For recent graduate Kayla Brantley '17, what began as a report she wrote for the SC&I course Travel Writing turned into a Henry Rutgers Scholar Award. Her piece, “Vilma’s Telenovela,” chronicled her grandmother’s immigration to the United States from Guatemala. It was featured in the Fall 2016 edition of the Journalism and Media Studies undergraduate magazine, Kairos. Its expansion into her honors thesis earned her the Henry Rutgers Scholar Award, which is presented to outstanding senior honors theses.
Brantley said, “It was such an honor to receive this award! Especially because my thesis was a personal story, and not the ‘typical’ form of a thesis paper. Knowing that others read my work and enjoyed it was extremely rewarding. It also felt like all my months of hard work interviewing and writing paid off!”
She was nominated for the award by SC&I's Assistant Professor of Professional Practice Mary D’Ambrosio and the Rutgers English Department's Assistant Professor Paul Blaney. Professor D’Ambrosio called Brantley a “terrific example of the things globally minded students can accomplish.” It is students like Brantley that inspired her to create the upcoming Global Media Specialization in the Journalism and Media Studies major.
Brantley said, “The prompt for my Travel Writing class was to write an odyssey. Many of the assignments I wrote for that class were based on personal experience, but I had never experienced anything epic enough to be deemed an odyssey. I didn’t know too many details about my grandmother’s story of coming to the United States, only the little tidbits I had heard throughout the years, but figured there had to be some incredible details that were not yet uncovered. I sat down with my grandmother once or twice for the short story in Travel Writing, and then many, many more times while writing the thesis.”
“Vilma’s Telenovela” tells the story of Brantley’s grandmother and her emigration from Guatemala to the United States. Growing up, she lived on a compound with live-in maids and free education. Her father’s job at the United Fruit Company provided Vilma with many opportunities.
She visited the United States several times before moving there permanently. While pregnant with her first child, Vilma was sent to live with her aunt in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She spent her time as her aunt’s maid, earning her keep to stay there. Brantley writes that Vilma “couldn’t help but feel as if her life was the kind of telenovela her aunt might watch – filled with irony and drama.”
Despite some struggles she endured in both Guatemala and the U.S., Vilma was determined to provide for her children the way she was provided for. Brantley tells the story of her journey to make that happen.
Brantley said, “Writing the story on my grandmother gave me a newfound appreciation for her. There is plenty that I discovered along the way. I enjoyed listening and she enjoyed sharing. It was great bonding time and I would suggest for everyone to sit down with their grandparents or parents while they’re still her to listen to the many years of stories they have to share.”
Brantley will continue writing as a reporter in the U.S. bureau of the Daily Mail. She will attend training in London for four months, and then begin work in New York City.
Brantley says that her thesis writing helped prepare her for this job. She said, “Being able to write non-fiction in a creative manner will definitely help in my storytelling of news and world events.”