For Stefanie Ilgenfritz (A.B. 1988), bureau chief of health and science for the Wall Street Journal, there really isn’t a typical day at work.
“So there’s the 9:30 a.m. news meeting,” Ilgenfritz says, “where the editors who put together the website and the paper come together to talk about what’s going on. But from there, things can be pretty different, day to day.”
On days where there is breaking news, Ilgenfritz says, her team can be scrambling to get quotes, build stories, and get headlines out to the newswire. On other days, though, Ilgenfritz has more time to do research, read through proposals, and work with reporters on their long-term story ideas.
She also carves out time to think about how the work that her team is doing fits into the larger organization, making strategic decisions about what stories would work best for the website, for videos, and for podcasts.
Ilgenfritz has been in this space for a long time, and co-led a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for “Medicare Unmasked,” a yearlong investigative series that delved into previously secret health care data. But her background isn’t in the natural sciences.
A communications major at U-M, Ilgenfritz grew more interested in science and health topics over the course of her career through the work she was doing and the stories she was telling.
“You learn a lot from the reporters,” Ilgenfritz says. “I’ve been an editor for a very long time, working closely with very smart people to execute their ideas. And a good editor knows not to tell everybody what the story is. A good editor listens to what they are telling her is going on.”
Finding the Path
For most of her time at U-M, Ilgenfritz wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after she graduated. But at the end of her second-to-last semester, a professor pulled her aside and asked if she had considered journalism. The professor pointed out how much she enjoyed the material and how the strength of her writing and research skills would be a real asset in the professional world.
“It was quite a moment,” Ilgenfritz says.
Ilgenfritz returned to Ann Arbor last fall to bring some of that energy back to campus to encourage current students interested in the news industry. As part of the Alumni Connections event series put on by the LSA Opportunity Hub, Ilgenfritz ran a discussion with a group of interested LSA students who all signed up to hear from someone doing important work on the front lines of the national news business.
“The questions from the students were really interesting and smart and thought-provoking,” Ilgenfritz says. “They really showed an excitement about and a commitment to journalism.”
The LSA Opportunity Hub works to give students the vital connections, coaching, and support they need to connect their academic interests to their professional aspirations. The Alumni Connections events have brought in alumni including Jud Hoffman, head of community operations at Pinterest; Kirsten Kortebein, a photographer who has worked with the New York Times and elsewhere; and Jeffrey Seller, the producer of Hamilton.
The LSA Opportunity Hub has a number of events every semester—including the one with LSA alum Steve Sugerman, founder and president of Sugerman Communications Group, that is pictured above—to connect students with industry leaders.
What sets these sessions apart from similar programs is their small size and informal tone. The goal of Alumni Connections events is to provide an opportunity for alumni and students to have a frank conversation that is personal and authentic. Students get a chance to explore and understand an industry that they’re interested in without having to worry about competing for a position at the end of the interaction.
“In the Hub we are designing the interactions so that students and alumni make meaningful connections,” says Paula Wishart, LSA’s assistant dean for student development and career initiatives and head of the LSA Opportunity Hub. “We're committed to creating opportunities so all students can gain access to alumni in whatever industry or career path they are interested in pursuing. That’s the beauty of the LSA community—students’ interests are vast and our alumni are everywhere, and very willing to support our students.”
“Connections like this totally go both ways,” Ilgenfritz says. “For students, it’s great to meet alumni in a field they’re interested in. For a kid from some small town in Michigan to see a path for themselves that leads from where they are now to a national news organization, seeing an alum who has done it helps them believe that there is a path for them.
“And for me, it’s just so encouraging to talk to young people,” Ilgenfritz says. “It makes me really optimistic about the future of journalism knowing that there are so many enthusiastic young people interested in it. It’s inspiring.”