Cronkite student captures her past and future

Molly Smith has managed a staff of 10 people, provided media coverage for the 2012 Summer Olympics, served as photo editor for an Arizona Highways book, and had her photos featured in year-long exhibit. Now she’s ready to enter the workforce.

This week the 21-year-old will receive her Bachelor of Arts from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The Gilbert High School graduate said ASU was her only choice when selecting a university and will view the last four years much like she would a photo scrapbook - with great fondness and a smile.

“Cronkite has been a gateway for me," Smith said. "The interesting thing is that even though I’m a student I’ve also felt like a staff member. ASU has not only prepared me for the workforce but provided me with many key opportunities.”

For the past four years, Smith has been a fixture at school events, taking photos for the Cronkite website and its annual magazine.

“They hired me right after I graduated high school and the very first assignment was my freshman orientation,” Smith said. “It was almost like a test.’”

Smith rose to the occasion. Her perfectionist tendencies, hard work ethic and critical eye for capturing a moment served her well. However, like most perfectionists, she often doubted herself or questioned if she was good enough. That all changed in her junior year when Smith won the 2011 Greg Crowder Memorial Photojournalism Award. One of the photos that caught the attention of the judges was a candid and relaxed moment of national broadcaster Dianne Sawyer, who visited with Cronkite students in 2010. Smith’s picture reveals Sawyer’s animated smile and a black dress shoe almost falling off her right foot.

“Diane Sawyer is a very strong woman but that was a very personal photo of her and revealed a much softer side,” Smith said. “The Crowder Award was a real turning point for me because I’m very critical of myself and my work and I was at a place where I could say, ‘They actually like my work. Yes, you can do this.’”

Smith was not about to rest on her laurels, however. In addition to making the dean’s list eight times in a row, Smith participated in three Cronkite-sponsored trips abroad. The first was a 2012 visit to Puerto Rico where she reported on land rights and immigration issues. Some of Smith’s work was published by BBC Mundo. The second was a visit to London, where she and a news team of 18 Cronkite students covered events surrounding the 2012 Summer Olympics. Her photos garnered a centerpiece spread in the arts section of The Arizona Republic and a couple of pictures in The Arizona Daily Star. In the spring of 2013, she was selected for a third trip abroad, this time traveling to Niagara Falls, Canada, to report on the differences between the northern and southern borders of the United States. Her story and photos will be published by the Cronkite School later this week.

Smith also interned for The State Press, The Phoenix New Times, The Arizona Republic and Arizona Highways, where she served as photo editor of "Arizona Journeys," a 2012 book chronicling the history of transportation in the state. At The State Press, she managed a staff of 10 people and led the photo desk during the transition from a daily to a weekly print edition. All the while, she continued shooting events, award ceremonies and guest lecturers at the Cronkite School.

“Molly has been a contributor to the Cronkite School since the day she walked in the door,” said Kristin Gilger, Cronkite School associate dean. “Anyone who looks at Molly’s photos can see how talented she is, but what they might not know is that she is also a wonderful human being. She works hard, shares credit, mentors younger students and brings compassion and journalistic integrity to her story telling. She radiates promise and positivity. She is a model for what we want our students to be.”

Smith will continue her educational and vocational journey later this month when she attends a two-week student journalism workshop sponsored by The New York Times. Following the workshop this summer, she will intern with The Oregonian in Portland, Ore.

“It’s an exciting time because I’ve spent the last 21 years of my life knowing what’s going to happen next. There’s always been a track,” Smith said. “Now I’m at a point where my future is wide open and it’s an exciting time.”