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Graduate student reflects on lessons learned at Cronkite School

Hayden Cilley knew in high school that he wanted to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the shortest time possible.

That led Cilley to enroll in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s Accelerated Master’s Program, which allowed him to earn his Master of Mass Communication and Bachelor of Arts in Sports Journalism in four years.

“I chose the Accelerated Master because I could graduate so quickly. Being able to graduate in four years with two degrees was a dream of mine… so this program provided the perfect opportunity for that,” he said.

Cilley will graduate with his master’s degree at the Cronkite School’s spring convocation in 2024, where he will also be one of two students honored with a Cronkite Spirit Award. He received his bachelor’s degree in May 2023.

The master’s program has allowed him to acquire several skills that he believes will serve him in his career.

“I understand concepts about digital audiences, using data in journalism and creating team projects and presentations,” he said.

Cilley also credited his former instructor, Maureen West, with teaching him valuable lessons about news reporting and helping him develop his writing as a journalist. West passed away in July 2022, but Cilley never forgot the lessons he learned while sitting in her classroom and visiting her office.

“I would show up at her office hours and just pick her brain. Over the course of the semester, I went from writing a measly paragraph to a 1,500-word story,” he said.

He discussed these lessons, along with how he improved his writing, during his time at Cronkite School.

Q: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you were studying in?

Answer: I went to a (Cronkite) camp in 2019. It was a play-by-play camp that (Cronkite News Phoenix Sports Bureau Director and Professor of Practice) Paola Boivin organized. It was something I dreamed of for a long time, not even just any camp, but having the opportunity to be behind a microphone. It opened my eyes to not even what the school is, but what the actual industry is. I thought it was literally just about broadcasting, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’m so glad it turned out this way, because I went from doing play-by-play and wanting to be behind a microphone, to learning the art of storytelling in every way possible.

Q: What did you learn at ASU – in the classroom or otherwise – that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: Don’t be afraid to hear no or hear that something could be improved. I now humbly admit that I was very emotionally immature. I think I was a little behind my peers in terms of emotional maturity and learning how to take things with a grain of salt. I think some of the best professors are truly the ones who aren’t afraid to rip off the band-aid and speak to you in a constructive and respectful way.

Q: What is the best advice you would give to those still in school?

A: I know it’s hard for graduate students, but try to get involved. Ask questions, ask around, ask faculty. I built a great relationship with Dean (Battinto) Batts because I emailed him. In my head I’m like “you’re the dean of the school and I’d actually like to know who you are as an individual” and he helped me a lot. It all started with asking a simple question.

The second piece of advice is the Arizona Diamondbacks’ slogan during the playoffs: Embrace the chaos. The industry as a whole is so hectic. I know people who have covered election cycles. One of my good colleagues is going to Washington DC with the (Cronkite News Washington Bureau) and will cover the elections. It’s intense, but you have to prepare for that. And finally, just have a sense of gratitude and appreciation.

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

A: For something more chill and quieter is the Valley Coffee Company. I’m not a coffee person, but I’m that guy who gets water or lemonade. But I just love the atmosphere of it – very cozy. You almost feel like you’re being given a blanket when you walk in there.

The second place will sound very obscure: Waffle House. I did a lot of running at Waffle House at 12 in the morning. I don’t pay for the food; I pay for the experience. These two spots are definitely not at the top of my list.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will be working at USA Basketball until January 2025. I started my first few events when the 2024 Final Four (men) was here. The (USA Basketball 3×3 Men’s National Team) was here in Arizona, as well as the (USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team). That’s what I’m going to do on the journalism side. I’m still applying, but I definitely have USA Basketball to work with for the next year until that time is up.