Montana Journalism Graduate Students and Alumni Send Ripples With Podcasts, Photography and Documentaries


Rising around the University of Montana are a series of low mountains etched with subtle benches that catch the snow and create shadowy rings around the sprawling valley. These are the beaches of glacial lake Missoula, a colossal catchment that formed 10,000 years ago behind massive ice dams. The lake filled, then collapsed with such energy that it shaped the landscape from western Montana, through the Columbia River Gorge to the sea.

Each year, we refill our program with graduate students who arrive from across the country to study Natural Resource and Environmental Science journalism in the heart of where it happens. The mountains and valleys of Western Montana are our laboratories and the people who live here are guides in the stories they share.

The Feb. 15 deadline for priority application consideration just closed and those applicants should expect to hear their admissions status by early March. But we take pride in developing a cohort of students who both push and support each other, and so we continue taking applications until April 15 for students wishing to start Fall 2019. (The difference between the pools is the priority distribution of financial aid and teaching assistantships.) (Click here for more information on how to apply.)

Current students and recent alumni of the journalism graduate program have been busy in the last year building their potential and letting their impact ripple through journalism both close to home and to distant shores.

With the help of the Greater Montana Foundation, videographers have been tackling issues that bring science, the environment and public health together in important ways. Film maker Henry Worobec ’18’s Confluir, an exploration of threats and opportunities along the Rio Marañón, Amazon’s main stem, has been making the rounds at film festivals.

Trailer- CONFLUIR, a Study of Rio Marañón from Henry Worobec on Vimeo.

Jamie Drysdale ’18 will premiere heart-wrenching film Lethal Control at the 2019 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon on March 2. The film examines the use of cyanide poison as a coyote control in Idaho and Wyoming.


Radio reporter Nicky Ouellet ’16 and a team of audio reporters won a silver medal at the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards for SubSurface, a podcast about the threat invasive mussels pose to Montana’s lakes and fisheries. This top international science journalism award recognizes outstanding work done to promote a public understanding of scientific work. Follow her on Instagram @o.nicky.


Nora Saks ’16, a member of the SubSurface team, is about to let loose a podcast of her own. Sincegraduation, Saks has worked for Montana Public Radio covering environmental issues in Butte, Montana. As she reported the daily efforts to improve conditions at one of the country’s largest Superfund sites, she has been gathering tape for a podcast of her own. Listen for Richest Hill at or wherever you get your podcasts. Follow Nora on Instagram @nrvsaks.

Writer Will Grant ‘10 continues chasing adventure with both harrowing and hilarious results. A Colorado cowboy and master of the long narrative, Will raced in the world’s hardest horse race in 2013 and wrote a feature story about the experience for Outside Magazine. Now he appears in All the Wild Horses, a new documentary about the race: “Every time you work with horses, especially wild horses like this, you can get hurt very badly,” he says, stating what becomes obvious in the trailer. Since 2013, he has ridden the Pony Express trail, sailed the eastern seaboard in autumn and participated in Team USA Kok Boru, that horseback contest played with a dead goat. Follow him on Instagram @willgrantofthewest

Writer Heather Fraley ‘18 took to the field this fall to profile a UM program that shows new hunters the ropes and helps ensure their first outing is successful – whether they bring game home or not.

Current students may not be done calling Missoula home quite yet, but they’re creating ripples of their own.

Screen Shot 2019-02-20 at 12.06.22 PMWriter Samantha Weber and videographer Mikensi Romersa traveled to South Korea over the summer as part of UM’s International Reporting class. They produced stories for Atlantic Magazine’s CityLab, including this piece on the disoriented life of North Korean defectors.

Back on the ranch, Weber has focused her reporting on a number of stories about self-directed solutions on the Blackfeet Reservation. One, about eco-tourism, reflects the work she did with mentor Graham Lee Brewer as a Crown Reporting Project winner. That piece is slated to appear in High Country News.

Photo by Samatha Weber.

Photographer Louise Johns has been scooping up freelance work while finishing her first-year coursework. Although her projects focus on ranch life, bison restoration and wide open spaces, when The New York Times came calling last week, she changed gears to take a portrait for a story on changing feelings about pregnancy.

Looking ahead, instructor Jeff Gailus will lead the Montana Journalism Abroad this summer on a deep dive into our own backyard. Gailus, an accomplished writer and native of Calgary, will lead a reporting trip focused on energy development and the environment in Western Canada.


NPR Reporter Nathan Rott: ‘… At Once The Hardest Educational Experience I’ve Ever Had. But Also Just So, So Awesome.’

