For most college students, the classroom is a place to gain practical knowledge to apply when entering the workforce. But for Adam Bemma, a third-year journalism student at Centennial College’s East York campus, the learning doesn’t stop there. By combining his studies with community activism, Bemma is blazing his own trail – and has just won an award for it.
“All in all, this young man has managed to successfully balance scholarship, citizenship and the practice of broadcast journalism in a way that reflects nobly both on himself and on our profession,” said Steve Cogan, one of Bemma’s teachers, in a letter of nomination for the Ontario Association of Broadcasters’ new Michael Monty Award.
And on March 3, Bemma became the first-ever recipient of the award, being recognized for outstanding academic achievement, along with involvement in broadcasting and extra-curricular activities.
“I think it’s quite the honour to be named the first recipient of the Michael Monty award. I thought it was a great opportunity to be nominated in the first place and to win is an added bonus,” Bemma said. “It just shows that a student at Centennial is just as good as a student at Ryerson or a student at Humber or any other journalism schools in Ontario, so I hope that this motivates other students at Centennial.”
The award is named after the late Michael Monty, an educator, broadcaster and Seneca College professor who challenged his students to get involved outside their studies and contribute to public service journalism. It was presented to Bemma at OAB Career Day 2008, where industry leaders came together to teach students how to get a foothold in the profession.
Bemma has brought two student service initiatives to Centennial’s Carlaw Avenue campus: STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur) and JHR (Journalists for Human Rights). Both are inter-school organizations that raise awareness about human rights abuses around the world. He has also done volunteer work with PEN Canada, an organization that protects the freedom of expression of writers at home and abroad.
His work with STAND has taken him to Ottawa on several occasions to meet and discuss the humanitarian disaster in Darfur with policy makers on Parliament Hill – which he says has given him skills to deal with sometimes-elusive politicians.
“Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, millions have been displaced in Darfur,” Bemma said, referring to the war-ravaged region of Sudan, in Africa. “We’re just trying to educate students across Canada about what’s happening so they can pressure their parliamentarians or their senators to get involved and take action and try to end what’s happening over there.”
Centennial College teaches broadcast news as part of its journalism program, and for the last two years, Bemma has applied the theory with practice at CIUT-FM, the University of Toronto’s radio station – where he’s worked as a reporter and producer.
“He’s very enthusiastic and has a very refreshing eye for stories. I don’t see that often,” said David Peterson, the station’s news director. “A lot of students come to work here and their skills are strong but what Adam brought to the table from the very beginning was very different.”
Bemma said he thinks that students need to be involved as much as possible in all aspects of journalism in order to succeed these days.
“The way journalism is now, you have to have experience in online, broadcast, print…. You have to know it all if you want to get hired. You’re not going to look appealing to any media organization if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
As for his future?
“I was thinking that after winning this award, the next could possibly be the Michener, then maybe the Pulitzer Prize,” he joked.