Maximizing Her Network Avalon Pernell ’23 credits the mentorship she received on campus as she launches her career in business journalism.
“The people are what make this place.”
~Avalon Pernell ’23
For Avalon Pernell ’23, a Washington and Lee University senior from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a typical day on campus looks anything but typical.
Pernell, a Johnson Scholar who is majoring in journalism and German, serves as a University Ambassador in the Office of Admissions, has written for for the Ring Tum Phi, and currently produces The Rockbridge Report, Washington and Lee’s student-run news outlet. Her podcast, The Bright Spot, has also run for two seasons and has allowed Pernell to speak with women at different points of their college experiences and professional careers.
Early in Pernell’s time at W&L, she had the opportunity to interview the mayor of Pittsburgh as part of a panel discussion on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Her advisor, W&L journalism professor Toni Locy, facilitated this opportunity. It came about after a W&L law graduate, who is friends with a “Meet the Press” producer, informed Locy that the show was looking for exceptional student journalists. Pernell said many of her experiences at Washington and Lee have come from personal connections and relationships she has built on campus.
“I feel like that’s been most of my experience at W&L,” Pernell said. “For example, my internship after my sophomore year at the Birmingham Business Journal happened because I had a conversation with Professor Alecia Swasy [Donald W. Reynolds Professor of Business Journalism at W&L]. After my first year, I did an internship with a digital business media platform that focuses on startups owned by women and people of color, and I mentioned to her how much I loved covering these businesses. She immediately said, ‘let’s get you into a business journal.’” Pernell ended up winning three press awards for her work there.
Paul Youngman, associate provost and Harry E. and Mary Jayne W. Redenbaugh Professor of German, got to know Pernell even before she arrived on campus through her interviews for the university’s Johnson Scholarship. He described her as a student poised to take advantage of all that W&L has to offer. Pernell arrived on campus with what Youngman described as an “abiding interest in things German” and wanted to enroll in an upper-level course Youngman teaches about antisemitism in German culture that is not normally open to first-year students. Youngman said Pernell made an appointment to talk with him to make her case and that he has no regrets about offering her a spot in the class. Her participation in this course would lead to Pernell working extensively with Youngman through other classes, as well as an informal mentorship that grew alongside her academic path, eventually resulting in her studying abroad in Berlin.
“Avalon knows there is no success in a vacuum – that we are all a part of a network, and therefore success is a shared phenomenon,” Youngman said. “She knows that modeling hard work is a part of setting the example for others, which, in turn, is an important part of leadership. She knows generosity never hurts, costs nothing and is always helpful. Finally, Avalon knows that it’s not always the explicit play to become a leader that makes a genuine leader. Sometimes it’s the implicit and the subtle that carries the day.”
Pernell said that working on the Rockbridge Report has been one of her most significant endeavors on campus.
“Since I set foot on campus as a first-year student, I knew I wanted to be in the broadcast program,” Pernell said, “just so I could experience what it would look like being on TV, being a news anchor, and I’ve basically been a part of that since day one.” Pernell has been an anchor, a reporter and assisted with the Rockbridge Report’s election night coverage. This term, she is serving as one of three producers of the newscast and website.
“The journalism program gives students tangible examples of the work they are capable of doing,” said Locy. “There are multiple opportunities that provide prospective employers with valuable work they can use to evaluate whether to hire students for an internship or job, and Avalon took full advantage of every opportunity the curriculum offers students.”
All of Pernell’s journalistic experience at W&L has translated into a career opportunity geared toward her interest in business journalism. She will be moving to New York City after graduation to work for Bloomberg News. In reflecting on this chapter of her life, she said that it is the relationships she built at Washington and Lee that have most enriched her time on campus.
“The people are what make this place,” Pernell said. “The people are what can really help you mold this experience and navigate W&L throughout the four years.”
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