By Astasia Williams

Phew! They say what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger. Well, the past four months have me feeling like superwoman.

The first quarter in a premier journalism school’s graduate program is meant to be exciting. But it’s also created to tear down whatever you believe journalism is, then help build you back up with fresh, new insight on your craft and the business.

Coming to Chicago was a big jump for me. I was born and raised in Baton Rouge, La., and I drove 60 miles east on I-10 to attend Dillard University in New Orleans, so this move was an adventure within itself. My first quarter was definitely about making adjustments and adapting to a new culture. For starters … IT IS COLD. This girl from down south will probably never get used to Chicago cold. And telling me, “It builds character” does not make it better.

Besides the cold weather, attending Medill is a dream come true.

The first quarter assured me that I have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn from some heavy-hitters and respected veterans in the sports journalism world. From the countless speakers to hands-on beat reporting experiences, Q1 was one for the books.

Everyone at Medill is so connected, so you never know who could show up in your Method’s class or for a campus-wide discussion (Side Note: The Medill Mafia is real. Do not take it for granted!).

My favorite visitor would have to be Doug Collins. It’s not every day where you get a basketball and journalism lesson in one sitting from one of the greats.

astasia_williamsCollins said one line that will stick with me for the rest of my career: “Substance will always trump style.”

In sports, the media-athlete relationship is not the most romantic storyline. With less access to players, reporters have to go through different avenues to get their story. This sometimes can create misleading articles or false information. What my professors and Collins stressed to us, though, are relationships. You won’t make it in this field without creating solid relationships with athletes, the secretary (who secretly knows everything), parents, janitors, etc.

I used those relationship lessons to help me through my first experience as a beat reporter for Curie High School in the Southwest Chicago area. I’ve gained new connections, sources and — most importantly — knowledge about the high school basketball world in the Windy City.

Listen, Chicago basketball is not something to mess with. These players eat and breathe Spalding basketballs. Getting to know and listen to these kids who have amazing stories yet to be told made me grow as a reporter and journalist.

One of my favorite assignments was my article comparing two generations in advance of the 20th anniversary of the release of Space Jam. I talked to a coach who went to the theaters to see the movie when it was released in 1996, and his favorite artist at the time was R. Kelly. Then I spoke with a player who was born in 1999, didn’t see Space Jam until 2009 and thinks Lil Herb is a better rapper than Lil Wayne. It was a very fun project, I must say.

It was tough, but somehow I managed to balance school and having a good time in a new city. I also joined Leadership Council for Medill’s graduate journalism program. The school definitely does a great job to make sure we enjoy ourselves outside of the classroom. I went to my first Bulls game. And it was nice to not feel like a “graduate student” and attend a B1G Ten football game with my friends. GO CATS!

Time truly flies by when you are having fun. One quarter down, three more to go!