Ryan Michalesko

Telling migrants’ stories – Ryan Michalesko, a junior at Southern Illinois University Carbondale majoring in photojournalism, earned a 2017 Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting International Reporting Fellowship. Michalesko, who is from Carbondale, will travel to Mexico later this year to document the lives of migrant workers who travel to and from Southern Illinois. (Photo provided)

May 08, 2017

Student earns international reporting fellowship

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A Southern Illinois University Carbondale student whose interest in photography began in middle school will spend time in Mexico later this year documenting the lives of migrant workers who travel to and from Southern Illinois. 

Ryan Michalesko, a junior majoring in photojournalism, was selected by the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts to receive a 2017 Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting International Reporting Fellowship. He is the 11th SIU student to participate in the partnership between the School of Journalism and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. 

Michalesko said he got interested in documenting the region’s migrant workers while visiting one of the area’s local orchards. 

“The work they do is so important to the life most anyone lives, and I think that’s why it is such an important story to tell,” he said. 

Michalesko will go to Michoacán, Mexico, and in and around Morelia. He will show the lives of migrant workers while they are at home in the poverty-stricken region of the country. Through a series of multimedia stories, Michalesko will give a glimpse of those families as they worked in Southern Illinois orchards. 

“By receiving this Pulitzer fellowship, I will have the opportunity to gain valuable experience in international reporting, and that’s something I could see myself doing post-graduation,” he said. “I think it’s important to tell the story of migrant workers both here, in Southern Illinois, but also in their homes, which is why I am taking this story to Mexico.” 

A Carbondale native, Michalesko graduated from Carbondale Community High School in 2015. He is the son of Debbie and John Michalesko. He is in Peoria this semester working as a photojournalism intern at the Peoria Journal Star, and will be a photojournalism intern this summer at the Dallas Morning News beginning later this month. 

Michalesko said he would like to work at a large newspaper or wire agency when he graduates, covering breaking news and collegiate and professional sports. He earned first- and third-place awards in spot news, and honorable mention in features, in the recent Illinois College Press Association contest. 

The partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting gives students the opportunity to report on global issues through reporting fellowships. The university’s School of Journalism has been part of the center’s Campus Consortium since the launch in January 2009, but the relationship between the center and SIU students goes back farther with William Freivogel, a journalism professor and a member of the center’s advisory committee. There are 30 universities and community colleges in the consortium. 

“Ryan's project could provide a window into understanding the connections between communities in Mexico and the United States where immigrants travel to work in agriculture,” Freivogel said. “Last September, Ryan photographed and interviewed several of the workers in the Cobden orchard area who send their earnings back home to their families in Mexico or save their money to bring their families to the United States to join them.” 

Michalesko became interested in photography in middle school when he wanted to be part of producing the school’s newsletters and yearbooks. In high school, he was active with both the school newspaper and yearbook programs, he said. Michalesko said Steve Buhman, a photographer with University Communications and Marketing at SIU Carbondale, was a “huge influence” on his photography; Buhman was Michalesko’s scoutmaster when he was in Boy Scouts. 

The decision to attend SIU Carbondale wasn’t difficult due to the journalism program’s “rich history,” Michalesko said. 

“The real draw for me was the fact that so many of the professors are past professionals in this field. You’re not sitting in class with someone who has only taught their whole career. You’re sitting in class with some of the best photo editors in the nation, people who have retired from publications such as the Chicago Tribune and worked all around the country,” he said. “The real-world knowledge and networking connections you can pick up from these instructors should be enough to attract any student here.”