ASU grad found it gratifying to be on forefront of investigative journalism

November 23, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

When José-Ignacio Castañeda Perez was a young boy, his mother emphasized the importance of earning an education in the United States. Now, as a young man, Castañeda has achieved that goal with a bachelor’s degree from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.  Jose-Ignacio Castaneda Perez Download Full Image

Castañeda, who minored in Italian, is also a recipient of the 2020–2021 Charles A. Stauffer Memorial Scholarship and the 2020–2021 National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ María Elena Salinas Scholarship. In addition, he has been named an Outstanding Undergraduate Student for Cronkite’s Fall 2020 Convocation, scheduled for Dec. 14 at 6 p.m. 

“I’ve always tried to make her proud by working hard and accomplishing the most I can while furthering my education at ASU,” Castañeda said, referring to his mother. “My Mexican heritage and immigration into the United States at 6 years old motivated me to focus and excel on my education at Cronkite."

Castañeda, who was born in Salamanca, Guanajuato, Mexico, and grew up in Aurora, Illinois, aims to work in a digital or print newsroom as an investigative journalist. He also is interested in food and dining reporting. He said his experience at Cronkite gave him the tools to accurately and fairly report important stories, regardless of the subject. 

“I focused on being open to new opportunities that contributed to who I wanted to become as a journalist, whether that be investigating a little-known division of ICE or reporting on the Valley’s food scene,” he said. “I tried to focus on who I wanted to be in the future and took the necessary steps to fulfill my goals.” 

Castañeda was part of the inaugural class of the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, one of the school’s capstone programs that provide students immersive professional experiences. He and his seven teammates investigated ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations and its use-of-force incidents nationwide. “It was tough, exciting and gratifying to be on the forefront of investigative journalism at Cronkite, and it was one of the experiences I’m most proud of,” he said. 

During summer 2020, Castañeda furthered developed his investigative skills as a reporter in the Carnegie-Knight News21 program at Cronkite, which brings together students from around the country to investigate a topic of national importance. This year’s project, “Kids Imprisoned,” focused on the nation’s juvenile justice system. 

Here’s what Castañeda had to say about his path to — and passion for — journalism.

Question: What was your “aha!” moment, when you realized you wanted to study journalism?

Answer: After I wrote one of my first short stories in a creative writing class in high school, I decided to dedicate myself to honing the craft of writing and storytelling. Needless to say, I decided to major in journalism.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: Everyone’s version of success is different. I learned to pursue the things I’m passionate about and everything else will follow.

Q: Why did you choose ASU? 

A: I chose ASU because I understood that it housed the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, which offered the most immediate and hands-on experience while studying journalism. The reputation of Cronkite and the experience it offered really drew me in to choosing ASU.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Jacquee Petchel supported me and helped me grow a lot as an investigative reporter. Both in News21 and her in-depth reporting class, she taught me a lot about the field of journalism and how to become a better reporter. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: As Fleetwood Mac would say, “Go your own way.” Create your own trails and blaze your own path as you make your way through your education. Don’t measure your success based off of other people’s accomplishments and experiences. Everyone is on a different path. Figure out what’s important to you and work hard to achieve it. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot, and past workplace, on campus was the Cronkite Global Initiatives suite on the third floor. It was a very calm and relaxing environment that felt like more than a workplace.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I will be continuing my education and pursuing my mass communication master’s degree at Cronkite as part of the 4+1 program. In the future, I hope to work in a digital/print newsroom as an investigative journalist. On the other hand, I also hope to someday work as a food and dining reporter at a newsroom. I’m looking forward to utilizing my journalistic education at Cronkite to accurately and fairly report important stories in the future.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would aim to lift up the voices of underrepresented, minority and remote populations that have not had the platforms to have their voice heard and their stories told. I think this is a problem that multiple industries face, not just journalism. 

Written by Kasey Brammell

A childhood promise leads to a bright future in criminal law

November 23, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

Once an 8-year-old child who promised his mother he would go to law school, Alexander Kong is now grateful for the knowledge he gained while pursuing his Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. And he’s ambitious about the future. Alexander Kong Alexander Kong is an ASU Law fall MLS candidate with a focus on criminal law. Download Full Image

“The ASU Law professors truly changed my perspective on how the world works,” said Kong, who will graduate this fall with an MLS in criminal law. “I wish I had started the MLS program a lot sooner because the curriculum was mind-blowing. I wish our education system made it mandatory for institutions to teach our young generation the fabric of our beloved Constitution.”

Kong, a U.S. military service member from Monterey Park, California, said he chose ASU Law because of his great experience as an ASU undergrad while he earned a Bachelor of Applied Science in operations management. He now looks forward to completing his military service and then furthering his education in pursuit of a JD degree with the goal of becoming a criminal lawyer.

Question: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

Answer: There are so many professors to choose from but Sandra Erickson from the SDO 501: U.S. Law and Legal Analysis course really stood out. Miss Erickson was a fair but firm kind of professor. She really opened my eyes to the world of law, and I thank her for that.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Keep grinding because you will get there. It doesn't matter how long it takes as long as you finish strong.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would fund any organization that is actively pursuing effective ways to convert ocean water to potable water. There is a world water crisis where at least a billion people do not have access to safe water. Unfortunately, 3% of the Earth's water is fresh and desalination requires an abundance of electricity to turn ocean water to potable water. I hope to see an effective solution within my lifetime.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: I'm an online student and my favorite spot for power studying was at the bar. My friends always pressured me to go hang out with them. So I looked like a complete fool at the bar with my iPad, law books, and a book stand. They were busy having fun while I crammed away with my classes.

Julie Tenney

Director of Communications, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law