Four rising seniors from Forsyth County joined a group of 75 students from across the state this week for Leadership Unplugged: A CNN Experience.
The weeklong program, held at CNN Worldwide and the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, provides students with a series of training sessions and discussions focused on leadership and media literacy.
Emily Cho and Adam Marshall of West Forsyth High and Cate Hackling and Tara Keil of Lambert High were chosen from a pool of more than 580 applicants to participate in the program.
They took part in a lengthy application process that included an essay on a current news topic, recommendation letters from teachers and interviews with CNN employees.
The students’ reasons for attending the program were diverse.
Both Cho and Hackling are interested in pursuing journalism careers.
“I plan to major in it in college,” Cho said.
“I’m very involved with my school newspaper and want to be an anchorwoman someday,” Hackling said.
Marshall and Keil said they were interested in other aspects of the program.
“I’m interested in how a corporation like CNN goes about its business,” Marshall said.
Keil said she wanted to learn more about effective communication.
“I’m undecided on a future career,” she said. “But I figure no matter what I do, strong communication skills can help me.”
Throughout the week, the students took part in a range of workshops focusing on topics such as diversity, ethics in the media and audience engagement.
They also had a chance to tour the CNN facility and meet a number of CNN employees and executives.
Marshall said it was his favorite part of the experience.
“Meeting all the behind-the-scenes people was really interesting,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed learning about what all it takes to get news on the air. There’s so much more to it than most people probably think.”
Hackling said she’s most enjoyed meeting people.
“It’s been great to make contact with so many of the CNN executives and other people in this field,” she said. “I’ve also enjoyed networking with all the other students.”
Keil said various panel discussions have held her interest.
“It blows my mind how everything is so organized,” she said. “The ethics panel was really interesting to learn about. That group decides where to draw the line between freedom of speech and when a news story might endanger someone.”
The week culminated in the students actually “pitching” ideas for news stories to CNN executives, something all four students were excited about.
Their story ideas ranged from complications stemming from high amounts of educational debt to whether or not some narcotics should be legalized.
All four students said they were grateful for the experience, which they believe will benefit them in the future.
Cho said meeting some of the other participants has given her renewed hope for the future of her generation.
“Some of these kids are unbelievably talented and smart,” she said. “It makes me so happy to see kids here who really do care about the future.”