By Erin Sargent

From Missoula to Antarctica and everywhere in between, University of Montana Journalism alumnus Nathan Rott has done it all: firefighting, fishing, working odd jobs across the world and eventually telling stories for National Public Radio as an on-air reporter.

Working for NPR’s National Desk, Rott covers environmental issues and says that he’s also one of the “breaking news guys,” working on stories like the Thousand Oaks shooting and the California wildfires.

He says he first tried his hand at journalism writing for Missoula Sentinel High School’s Konah newspaper. When he arrived at the University of Montana, he wasn’t sure about a journalism major. He thought about exploring theater or forestry, and eventually declared a major in anthropology.

But it was Nadia White’s reporting class that really got him hooked on journalism.

“It was at once the hardest educational experience I’ve ever had,” he says. “But also just so, so awesome.”

That reporting class set the path for the rest of Rott’s college career. He decided on a double major in anthropology and journalism. And his plans after graduation?

“I graduated in winter and I hightailed it to Nicaragua,” he says.

Rott likes to joke that he was a “pretty successful degenerate” for a while. He spent his summers fighting fires and planned to become a city firefighter, writing freelance magazine articles on the side.

And then Rott got some advice from professor Carol Van Valkenburg and took a chance, applying for the Stone and Holt Weeks Fellowship, an opportunity for non-traditional journalists to work with the Washington Post and NPR.

He got the call to interview in Washington, D.C., and immediately asked his mom to send his suit up to him in Kalispell, Montana, on a Greyhound bus.

Rott landed the fellowship and spent six months working in D.C., working for some of the best editors at the Washington Post and NPR. He says he still feels incredibly lucky.

When the fellowship ended, he took a break from journalism. He went to Antarctica for five months. He traveled through the Middle East, he worked seasonally in Alaska as a fisherman, the list goes on.

Through it all, Rott stuck with freelancing and, eventually, it paid off. On a trip to D.C. to edit a story, Rott met up with his former editor at NPR, who offered him a job.

“He basically told me, ‘if you can get to LA in seven days, you’ve got a job for two months,’” Rott says. “I turned a two-month contract into another month contract, and I got another month contract after that.”

Rott strung together month-by-month contracts with NPR for two years and was eventually offered a full-time position as a reporter. And that’s where he’s at now: driving around the country, covering stories about wildfires, grizzly bears and the occasional retiring rodeo bull. He says he owes it all to the UM J-School.

“There are a lot of people like me who came from that school and are proud to be coming from that school,” says Rott. “We are where we are today because of that school.”

Rott is currently covering the ongoing discussion of public support for the Endangered Species Act, specifically how it has been affecting the Yellowstone grizzly population for NPR. His work can be found at

This story, which is part of a Thanksgiving week series called “Thank a J-School Grad,” was produced by the Fall 2018 Social Media and Engagement class at the Journalism School.


Be the Best and Be Kind: Wisdom from UM Journalism Grad and Nike Video Producer Thea Bergeron

By Kiana Hohman

Thea Bergeron is the action star of J-School alumni, having filmed from helicopters, private planes, trains, and speeding SUVs.

A lot of this production excitement comes courtesy of her main client, Nike. Bergeron has been producing videos with Nike as a freelance senior creative video producer for more than seven years. Her videos are used in Nike stores, online, and many other platforms.

“My job has provided me with a lifetime of unforgettable experiences,” Bergeron said.

Her career started with a bachelor’s in communication, and a minor in business, from Southern Oregon University in 1994. She then moved to Montana and got a bachelor’s in journalism in 1999.

After graduating from UM, Bergeron moved back to Oregon and interned for Oregon Public Broadcasting. She then got hired as a video production assistant, and worked her way up from there.

As a senior creative producer at Nike, Bergeron, now 47, works on projects from “concept to completion.” She deals with the budget, hiring talent, securing locations and directing shoots.

“My favorite part of the job is telling a story,” she said.  

Although based in Portland, Bergeron’s job takes her all over the world from Dubai to Japan and Uruguay.

Bergeron said college helped expand her knowledge and worldview. It is important to understand what the goal is and go after it, she said.

“It just takes passion, hard work, tenacity, lots of late nights and long days,” said Bergeron. “There are a lot of people that do this job, so you have to be the best at what you do and be kind to everyone because it all comes back around.”

This story, which is part of a Thanksgiving week series called “Thank a J-School Grad,” was produced by the Fall 2018 Social Media and Engagement class at the Journalism School.