2020 Excellence Awards Announced

March 1, 2021

A grid of 25 individual headshots, featuring a diverse group of men and women of varied ages and ethnicities, all smiling or with neutral expressions. The background for each is either neutral or outdoor settings, reflecting the vibrant diversity celebrated by Berkeley Journalism.

Top row, left to right: Angélica Ekeke, Ashley Omoma [not pictured], Erin Banks Rusby, Nisha Balaram, Mara Kardas-Nelson, Sarah Trent, Shuang Li, Jennifer Cortez, Casey Smith. Middle row, left to right: Molly Forster, Nick Roberts, Rachel Mueller, Meg Shutzer, Tessa Paoli, Pedro Cota, Orion Rose, Jess Alvarenga, Brandon Yadegari, Wesaam Al-Badry. Bottom row, left to right: Katie Bernstein, Ellie Lightfoot, Natalia Gurevich, Aashna Malpani, Stephanie Penn, Deena Sabry, Ying Zhao, Daniel Roman.

We’re proud of the recognition Berkeley Journalism students get from outside entities, ranging from Student Oscars and BAFTAs to Emmy Awards to Online News Association prizes. But every year we also convene representatives of our own community to decide whom they want to single out for outstanding first and second-year work that exemplifies what the School itself most values. These are the Excellence Awards, given by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism to recognize student journalism that combines professional quality with public importance. Monetary rewards, funded by donors, vary.

This year, we’ve added a new category to recognize: excellence in social justice reporting. “The reckoning that happened across this country in the last year, and the extraordinary response our students made in the framing of their work compelled us to make honoring this focus an annual event,” said Dean Geeta Anand. “Inclusion comes in many forms, and it’s an honor for us to recognize those who make reporting on social justice issues a priority in their work as students, and in their careers going forward.”

Here are the winners from the Class of 2020 and 2021:

Achievement in Social Justice Reporting

Angélica Ekeke (‘20) – “Marin City”
Marin City” follows the director’s journey as she discovers a low-income town nestled in one of the nation’s wealthiest counties: Marin. She meets Royce McLemore, a 77 year-old local elder who tells the story of the migration of African-Americans to the Bay Area, deemed a “new black frontier” and America’s first integrated housing project during World World ll. 

Ashley Omoma (‘20) – “In Favor of Fetus”
In Wisconsin, there is a growing movement to restrict the rights of women struggling with substance use disorder by separating them from their newborn children. Through the intimate stories of two women, “In Favor of Fetus” shows how this controversial legislation would change the lives of mothers and families.

Alfred Hopkins Award for Reporting in Latin America

Erin Banks Rusby and Nisha Balaram (‘20) – “Silvopasture”
Silvopasture” follows Odielca Solís, a female cattle rancher in one of Latin America’s oldest ranching regions, and her quest to adopt ranching practices that improve local biodiversity while providing a sustainable livelihood for ranchers.

Clay Felker Award for Excellence in Narrative Writing

Mara Kardas-Nelson (‘20) – “The Dark Underbelly of Microfinance”
When Muhammad Yunus first came up with the idea of microfinance in the 1970s, he thought that small loans given to poor women could end poverty from ground up, with women starting their own businesses and investing in their family’s development. But nearly 20 years after Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize, potentially millions of poor people are trapped in cycles of debt. What happened?

Sarah Trent (‘20) – “There’s No Word for Sustainable in Mongolian”
With cashmere trending across the eco-fashion world, Sarah follows this precious fiber from goat to coat—starting in the Mongolian countryside and ending in a New York City retail store—to consider whether, in the midst of climate change, grassland destruction, and economic transition, “sustainable cashmere” is even possible.

Gobind Behari Lal Award for Excellence in Reporting on a Science or Health-Related Story

Shuang Li (‘20) – “The Long Wait”
The Long Wait” tells the story of three courageous Chinese women claiming their reproductive rights in a country that denies single and lesbian women access to assisted fertility treatment. 

Jessica Lum Memorial Award for Excellence in Multimedia Reporting and Production

Jennifer Cortez (‘20) – “Just Kids”
This project aims to capture how a group of children at an emergency homeless shelter within a public school in San Francisco’s Mission District, spent a window of their time during the COVID-19 pandemic by placing cameras into their hands.

Knight Award for Excellence in Reporting on a Science or Environmental Subject

Casey Smith (‘20) – “Glyphosate Woes: The War Against Weeds”
As high-profile court cases and micro bans on Monsanto’s popular weed killer continue to mount, this story explores the evolution of the world’s most commonly used herbicide, glyphosate, and the ongoing dilemma over how to eradicate weeds.

Molly Forster and Nick Roberts (‘20) – “The Drying Salton Sea”
In California’s poorest county, the air is making people sick. Children are hospitalized for asthma at twice the state average because of agricultural pollution and industrial exhaust. Now there is a new culprit: toxic dust from the drying Salton Sea.

