By Ashley Festa
Great attitude, great effort, great faith. To top it off, great humility. All in one, in Sam Sanders. He talks openly of his reliance on God to put him where he needs to be. And God found a perfect fit for Sanders as a Kroc Fellow at National Public Radio (NPR). But even before that, God was leading him.
Sanders graduated from UIW in 2007 with a double major in political science and music, and continued on to earn his master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. While completing an internship as a community organizer in post-Katrina New Orleans, he says he listened to a lot of public radio. “I just fell in love with everything I heard. I had a radio in my room for the first time in a long time,” he said with a laugh.
As he listened to political commentaries, he remembers noticing the talking points and being dissatisfied about the content; he thought listeners were missing out on many important topics. “I feel people would benefit from hearing more diverse viewpoints and younger viewpoints.”
That’s when he decided he wanted to work for NPR. “I just e-mailed folks until someone e-mailed me back.” At the time, he was still in school in Boston, and for his graduate thesis, he worked with NPR’s “On Point” with Tom Ashbrook. In addition to working as a production intern, he researched and recommended ways to increase the program’s outreach to younger and minority audiences.
Earlier this year, he applied with 320 others from around the world to be one of three Kroc Fellows chosen this year. Kroc Fellowships were created after Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald’s Corporation founder Ray A. Kroc, left more than $200 million to NPR in 2003. The fellowship, which identifies and develops the next generation of outstanding journalists for the public radio system, includes a stipend and benefits, including paid vacation time.
Sanders began work Aug. 24 in Washington, D.C. The fellowship is a year-long training program during which he will experience every aspect of public radio. But his love of words started long ago.
Even before enrolling at UIW, “I began to see myself as a communicator,” he said. “The written and spoken word, I cultivated those skills there.” While at UIW, he put those skills to work writing for the Logos student newspaper. Now with the Kroc Fellowship, he said, “I’m really excited to bring the civility of discussion that I learned at Incarnate Word” to the workplace.
As part of the fellowship, he will have four assignments that will rotate with the other two Kroc Fellows every three months. Right now, he’s in his first rotation working on new content for the Web, rewriting radio stories for online and also supplementing with his own commentary. The other assignments include working on the national news desk where he will be broadcasting news segments, working behind the scenes on production for weekend radio shows and finally, working at an affiliate station reporting and producing in a smaller market.
Sanders is most looking forward to working on the national news desk. The Kroc Fellow who is working there now gets to be more of a “mover and shaker,” he said, and he’s excited about getting his own press pass.
Even though he’s working on Web content now, he completed an on-air piece in which he critiqued a new CD. “If you’re around where everything is going on, and if you just sit still and look eager,” you’ll get your chance, he said.
Sanders adopts this attitude of eagerness in all aspects of his life, and it was instrumental in achieving the goal of working at NPR. “I just knew I wanted to do it. You have to be tireless.” And he was, until he finally got an answer to his persistent e-mails.
“It’s an example of faith. If you believe something is for you, it’s possible,” he said.
He plans to let that same faith guide him after he completes his fellowship at NPR. “I would love to end up one day as an op-ed writer for a major paper,” he said. “I’d like to be doing something that makes me happy. Engaged in debate. Whatever God allows.”
It was also that trust in God that brought him to UIW in the first place. After being accepted at both Georgetown and Stanford universities, he made plans to move to the West Coast to attend Stanford.
However, both his parents became ill, and he decided to stay in Texas to care for them.
“It was the best thing to do,” he said.
He spoke with Stanford to discuss his options and learned he could defer his admission for a year. But at the time, he began to doubt the possibility of a future at the university.
“I was gradually accepting that I might not go to college.”
One day after classes had already begun at UIW, he happened to be driving in the area, got lost and stopped at the university after seeing the steeple of the Chapel of the Incarnate Word. “I don’t know why,” he explained.
While visiting the campus, he saw and spoke with a high school friend who loved attending UIW. She took him to visit Dr. Ken Metz, associate professor of music, and also to the Office of Admissions. Sanders learned that because he plays an instrument (the saxophone), he was eligible for a scholarship.
“That to me is just evidence that God wanted me to be at Incarnate Word,” he said. Sanders then enrolled.
He was active on campus during his time at the university. He was a member of the Jazz Ensemble, and as a senior, he was voted president of the Student Government Association. With the help of other students and Dr. Angela MacPherson Williams, director of Student Center and Leadership Activities, he brought to life the campuswide Meet the Mission day of service. “Dr. Mac was very visionary in finding new things for us to do,” he said.
He looks back on his experience at UIW with fondness, but he looks forward to it as well. “I’d love to come back and do something at Incarnate Word. It will find a way to work itself out,” he said. “I just can’t tell people enough how much I enjoyed my time there.”
“Sam Sanders became an extraordinary leader on this campus,” Williams said. “I found him to be a very spiritually gifted young man. We have high expectations of UIW student leaders, and we are proud to count Sam Sanders among the distinguished alumni of this university. He is destined to accomplish great things.”
Find some examples of Mr. Sanders’ work at NPR: