Cronkite graduate driven by passion for storytelling

April 24, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

When Autriya Maneshni arrived in the United States in 2009, she learned how to speak English from watching news programs, including those on Arizona PBS. Autriya Maneshni “I don't think there's a cooler job out there in the world than being a journalist. Every single day of my life I'm going to be making new connections, and I'm going to be going to new places and meeting new people,” said Autriya Maneshni, who will give the student convocation speech at the Cronkite School's ceremony. Download Full Image

Years later, Maneshni is set to embark on her own journalism career after attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and reporting for the news division of Arizona PBS, Cronkite News.

Maneshni, who is from Iran, is preparing to graduate from the Cronkite School and Barrett, The Honors College in May with her Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and mass communication.

She was named an outstanding on-campus undergraduate student and was invited to join Kappa Tau Alpha, the national honor society for journalism and mass communication. She is also the Barrett Honors College’s 2023 Outstanding Graduate. Maneshni will give the student convocation speech at the ceremony.

Aside from reporting for Cronkite News, Maneshni was the station manager of Blaze radio, Arizona State University’s college radio station. Blaze was named the best college radio station in the U.S. by The Princeton Review last year.

“I realized really quickly that I love storytelling, and I think journalism is such an incredible profession to be in,” Maneshni said.

Maneshni’s fondest memories include recording a five-episode podcast to complete her undergraduate thesis for Barrett. The podcast focused on what objectivity looks like in the 21st century.

She also reflected on working on a story for Cronkite News about a group of Hopi women who were translating election material to the Hopi language. The story took second place in the Radio Feature Reporting Category at the 2023 Broadcast Education Association’s (BEA) Festival of Media Arts contest.

Maneshni also won the BEA’s “Best of Festival” prize for her story “Switch Lab,” a piece about high school students who built a road-worthy electric vehicle as part of a class. The “Best of Festival” prizes are the highest honors awarded at the festival.

“I don't think there's a cooler job out there in the world than being a journalist. Every single day of my life I'm going to be making new connections, and I'm going to be going to new places and meeting new people,” Maneshni said.

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

Answer: Something that shocked me was learning just how much journalists use social media. I didn’t realize it before, but I learned that sometimes the best way to connect with your audience is through your use of social media. I didn’t used to be a big Twitter person before, but now it’s one of my go-to social media platforms for journalism.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I'm very big on school spirit. In high school, I was always the dorky kid that would dress up for every single spirit day and was involved so much in that high school culture. I was in love with it, and I think ASU is such a great place for that. We take great pride in being Sun Devils. It was just such a welcoming atmosphere. I remember when I went to orientation, and I had the best time of my life. My tour guides were so much fun, and they were so excited to welcome you to campus. So I think that was a huge factor. Everyone was very prideful of the school and where they come from. I also really wanted to be in a school where there's just so much to do.

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

A: The professor that immediately comes to my mind was my community engagement professor, Celeste Sepessy. She taught me a whole new way to do journalism. And she really took me away from this kind of formulaic journalism that I was stuck on for so long. She told me that some of the best stories that a person can write is to take the journalist away and be a human being, and just sit there and listen to people. She said a huge part of our job is filled with so much talking and going into an interview or a story with a certain idea in your mind and, really, missing that big picture. So listening to the community is so important because half the time, they're going to be the ones that are actually going to give us the story ideas.

Another professor that stands out is my current Cronkite News Director Allysa Adams. She always tells me to stand up for what I believe in and to chase what I want. She tells me not to be afraid of whatever stands in my way. She really made me feel like I belong on TV and that people like me belong on TV, and she really encouraged me to keep my personality as is and not change for anyone. Plus, her mentorship and guidance is the reason I’ve decided to choose TV reporting as a career.

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

A: This is going to sound so cliche, but trying something new. Going out of your comfort zone is huge. I started out doing audio, but I decided to give TV reporting a shot. I still remember the first time I picked up a camera and a tripod, and I sat there and I thought to myself that this is maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever had to learn. My back was hurting from the heavy tripod, and I was sweating in the 110-degree heat trying to cover an event. And I was like, I can’t do this. But I realized I just have to give things some time, because now, using the cameras has become second nature to me. Trying new things and giving yourself the time to adjust is so important. I think our society is so fast-paced, right? We expect results so quickly, and I think we have those expectations for ourselves. I think we have an expectation for ourselves to be perfect immediately and get it right on the first try, but there has to be some grace and there has to be an adjustment period and I had to teach myself that.

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

A: The gem of downtown Phoenix is City Cafe (City Central Coffee) in the University Center. I cannot stress this enough. I love this coffee shop and P.O.D. Market so much. It is amazing. Their coffee is inexpensive, and they never have long lines. They have punch cards so you could even get free coffee. And their workers are some of the sweetest people I have ever met in my life. They're so kind, and they're always asking about my day. I'm a regular, and they know me. I remember the first time I discovered City Cafe, and it felt like I was a kid on Christmas morning. I was actually live-tweeting campus locations for a JMC 305 assignment when I stumbled upon this place. I am a huge City Cafe advocate.

My other favorite spot is the Bill Austin Radio Studio. I love being in the studio. I love getting to close the door and play my favorite Iranian songs for 30 minutes. It's such a vibe, and it's a great little home away from home because I'm playing all my Iranian music and it makes me feel so cool and special.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am headed off to Binghamton, New York. I will be a multimedia journalist for WBNG 12 News, which is their CBS affiliate. It’s a real full-circle moment because I interned for KPNX 12 News here, and now I'm going to be working for another 12News again.

