalism double-major who first learned about the Sharp seminar while in high school, discussed her reporting on rising sea levels and their impact on communities in Norfolk, Virginia. 

“Every story, even one on as big a topic as climate change, becomes a local story, and my reporting in Norfolk helped me see how rising waters are affecting real people — their lives, where they live, and the quality of their neighborhoods,” Dinesh said.

In the first semester of the seminar, students learn the nuts and bolts of journalism and begin focusing on a topic to investigate in depth. Over winter break, students take their interviewing and reporting skills on location for a first-hand perspective funded through the seminar.

Tuinman traveled to the Bahamas to report on economic burdens of the climate crisis. (Photo by Hannah Tuinman)

In the spring semester, students develop and craft their stories for a public audience. Because W&M is part of the Pulitzer Center’s Campus Consortium network, students’ stories are eligible to be published on the Pulitzer website each spring.

Charles Center research awards enable Sharp fellows to travel locally and globally over winter break to investigate and report on their topics.  The range of travel for this year’s cohort is perhaps the most diverse in the program’s history, ranging from Greece and Japan to California and Washington, D.C.

For Hannah Tuinman ‘25, the Sharp Seminar was a horizon-expanding experience. Using her Sharp travel grant, Hannah visited Abaco in the northern Bahamas. There, she reported on how international corporations and governments attempt (and often fail) to address the economic burdens of the climate crisis.

Hoang traveled to Philadelphia to report on a proposed development near Chinatown. (Photo by Vivian Hoang)

With this grant, Tuinman was able to “speak with a range of local people who had different experiences and perspectives such as residents, business owners, educators, and local politicians,” she said.

“My trip to Abaco significantly broadened my perspective on the economic, social, and political implications of large-scale hurricanes for a small island nation,” Tuinman concluded.

Vivian Hoang ‘24 echoed how the Sharp seminar exposed her to new ways of thinking. Her reporting took her to Philadelphia, where she investigated the ways in which a proposed arena threatened to displace local residents and businesses in the city’s historic Chinatown.

“Thanks to funding from the Charles Center, I was able to stay in a hotel that was only a 5-minute walk from Chinatown and fully immerse myself in the neighborhood to get a firsthand feel for the community and its members,” Hoang explained.

Two metal planters sit on a brick driveway and under palm trees
Devendorf traveled to San Francisco, where she reported on hostile architecture, property rights, and housing development. (Photo by Sarah Devendorf)

“I went on an in-depth walking tour with two local activists and interviewed local business owners, all of whom added the very necessary human emotion and color to my story as I sought to uplift and portray their full stories,” Hoang said. “The fabric of my story would not have been complete without directly going to their community, hearing their voices, and seeing the places they lived and worked.”

For many students, the Sharp Seminar provided an invaluable immersion into the theory behind journalistic writing, as well as its practice.

Sarah Devendorf ‘25 used her travel grant to visit San Francisco, where she reported on hostile architecture, property rights and housing development. She noted that “despite the fact that the Sharp Seminar is a very independent research experience, we got a lot of one-on-one time with professional journalists in the field.”

A person shakes their hair while playing a guitar
Stillwell reported on the road with emerging transgender punk bands touring from Washington, D.C., to Pennsylvania. (Photo by Faith Stillwell)

From the numerous professionals engaged with the seminar, Devendorf remarked that she “learned so much about how to conduct journalism in the real world, and it opened my eyes to many post-grad career options that I never considered before. We received lots of applicable and transferable information about writing for a lay audience. I learned much about how to represent sources honestly and effectively in journalistic writing.”  

Faith Stillwell ‘24 reported on the road with emerging transgender punk bands touring from Washington, D.C., to Pennsylvania.

From these experiences, Stillwell learned “how integral human connection is to journalism. Interviews aren’t just about information, but people, and it was deeply moving for me to be able to have such raw, powerful conversations about the lives and passions of those I talked to.”

The Sharp Seminar was established through a generous gift from Anne and Barry Sharp in 2010.