Mike Lovett

Finding a Career in the Newsroom

An innovative internship helped Wei-Huan Chen ’12 pursue his passion for journalism

Wei-Huan Chen ’12, a trumpet player since fourth grade, came to Brandeis thinking vaguely of becoming a jazz performer. Now, he says, “my passion is writing about it.”

The shift started his first week at school, when he wrote a review of Little India, one of a multitude of nationally and ethnically flavored restaurants near campus. Soon, he was reviewing everything in sight — music, video games, movies and all sorts of arts events for the Justice, one of Brandeis’ two robust student newspapers. He became assistant arts editor, then arts editor, and was spending most of his free time doing arts journalism.

But he hungered for more.

“I wanted to experience writing for an actual newspaper, wanted to do everything a journalist does, and find out is it right for me,” Chen says.  That was made possible by a $3,500 World of Work scholarship from the Hiatt Career Center, one of 57 awarded in 2011 to support undergraduate internships at organizations unable to provide salaries.

In addition to the funding, “what Hiatt does is help you think about and experience what people in these industries actually do,” said Chen, whose internship with the Gatehouse Media group of newspapers grew out of a career fair Hiatt cosponsored. “Taking classes with great professors is exciting, but the writing is still a class assignment. Without this scholarship, I would have had to go home this summer.”

Instead, he wound up with not one internship but two. The Boston Phoenix, a large arts and entertainment newspaper in the city, called him after the Gatehouse arrangements were made and he opted to do both.

Having substantial grant support, he says, made that possible. Other interns at Gatehouse lacked his flexibility to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities like a second internship coming through; they had to hold down income-producing jobs to make ends meet.

Born on Long Island to an immigrant Taiwanese couple, Chen moved to Taiwan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and South Carolina as his parents’ careers in academia developed. He initially considered Brandeis on the recommendation of his father, who had heard about the school’s research programs.

“Mom was dead set on me being a computer science major, and Dad agreed. I just didn’t have the interest,” he says. He wound up majoring in English literature, with minors in journalism and music.

With his passion for journalism deepening and his first professional experiences going well, his parents “are coming around,” he says. “It’s consoling to them to see I’m really serious about it.”

Meanwhile, his internship experiences — both writing for professional publications and talking with established journalists about the future of the business — made this summer “a turning point for my career,” Chen says. “I’m not that clear what kind of company I want to work for, but I’m very excited that my generation will determine what journalism is going to be like in the future.”