Jessica of Lewisburg headlining in Chicago

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

From staff reports

2004 Marshall County High School graduate Jessica Beard, now Jessica Beard Morrison, just returned to the University of Notre Dame to resume her studies in science journalism after a fellowship with the Chicago Tribune.

"There's a real need for qualified scientists to communicate science to the public," Morrison said this summer before traveling from Indiana to Chicago. "Science affects all of our lives through day-to-day activities at the local level and through policy decisions at the state and federal level."

Kaarin Tisue, deputy editor of the Chicago Tribune's investigative reporting and consumer watchdog team, was Morrison's supervisor for her 10-week internship. It's through the Advancing Science Serving Society Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellows Program.

"Some (science writing interns) find it easier than others to adapt their writing for publication in a newspaper - it's a new style for most of them - but Jessica has picked it up quickly," Tisue said. "I think she could make a career in science writing if she decided to go for it."

Jessica, 26, has roots in Lewisburg. She's the daughter of Linda Dalton, daughter of Daisy Rowe and the late Marvin Rowe. Her father is the late George Kenneth Smith, son of George C. and Larry Sue Smith of Lewisburg. She visited with family last Christmas. She's married to Brandon Jeffery Morrison of Franklin, Tenn., son of Jeff and Sarah Morrison of Middle Tennessee. Her husband is a Web developer and apparently can move to where she lands a job after graduation.

But first, she plans to finish her studies and graduate with a Ph.D.

"Working in scientific research has been a wonderful experience, but laboratory research is not my passion," Jessica said. "I was a journalism major at Middle Tennessee State University before switching to geology and then going on to Notre Dame."

The Chicago Tribune is one of a dozen "media sites" in the AAAS program fellowship that accepted Jessica. Others include Scientific American, Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, National Public Radio and the Voice of America.

Prior to her stint in Chicago, Jessica published several pieces on the Scientific American Guest Blog and on the Nature Soapbox Science section, as well as writing for a Department of Energy newsletter, "Frontiers in Energy Research."

A principal goal of AAAS is to increase public understanding of science and technology, so the fellowship places science students in media jobs for the summer. And Jessica is bright, open-minded and a pleasure to work with, according to her editor.

"It's particularly impressive that a story of hers started on page one of our newspaper - a significant achievement for any new reporter," Tisue said. "Even better, the story was not assigned to her but was based on one of her own ideas."

That story is about "a national effort to identify and map the diversity of ants in the U.S. ... to help understand the movement of the insects from one region to another, investigate changes in the ant ecosystem and maybe even identify new species," according to the piece that's also on the Chicago Tribune's Web site.

Jessica captured her readers' interest by starting her story with a description of something they've probably experienced during a picnic: "A horde of ants on a food-gathering mission descends upon the remains of a Keebler Sandies Pecan Shortbread cookie..."

Marshall County Schools Attendance/Guidance Coordinator Ginger Tepedino remembers Jessica as and "extremely sweet young lady," perhaps like the cookie hauled away by ants.

"Jessica was very well-spoken, intelligent, and a hard-working student who seemed to be very self motivated," said Tepedino who, in 2004, was the guidance counselor at MCHS. "She took a very rigorous course load ... including our Advanced Placement classes."

Jessica's high school English II honors, English IV advanced placement, and creative writing classes were taught by Beth Smith, now the coordinator of secondary education working from the school system's central office.

"I love Jessica and I want her to know how very proud I am of her," Smith said.

Jessica may have taken creative writing, but Smith's not surprised that she's been writing newspaper stories. "She has always been an outstanding writer and always tried to do better."

Smith remembers Jessica as a straight-A student and that her grandfather is the janitor at MCHS.

Chicago, the windy city, the city with broad shoulders, is also known for its politics and tough journalism. The Poynter Institute uses the word "bromide" when describing advice to cub reporters: "If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out." The City News Bureau of Chicago required two sources.

Jessica's cradle of Lewisburg, her springboard of MTSU, name-brand university and her own determination put her in Chicago for what would otherwise be a summer vacation.

In Tisue's newsroom, Jessica worked next to investigative journalists who apparently benefited from her presence and brought some smiles to their days.

"I always enjoy meeting the young scientists who explore journalism through this program," Tisue wrote in response to an e-mail requesting comment about the program's 2012 fellow.

"She listens to the feedback she receives from veteran reporters and editors, and uses it to make her stories better," the deputy editor said. "We've tried to give her a variety of experiences, from writing short 'brights' on interesting new scientific studies to longer health stories that address consumer issues."

So, a young woman from a town of 11,000 has faced more than an assignment on what she did on her summer vacation, and she's set her sights on cities such as Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.