Reva and David Logan Prize for Excellence in Investigative Reporting

Rachel Mueller and Meg Shutzer (‘20) – “8 Days At Ware”
This film investigates a juvenile detention center in Louisiana where a series of tragedies have occurred in recent years, including the death of 13 year-old Solan Peterson. The film examines the last days of Solan’s life, exposing how the state failed him at every turn.

North Gate Award for Excellence in Audio Reporting and Production

Tessa Paoli (‘20) – “One Richmond Family Rides Out The Pandemic On A Converted School Bus”

This story is a compilation of audio diaries chronicling one family’s experience sheltering in place on a converted school bus in Richmond, California.

North Gate Award for Excellence in Documentary Production

Pedro Cota (‘20) and Orion Rose (‘20) – “Na Luta Delas”
In Brazil, a country led by an openly homophobic president, Rio de Janeiro is one of the most dangerous places to be a member of the LGBTT community, and trans women of color are the most vulnerable. “Na Luta Delas” (“In Their Fight”) follows a group of women bravely fighting back, as they track the growing violence, learn self-defense, and challenge the systems failing to keep them safe.

North Gate Award for Excellence in Video Reporting and Production

Jess Alvarenga and Brandon Yadegari (‘20) – “House of Little Wings
In Southern Arizona, an influx of migrants are being kept in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody, where a growing number of children are dying. At Casa Alitas, a shelter for asylum seekers in Tucson, doctors work to treat sick kids and pregnant women after they’re released from custody, before they continue on their journey to reunite with their families in the United States.

Wayne F. Miller Award for Excellence in Photojournalism

Wesaam Al-Badry (‘20) – “Essential Workers Are Being Treated as Expendable”
Photo essay for The Atlantic on farmworkers risking their lives so Americans can eat, but receive little protection from the virus. 

Randy Shilts Memorial Award for Exceptional Reporting 

Katie Bernstein and Ellie Lightfoot (‘21) – “Trans and nonbinary parents push birth industry to rethink care”
This piece follows the pregancies of three different trans and non-binary parents and dives into the highly gendered world of giving birth. It explores the deep gendering of pregnancy within and outside of the medical industry–and the shifts needed for it to become more inclusive.

Robert Whittington Award for Exceptional Reporting

Natalia Gurevich (‘21) – “Erase”
This story profiles Oakland’s most prolific graffiti abatement worker. In a career spanning several decades, the man known to street artists and taggers as simply, “Erase,” has grown to love and respect the very art he has been tasked with covering up.

Aashna Malpani (‘21), Stephanie Penn (‘21) and Deena Sabry (‘21) – “Portraits of Essential California Workers”
This story highlights the experiences of essential California workers through the eyes of a bus driver, a priest, a budtender, a mental health nurse, a caretaker for the elderly and a deli worker. The six people featured in this piece take us inside their world—giving us a glimpse of what their life has been like in recent times, how they have been feeling and what challenges they are facing.

Ying Zhao (‘21) and Daniel Roman (‘21) – “Lost in Translation”
This story describes the struggles of a marginalized, Bay Area immigrant community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Knowing only Mam, a Mayan language spoken by indigenous people in Guatemala, members of this community face a language barrier that jeopardizes their health.


Alumni Judges

Brad Bailey (‘17), Documentary Filmmaker

Garance Burke (‘04), Investigative Journalist, The Associated Press

Bonnie Chan (‘16), Freelance Reporter and Photographer

Monica Cruz Rosas (‘13), Producer, AJ+ Español

Linnea Edmeier (‘10), Technical Services Manager, Gravity Media

Nausheen Husain (‘14), Senior Reporter, Chicago Tribune

Alyssa Jeong Perry (‘16), Podcast Producer, NPR’s “Code Switch”

Niema Jordan (‘15), Story Producer, RadicalMedia LLC

Chloe Lessard (‘18), Interviewer/Teratogen Counselor, UC San Diego Health

Yoli Martinez (‘15), Newsroom Developer, San Francisco Chronicle

Marcos Martínez Chacón (‘17), News Verification Journalist, The Associated Press 

Daphne Matziaraki (‘16), Documentary Filmmaker

Brooke Minters (‘11), Executive Producer, Video, POLITICO

Courtney Quirin (‘15), Documentary Filmmaker

Eva Rendle (‘19), Documentary Filmmaker

Brian Rinker (‘17), Staff Reporter, San Francisco Business Times

Leah Rosenbaum (‘19), Healthcare Reporter, Forbes

Steve Saldivar (‘10), Social Media Producer, Los Angeles Times

Lauren Schwartzman (‘18), Documentary Filmmaker

Shaina Shealy (‘16), Producer, “Snap Judgment”

Débora Souza Silva (‘14), Documentary Filmmaker

Jimmy Tobias (‘16), Freelance Investigative Reporter

Manjula Varghese (‘17), Video Producer, San Francisco Chronicle

Sweta Vohra (‘10), Documentary Filmmaker

Lucas Waldron (‘17), Visual Investigations Producer, ProPublica

Spencer Whitney (‘13), Assistant Editor, San Francisco Chronicle



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