It all started with the high school yearbook.
That’s where University of Pennsylvania rising sophomore Clare Lombardo of Decatur, Ga., first learned she loved to write. The interest not only led her to Penn but, this summer, to an internship with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a guest blogger for education columnist Maureen Downey’s blog, “Get Schooled.”
“Yearbook was where I first got excited about working on publications,” says Lombardo. “I found I enjoyed writing and that I was actually good at it.”
When researching colleges to attend, she came across Kelly Writers House at Penn and decided to apply.
“I heard about the Writers House, it was unique among colleges I was looking at and it was a big draw. A recruitment director gave me a tour, and I wanted to know more,” she says.
Lombardo has not yet declared a major, but creative writing and Kelly Writers House have become a big part of her Penn experience. Last year, in addition to the freshman writing seminar, she took a creative writing class and an art criticism class. She also writes for 34th Street Magazine of the student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, and has published a piece in the spring issue of Symbiosis, a student-run magazine on campus that celebrates the literary and visual arts.
“I’m still trying to figure out what kind of writing I like to do,” Lombardo says. “I’m trying my hand at different things, and I’m in an advising group led by my creative writing professor, Jamie-Lee Josselyn at the Writers House.”
This year, as summer approached, Lombardo decided she wanted to try her hand at journalism. She says Maureen Downey’s name immediately came to mind.
“I did a teaching internship in high school that got me interested in education issues. I read the AJC every day and Maureen Downey’s blog and her editorial column on Mondays and got to know her work, so I decided to reach out,” says Lombardo.
Internships at the paper are normally for rising juniors and seniors, but that did not deter Lombardo who contacted Downey directly. Her email inquiry led to a meeting and then an offer to serve as an intern and guest contributor to the “Get Schooled” blog.
Recalling the process, Downey says, “We had one long first meeting where Clare shared her ideas. We talked about what worked for a daily blog. She had read the blog, so she understood what drew readers. I told her to write some pieces and let me see them. When I saw the quality of her writing, I knew she was capable of producing strong blog essays.”
“I have had many guest bloggers,” says Downey, “but Clare is the only official intern. Most guest bloggers write one or two pieces a year. And most are academics. Clare is the first regular student writer.”
Lombardo says Downey has taught her a lot about writing a blog and about responding to readers.
“Maureen sometimes covers controversial issues in education such as class and race, and her blog is unique and interactive. She’s taught me that part of the process in learning newspaper journalism and blogging is developing a thick skin for criticism and ways of interacting with readers,” Lombardo says.
Lombardo credits a memoir writing class, part of the creative writing course at Penn, with teaching her to write in the first person.
“My column is written from my personal perspective as a college student; that is what makes it unique. A memoir class at Penn last year helped me to learn how to be comfortable writing about myself,” she says.
The internship is part-time and unpaid, but Lombardo can set her own hours and that flexibility has allowed her to take on paid work as a babysitter. She says she spends about four days a week researching and writing.
“I got lucky with this internship, because the work and the timing are so flexible,” Lombardo says. “Maureen has really let me take the reins and is letting me write about what I want to. I feel like she really trusts me. She is my editor but really is letting me do my own thing. I usually set a deadline for myself to finish each post so I don't procrastinate too much.”
Downey says Lombardo took to the position quickly.
“Clare lets me know what she wants to focus on in her next piece. I may offer a suggestion or two, but her ideas are solid. She is a talented and natural writer.
“But along with her strong writing, Clare understands what will interest and hook readers. That combination – coming up with intriguing ideas and then bringing them to life – is critical to becoming a successful blogger.”
Lombardo has written on topics ranging from technology in classroom to the digital divide to the debate over homework to the integrated math curriculum for high school students in Georgia to Common Core standards. She researches her topics by following other education blogs and reading up on current issues nationally, as well as following what is going on locally in the Atlanta schools and in Georgia.
“The hardest part of the process for me is nailing down a subject and an angle to approach it with,” says Lombardo. “There are not a lack of topics to write about; it's just hard to nail one down because there's so much going on in schools in the education policy world right now.”
She says one of the most rewarding pieces she’s written was a response to an article published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“When the AJC recently published an extensive article about racial gaps in gifted classes in Georgia,” says Lombardo, “I started thinking about writing a post when many blog readers responded. I began researching a little, and I realized how complicated the issue was.”
For Lombardo the experience has been eye opening.
“This internship has taught me a lot about journalism and the subjects I've written about,” says Lombardo. “Most of all, I've seen how widespread misinformation is, and that's one reason why quality journalism is so important. I've also seen how multi–faceted each issue is and how important it is not to simplify viewpoints.”
This fall, as Lombardo returns to campus for her sophomore year, she says she is hoping to take her writing experience and some of the lessons learned from the internship to work as a peer tutor in writing.
“As part of the critical writing program, I’ll train in the fall and start tutoring in the spring. I’m really excited about that,” she says. “I love writing. I’m not sure where I’ll end up, but I’m having fun figuring it out.”