Berkeley Journalism announces third cohort of first-generation college student fellows

September 13, 2023

Holly McDede, Choekyi Lhamo and Jariel Arvin. Photo: Marlena Telvick

Geeta Anand, dean of Berkeley Journalism, today announced the 2023-2024 cohort of Dean’s Fellows, a leadership development initiative that removes barriers to entering the field by fully funding the education of first-generation college students.

The initiative, which began in 2021 through private philanthropy, counters the widespread access disparity in newsrooms by providing guaranteed funding for tuition and fees for up to five students annually, depending on available resources.

While all students at Berkeley Journalism receive alumni mentoring, faculty advising, and career counseling, this year’s fellows are also offered individualized coaching, additional writing and financial literacy training, and a network of support.

Dean Anand passionately believes that to make meaningful change in the industry, institutions such as journalism schools need to do whatever they can to change who gets to be a journalist.

“For us, that means taking on one of the most entrenched challenges: the ability for promising journalists of all backgrounds to get world-class training without taking on burdensome debt that will follow them into their careers,” Anand said. “Who the storytellers are matters, and we’re already seeing past fellows flourish with this support. I could not be more grateful to the donors who have stepped up to make this extraordinary opportunity possible for them. It truly has been game changing.”

Those donors include Advisory Board member Steve Silberstein (BA Economics/MLS), and one who wishes to remain anonymous.

This year’s recipients are:

Jariel Arvin was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. After graduating from Skidmore College, he moved to Hanoi, Vietnam, where he taught English for a year. Living and working in Southeast Asia was such a rewarding experience, he says, that he stayed for nearly six years.

Arvin then got a job with Teach for America so that he could work with students from a similar background, teaching 10th and 12th grade English at Oakland High School. It was there, during a presentation from student climate activists, that he became inspired to learn more about global warming. He left teaching to get a master’s degree in climate change and global sustainability at the School for International Training.

Arvin got his start in journalism in 2020 during a one-year fellowship for emerging journalists of color at Vox, working on the foreign team covering climate change and international news. After that, he wrote Vox’s daily newsletter “Sentences,” synthesizing the top news stories.

“I was at a crossroads in my emerging journalism career,” Arvin said. “I knew that I needed further education to take my reporting to the next level, but I couldn’t afford it. The Dean’s Fellowship makes it possible for me to deepen my storytelling skills and continue pursuing truth.”

He hopes to cover issues like crime and policing, the opioid crisis, immigration, and climate change that have both domestic and international implications. “The program also gives me a chance to develop close relationships with my fellow award recipients who are also first-generation college students,” Arvin said.

Choekyi Lhamo worked as a local news reporter for three years at Phayul, one of the leading English news websites in the Tibetan exile community based in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh.

She has written and produced videos on politics, gender discrimination and exile conditions. She also worked as a freelance journalist, contributing to various community engagement events and workshops in Dehradun, New Delhi and Gangtok and served as the vice-president of the Association of Tibetan Journalists in Dharamshala. Lhamo procured her master’s degree in English Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and her bachelor’s degree in English Honors from Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi.

“The Dean’s Fellowship has made my journey from Dharamshala to Berkeley possible,” Lhamo said. “The condition of exile and its stark oppressive structure made lives extremely difficult for our family of three generations to break the cycle of poverty in India. With support from the fellowship, my admission to one of the top public universities in the world has enabled me to envision a new path for my family and my people.”

At UC Berkeley, Lhamo aims to learn responsible storytelling through words and research. “This significant leap in my life and career is bound to push me to become a better journalist and continue to advocate for the Tibetan struggle through this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said.

Holly McDede is from South Plainfield, New Jersey, and is a roving reporter for “Philosophy Talk,” a syndicated radio program about philosophy. She directs KALW’s Summer Podcasting Institute, where she trains teenagers to report their own audio journalism stories. She is also a fill-in reporter, producer, and editor at KQED radio and edits for KCBS radio on weekends. She studied creative writing and literature at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.

“When I learned I had received the Dean’s fellowship, I kept reading and rereading the email so I could feel and then re-feel the sense of pride, relief, and joy,” McDede said.

She knew she wanted to attend UC Berkeley to become a better writer and reporter but was worried about the number of hours she would need to work at her multiple part-time jobs to afford the program.

Growing up, McDede says she never imagined she would have the chance to attend UC Berkeley or be a journalist. “My mom was a longtime worker at Marshalls Department Store, a job that involved lifting heavy merchandise in the stock room and expressing her creativity through elaborate holiday displays,” McDede said. “My dad is still out there every morning in the snow, rain, heat, and gloom of night, delivering mail to the suburbanites of New Jersey.”

Besides the financial barriers this award removes, McDede says the honor is also a symbol that she belongs in higher education, that her past and where she comes from matters, and that people out there support her determination to find a place in the industry.

Want to learn about how to support the Dean’s Fellowship program?
Please contact Steve Katz, assistant dean for advancement at:


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