Pulitzer Center funds Elon student journalists in Cuba

Seniors Kassondra Cloos and Rachel Southmayd will report on sustainability initiatives in the outskirts of Havana.


Two Elon University journalism majors will travel to the outskirts of Havana, Cuba, in January to complete a project on sustainable farming for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which is assisting the pair with their travel expenses.

Upon return to the United States, seniors Kassondra Cloos and Rachel Southmayd will team with Associate Professor Glenn Scott and Pulitzer Center reporters to edit their work. The finished package of photos, video and storytelling is to be featured this spring on the Pulitzer Center’s website.

The duo is accompanying a half dozen graduate students in Elon’s Interactive Media program who will also be in Cuba to produce a separate multimedia package on sustainable agriculture. That team, led by School of Communications senior lecturer Randy Piland, is visiting an urban organic farm to produce an interactive website that teaches the history and methods employed to feed developed areas of the country that at one time relied on food imports.

Recent improvements in diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba have made possible the educational visit by Elon University students. The farm is an example of a successful, nonprofit collaborative enterprise in a Communist nation where most industries are run by the government.

“It is neat because your project becomes public domain,” Southmayd said. “We have no idea where it could end up, and the audience for something like this is huge, and you don’t see stories like this often – it’s a very unique topic.”

Scott said he agrees and believes the project will be a successful starting point for future partnerships with the Pulitzer Center.

“We wanted to do something special to launch the program and draw attention to the great things that Elon does,” Scott said. “It is a great chance for our students to see the real world international reporting, and I hope we can keep this going.

“Not many reporters from the United States have enjoyed chances to report in Cuba. As opportunities are arising, we thought this would be a great time to send students there to do some fresh and insightful reporting.”

The School of Communications last spring became a member of the Campus Consortium of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Elon is one of only 17 partner colleges and universities in the consortium, which enables students to participate with Center journalists in creating awareness media campaigns about under-reported global systemic issues.

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is a non-profit journalism organization in Washington, D.C. The Center supports independent journalists who cover international topics that are under-reported by traditional media outlets.

Cloos and Southmayd, who currently work with Elon’s student media organization The Pendulum, both said they are looking forward to getting the chance to work in the field.

Southmayd, a native of Delaware, said she is excited to visit Cuba after studying abroad in Israel last spring.

“I took a trip to West Bank and became very interested in disenfranchised people and looking at how we tend to judge a culture because it doesn’t match ours,” she said. “Looking at those cultures and people gives you a better perspective on your lifestyle and really expands your worldview, and that’s what I’m looking forward to by going to Cuba.”

Cloos, a Rhode Island native, said she has been outside of the United States once, and that was for a single day in Mexico. “This will really be the first cultural immersion experience,” she said. “I’m excited about meeting brand new people and getting a glimpse into a culture I really don’t know about at all.”

– Information provided by Addie Haney and Emily Hines