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RMU Student Places First in Regional Journalism Competition

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Suicide is not an everyday discussion on a college campus. In fact, most students try to avoid the conversation as much as possible. That is why junior TV/video major Kendall Valan joined an initiative to bring light to this dark subject. 

Her five-minute video project, Student Suicide Aftermath: Who’s Responsible? sought to raise awareness on the issue of suicide as well as the services Robert Morris provides to help prevent such tragedies. Her project earned her first place in the journalism category of Entertainment Industries Council’s Generation Next competition.

“I wanted to do a serious topic, which is why I chose student suicide,” said Valan. “It’s an eye-opening topic that gets pushed under the rug a lot of times, so I wanted to learn about preventative measures RMU uses and how students help other students who are struggling with it.”

 Generation Next is a mental health initiative that was created to empower Southwestern Pennsylvania college students and journalists to create accurate stories about people living with or recovering from mental illness. Each contestant could focus on one of three categories: social media, film and video, or journalism.

Students were paired with a professional mentor to assist them with their projects. Valan worked with David Solomon, executive producer at WQED, and had five days to complete her project. She immediately began interviewing RMU Counseling Center staff, students, community advisors, freshman mentors and mental illness professionals. 

“The more that students like Kendall talk about suicide and the darkness it’s in, the more aware people will be about the issue,” says Randon Willard, wellness and crisis counselor for RMU’s Counseling Center. 

Valan wanted to partake in the competition after Carrie Moniot, student media advisor, gave a speech about how professional journalists often give off a negative stigma about suicide. 

“With more than 1,000 suicides on college campuses every year, suicide is the third-leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds,” says Moniot. “Kendall's decision to focus on the survivors of suicide added originality to this socially significant topic.”

 Valan then reached out to the medical director of The JED Foundation, Victor Schwartz, who said that campuses should have multiple opportunities for students to connect to groups that may help resonate and feel sympathetic to their interests, concerns and needs. Valan concluded that RMU does an excellent job when it came to this area of need. 

“Robert Morris continues to surprise me. There’s a reason I went to a small school and it’s the support system you have with faculty,” she says. “The Counseling Center has grown as well as the procedures they do.”

Valen is from Lancaster, PA and says this is the first official award she has won during her time at RMU and is excited to have the opportunity to be a part of this initiative. On Dec. 3 she will be honored and her work will be exhibited at the fourth annual Southwestern Pennsylvania Media and Mental Health Awards reception.