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

A: I would try to solve the way that immigration works and especially for migrants. I was an immigrant myself. I had a very easy immigration process unlike a lot of other people. I was very lucky and very fortunate. But I know that a lot of people don't have that luxury. If I had the money, I would make a program where it would be easy for everyone to qualify, whoever wanted to move here without having to worry about all of the hardships that come with it. Because immigration and immigrating somewhere shouldn't cost an arm and leg. Everybody has a dream, and everybody wants to achieve their dreams and some dreams are easier to achieve here in America, speaking for myself.

Written by Sierra Alvarez

ASU graduate aims to demystify AI through children's book

April 24, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

How do we understand the story of artificial intelligence? Student Kacy Hatfield Kacy Hatfield Download Full Image

Kacy Hatfield is a student in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts who aims to make the story of AI accessible to all – and is doing so by writing a children’s book. Kacy is graduating this May with a degree in digital culture, and is an undergraduate researcher for the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics.

After graduation, she will pursue a master's degree and has been invited to participate in the Machine Intelligence Group at Draper Labs

She shared more about her college journey below. 

Question: Tell us a bit about your experience at ASU and how you came to study digital culture.

Answer: I actually came to ASU as a biochemistry major; I love chemistry and math, but the career path wasn't exactly what I wanted. I then explored career and creative job opportunities where I found digital culture and in just three days I was hooked and made the switch. And there is still so much of what I love in studying AI, and I get to integrate my love for chemistry and math into that. 

I actually hadn't even heard of machine learning until spring 2021, and after my professor introduced it to us, I asked her for book recommendations. From then on, I was obsessed with AI.

Q: What inspired you to pursue undergraduate research? 

A: Well, I actually did my honors thesis shortly after I learned about AI and machine learning. I decided that I wanted to pursue it, even though I really didn’t know much about the subject, and I pitched it to several professors I wanted to work with, who all were very supportive. I defended my thesis almost exactly a year after I had first learned about machine learning, and I just had such an amazing time working on my thesis that I wanted to continue doing research. 

I then found the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, which had an undergraduate research opportunity on responsible AI. I met with Research Program Manager Erica O’Neil over Zoom, and I thought it would be the perfect continuation of my work. It’s amazing to keep doing research on this, not just to learn but to ultimately come away with more questions. 

Q: You're working on a really fascinating project, in which you’re developing a children’s book on AI. Can you share more on this project? 

A: The premise is an illustrated children’s book that tells the story of an algorithm named Pip — like the command in Python Programming Language — and Pip has to classify seashells on the beach. How Pip classifies them starts out in very simple terms, and as waves wash up on the shore, more advanced terminology is revealed. There’s also a character named Epoch — another term in Python — as well as a character that represents the human in the loop. All of them are placed very strategically to represent what would take place if a machine learning algorithm were to be integrated in this area. 

Image of a book cover for Your Pal, PipThe goal is to help people feel less scared about machine learning. I often see AI described as a black box; something that that people can't see into, and can't understand. But I think the test of a good machine learning algorithm – and a good programmer — is to translate that black box into something that is easily understood.

Part of the reason I love machine learning is because even if I dedicate my entire life to studying AI, I will never have a fully comprehensive grasp of it, because it's just always expanding and advancing so fast. I think that's key in why people feel uncertainty about machine learning, especially when the Hollywood narrative of AI is the humanoid robot that is going to take over. The thing is, these technologies are amoral, not immoral. 

My goal as a researcher is to start mitigating skepticism around the subject of machine learning through this book. And this starts with younger people, but the book is also meant to be used by people of all ages. 

Q: How has your time in the responsible AI research group related back to your work? 

A: I love being in this research group. It's actually my second semester; last semester I did a project on the risks and mitigations of AI-powered autonomous spacecraft, which is another one of my interests. It’s so awesome to be part of a group of people that have such different backgrounds and different approaches to AI. There are so many interdisciplinary perspectives and topics brought up in discussion. 

I think that in terms of responsible AI – and a lot of people may disagree with me on this – it is integral for a programmer to also be able to see the ethical implications of whatever they're employing into the world. There’s often the argument that we should wait five years before evaluating those possible impacts; when I am working on programming, I'm immediately thinking about how it may affect the real world and be used. 

Machine learning is like a mirror - it's going to reflect whatever we give it, and humans are not perfect. This is why I think the conversations on ethics have to go hand in hand with the research itself, and it's really interesting to see how it comes about on all different fronts.

Q: What comes next for you in your career and future?

A: That’s the age-old question, isn’t it? I always have a list of problems that I can research! This may be a nerdy confession, but I love doing research even in my free time. I hope to direct that energy into the pursuit of a master's degree and possibly even a PhD. I have also been invited to join the Machine Intelligence Group at Draper Labs in summer 2023 as an undergraduate engineer, which is a very exciting opportunity. 

The amazing thing about this field is it's always changing, and in some regard, I will always feel like a student. And because the study of AI is so new, I feel like taking the ethical and programming approach at the same time would be a lot easier to integrate than something that's already established. I hope to keep these skills as best practices in the future. 

There is a lot of skepticism around AI and machine learning, and often I hear people say that it’s too complicated or complex. Everybody has the capability to understand AI, and it's not as scary as it seems. Even though it's been tremendously skewed for entertainment, which makes it easier to vilify, there are so many benefits to using machine learning, and we can employ it in the right ways to augment our human experience and not hinder it.

Karina Fitzgerald

Communications program coordinator , Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics