Making a difference in the world

Cronkite Outstanding Graduate Student will apply journalism skills to covering environmental justice in her native Pakistan

woman's portrait in front of ASU Cronkite School building

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2021 graduates.

Journalism student Zoha Tunio is exactly the type of person that Arizona State University likes to send into the world — someone who will make a difference.

It doesn’t take a futurist to predict the Fulbright Scholar will be transformative in her job as an investigative journalist once she gets settled in and starts her career.

“I am driven by the passion to amplify voices of South Asian women in global journalism and research,” said Tunio, who hails from Karachi, Pakistan. “I’m also cognizant of the fact that I come from privilege and many in my country have not had access to the same education or same exposure to the world as me. So, it’s very important for me that the work I do reflects this self-awareness and is not some version of savior journalism.”

The 26-year-old graduates this month from ASU with a master’s degree in investigative journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fittingly, she has been named the Cronkite Outstanding Graduate Student for fall 2021.

After her Dec. 13 graduation, Tunio will be off on a new adventure. She’s going into the new year as a Roy W. Howard Fellow at Inside Climate News, where she will report from Pakistan on environmental justice issues in the region.  

ASU News recently spoke with Tunio about her experiences at ASU (which she called a “great fit”) and her plans.

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

Answer: I don’t think it was an “aha” moment so much as it was a series of realizations. I had stumbled into journalism as an undergrad because I enjoyed writing, but it wasn’t until I started reporting for class assignments that I fully understood how much I enjoyed doing this.

For my undergraduate thesis project, I worked on a story about access to safe abortions in Pakistan. During that process I got a chance to speak to a number of women, all of whom came from a variety of different backgrounds but with one commonality — they had never shared their stories with anyone. One of my sources told me how sharing her story made her feel liberated like never before. That’s when I knew that I wanted to continue being a vessel for people to share their stories through. And that’s what led me to eventually to ASU.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU?

A: I think my biggest lesson has been that your voice has value. As an international student in a primarily American classroom, I was initially very nervous about sharing my views. I would make myself small and speak only when spoken to. To some degree this was also because we were taking classes on Zoom for the first half of the program. But slowly and steadily I started integrating myself into the cohort more, I started speaking up more, I started sharing my thoughts out loud and I learned that not only was there power in my voice but that the diversity of opinions benefited everyone.

It’s when we are exposed to truths other than our own that we can truly thrive collectively, and for that to happen each one of us needs to have a seat at the table. So, owning my voice while simultaneously making sure that I’m making space for everyone else’s has been my biggest takeaway from my time at ASU. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: After my undergraduate degree I was interested in a program where I would be able to hone my skills in investigative reporting, and ASU’s MA in investigative journalism offers exactly that. I was also interested in reporting stories in a different context to see how I would perform in a challenging environment and where I didn’t have a pre-existing network or community. ASU’s professional program like the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism was another factor that contributed greatly to my decision in coming here because I knew it would provide me the opportunity to work with a large group of fellow reporters and journalists on a story with national reach.

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

A: That there is strength in community. When I first started school, I was taking classes online from Pakistan. My peers were mostly in Phoenix; they were attending classes together and hanging out with each other. But they never made me feel left out. They would reach out to me all the time and ask me if I needed help with my assignments. They constantly made sure that I felt included.

When I finally arrived in Phoenix in January 2021, it felt like I had known these people all my life. So, I would advise those still in school to look out for each other, be there for each other, remember that none of us succeeds until all of us succeed! 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus?

A: Oh, that’s a tough question, so I’m going to pick two. First, the courtyard in the H.B. Farmer Education Building on ASU’s Tempe campus. I think that space is incredibly well-designed, and it always makes me feel like I’m in a cocoon. The second one would be the outer Hayden Library basement. Again, such a nice, quiet space to sit and contemplate. Can you tell I have a preference for the quiet spots? 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I have been selected as one of the Roy W. Howard Fellows this year, and what that means is that I’ll be joining the not-for-profit newsroom Inside Climate News as one of their environmental justice reporters. I’m particularly excited about this opportunity because I’ll be working for them from Pakistan and reporting on stories from that region. So that’s what I’ll do for one year, and after that I guess the world’s my oyster all over again.

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

A: I mean, to be completely honest, I can’t exactly comprehend how much money that is in practical terms. It might be a lot, it might be too little and my answer may end up sounding unreasonably ambitious. But something I feel very passionately about is climate justice and it doesn’t feel like $40 million would mean a lot in the grand scheme of saving the planet, but if it can start some grassroots movements and a collective in South Asia, then I think that might be worth doing.

Top photo: Investigative journalism graduate student Zoha Tunio is a Fulbright Scholar from Karachi, Pakistan. She graduate from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication this December. Tunio will head home to be a Roy W. Howard Fellow at Inside Climate News, where she will report on environmental justice issues in the region. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

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