Attending ASU was a 'no-brainer' for Cronkite School convocation speaker

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

After attending the Cronkite Sports Broadcast Boot Camp the summer before his senior year of high school, Harrison Zhang’s mind was made up. He was going to Arizona State University.

“I fell in love with the facilities, campus and opportunities ASU offered," he said. It was a no-brainer after stepping on campus for the first time.”

Now four years later, the Irvine, California, native will receive his Bachelor of Arts in sports journalism and deliver the student convocation address May 3 for the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Zhang, who is Asian American, said he was not 100% sure he was going to fit in at ASU.

“I was skeptical on whether I would be judged or looked at differently because of my background, but I was surprised at the community built at Cronkite. I immediately felt welcomed and made so many amazing friends from all kinds of backgrounds.”

While the Cronkite School has a reputation for being a competitive program, Zhang soon realized that everyone has each other’s back and wants them to succeed. “One of my favorite parts about Cronkite is that I know I can turn to any one of my peers for advice in an area I’m not familiar with and they can do the same with me. The community is extremely supportive, and we’re all here to learn and grow together.”

Zhang was a recipient of the New American University President’s Award Scholarship each semester and joined The State Press student media outlet during his freshman year. He also completed several internships and worked with two organizations back home in Orange County: OC Sports Zone, a local online publication that focuses on high school sports, and Orange County SC, the professional soccer team that is part of the United Soccer League. Additionally, Zhang was involved with Sun Devil Athletics for most of his college career, assisting with social media strategy, graphics, video editing and photography and winning two NCAA Photo of the Week awards.

We recently caught up with Zhang and asked about his plans and his favorite memories at ASU.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: My “aha” moment happened in seventh grade when my English teacher assigned us to do a “passion project” and explore something we want to learn more about and spend 20 minutes a day on it for a month. I chose to do a sports blog because I loved discussing sports. From there, I joined my high school newspaper and never looked back.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I love that ASU has a downtown campus that is smaller in size and more laid back, but it also has the Tempe campus for when I am looking for the big school feel. The class size at Cronkite is much smaller than people think, and I get to have amazing connections with my professors, many of whom are still working in the field. Also, the weather is not as hot as people think. After October, we mainly have 60-degree weather and sunny skies every day. As a California kid, I cannot handle the cold.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Paola Boivin has been one of the most influential professors I have ever met. She exemplifies the values and dedication that I strive to carry into my professional career. She has taught me a lot about how far kindness can take you in this business. She always goes the extra mile to develop individual relationships and takes the time to get to know people as individuals. I think in this industry it is easy to get caught up in the hectic nature of what we do, but Paola has taught me a lot about slowing down and being personable with everyone. She would often bring up stories from when I first knew her at the Cronkite camp, and I’m amazed at how she remembers these things. It is because she takes the time to really care about and listen to her students and people she encounters, which is something I hope to take with me in my professional career.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Interestingly enough, when I got to ASU, I came in so headstrong knowing I wanted to be a sports writer and only that. I joined The State Press my first semester freshman year looking to be a sportswriter, but when they did not have spots open, I volunteered to join their photo desk hoping to just get any opportunity. When I started taking sports photos, I fell in love with capturing stories through a camera. This eventually led to an internship with Sun Devil Athletics in their digital media department. I am currently interested in photography, videography and content creation. I learned it is so critical to keep an open mind while in school because you never know what your true passion may be. It is 100% OK to try new things outside your initial comfort zone.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot on the downtown campus was the walkway between Tower 1 and Tower 2 at Taylor Place. The view overlooked the Cronkite building and the Phoenix skyline, which made it a great place to study or relax.

My favorite spot on the Tempe campus is the (Memorial Union). I spent a lot of time on the Tempe campus with all the sports games going on there. I could always rely on the MU for a good quick bite to eat after taking the downtown campus shuttle that dropped me off at Gammage.

My overall favorite spot on campus is Farrington Stadium. I spent a lot of my time there for my internship and often came early to games to do my homework there because the view is so nice. One of the hidden gems of campus for sure.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan on returning for my master’s degree in the 3+1 program at Cronkite. I am hoping to be a graduate assistant with the Sun Devil Athletics digital media department. God willing, I would like to pursue a job with a professional sports team after my master’s, managing their social media and developing digital content — photo, video, graphics. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would try and invest more in youth mental health. I think our youth education system struggles to address this issue effectively, which leads to a lot of mental health stigma and mental health issues in general for many students. Our youth is our future, and in the digital age, it is more important than ever to help normalize seeking help and educate students on the importance of mental health.

Written by Mario Baralta