There were 16 in all, from various parts of the state, young, curious and a bit tired. They were high school students who were spending the week in an intensive journalism training program at the University of Arizona.

The students had been tutored by experienced, award-winning journalists. Their instructors engaged and encouraged them. The students were challenged to exceed and to excel.

After five days of lectures, practice, and more practice and demonstrations, what may come from this experience is the birth of a future journalist. Or more than one.

“Having a voice is what I like,” said América Parra, a 17-year-old senior from Lake Havasu, about what she discovered during the journalism boot camp.

The students hailed from Tuba City, Mesa, Nogales, Tucson and Fort Thomas, a small town near Safford.

They participated in the annual Journalism Diversity Workshop for Arizona High School Students, directed by Elena Stauffer of the UA’s School of Journalism and a former staffer with the Arizona Daily Star.

The instructors included José Galvez, who served as associate director, and Frank Sotomayor, both Tucson natives who won journalism’s Pulitzer Prize in 1983 while they worked with the Los Angeles Times.

Other speakers in the session came from the School of Journalism, including its director, David Cuillier.

To make a direct connection with the students, former summer workshop students and current UA journalism students served as mentors to the 16 students.

Discovering a voice, your own, is a life-changing experience. I knew exactly what Parra meant.

My journalism career got its kick-start when I attended a summer-long training program in 1982 at the University of California in Berkeley.

I was fresh out of the UA bearing a nascent interest in journalism. I wasn’t sure journalism and I were meant to be wed.

We were and we did, going on 32 years.

Of course the practice of journalism has changed dramatically in three decades but its foundation of reporting and writing remains constant.

And that is what the students encountered during their workshop.

“I wanted to see if I liked it,” said Lynnsi Nichols, 17, a senior at Red Mountain High School in Mesa. “It’s something I’m very interested in.”

Like Parra, Nichols is finding her voice in her writing, which she said her father had long encouraged her to do.

“I can express myself better when I write,” she said. “I feel I have found my spot.”

The greater value of the workshop is not that a journalist or two will blossom but that the 16 students will emerge with confidence in themselves and that they will continue to pursue a lifelong journey of discovery.

Jonas Saganitso has already embarked on that road.

“I love to meet people and take their photos and write their stories,” said the 17-year-old senior from Tuba City on the Navajo Nation.

The students arrived to the campus not really knowing what to expect. But they formed friendships and came to understand what they can expect when they complete high school and continue their studies. They grew up a little.

In the end, if one or two journalists were born at the workshop, they’ll look back at their experience, appreciate those who helped form them, and someday give back to a new group of budding journalists.

Ernesto “Neto” Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. Contact him at or at 573-4187.