Graduate Student Highlight: Miquéla Thornton

Miquela Thornton headshotName: Miquéla Thornton

Expected Graduation Date: May 2025

One of the key facets of the J-School’s Professional Master’s program is the chance for students to design their degree path around their interests and passions. That’s what drew current professional master’s student Miquéla Thornton to the J-School. Thornton’s reporting focuses on climate change and environmental justice with stories ranging from science and tech to politics and business. She shares more about her work and what she hopes to do after she graduates.

Why did you choose Madison and the J-School for graduate school?

The two main reasons I chose the J-School were its willingness to deviate from the traditional rigid structure of graduate journalism programs and its centering on journalistic ethics and integrity. As I wrote in my initial statement of purpose, by underscoring the “how,” “what,” and “why” of media, through its broad requirements of skills, concepts, and other-discipline courses, the self-designed program elevates graduate education from a preliminary workshop of ability to a cultivation of craft, critical thinking, and an understanding of one’s place in a functioning society. As someone who has a wide variety of journalistic interests – narrative and feature writing, documentary-making, photography, multimedia, audio, you name it – and is compelled to report on the climate and environmental justice beat, a flexible program that not only afforded the room to explore but valued creative and intellectual freedom was paramount.

I also chose Madison for many reasons but here are a few:

  1. The isthmus and the natural spaces (I can be found at the arboretum hugging trees)
  2. The food (catch me at Estacion Inka ordering the chicharron and plantains)
  3. The J-School professors whose work and research aligned with my interests in ethical storytelling (shout out to Adam [Schrager], Jacob [Kushner], and Sue [Robinson] whom I had the privilege of working with this semester)
  4. Madison’s major media and creativity landscape, which is rare to find modernly in this capacity and vibrancy (as the David Maraniss fellow I’ll be interning at The Cap Times this summer!).

One more reason I would have chosen to live here that I have only recognized recently is the people and amount of active and socially engaged community members that call it home.

What is the focus of your reporting in your recent or current work?

I tell stories of climate change and environmental justice with a special interest in solutions journalism, and while that may sound like a very siloed interest and beat, the stories within it are anything but, and span everything from science, energy, and tech reporting to politics and business, to human-centered stories of resilience. Some recent work I’m proud of includes an ongoing project on Madison emerging as a hub for nuclear fusion, a potentially limitless clean energy, and what a city that may house some of the world’s first fusion pilot plants could look like and a piece I wrote for my international reporting course on Kenya’s rise as a geothermal powerhouse, its propensity to eliminate energy poverty, and solutions to the displacement of indigenous communities that have come with it.

Currently, you can find some of my short-form blog posts on climate-tech startups in Foot.Notes, the media section of FootPrint Coalition, Robert Downey Jr’s climate technology investment initiative.

What do you hope to do after you graduate from the J-School?

I want to tell stories related to our warming planet in 1) whatever capacity I’m best equipped to tell them and 2) whichever medium best suits the story. At the SJMC I’ve explored my interests in narrative writing, multimedia storytelling, and international journalism, and will continue to study what compels me most. I’ve learned about the different avenues for storytelling from freelancing and staff-writing for publications to communications-oriented work and corporate media, and as someone open to any opportunity life has, I hope to land anywhere where I can ethically, truthfully, and vibrantly tell stories that would otherwise go untold.

What advice do you have for students hoping to attend the J-School for their graduate degree?

Create concrete goals, but be willing to pivot as you discover new interests! The flexibility of the J-School’s curricula is one of my favorite aspects, but without a plan, you may not take full advantage of what such a personalized program has to offer. Additionally, as you tiptoe out of your comfort zone or indulge a new interest, these goals can be added to, and deserve the same time, attention, dedication, and diligence as your initial ideas.

I also recommend looking into assistantship positions early! Grad school can be incredibly expensive, but the J-School luckily allows you to maintain an assistantship (which comes with a tuition waiver and stipend) while in the program, which many programs of similar caliber do not.

Any fun facts or hobbies that you’d like to share?

In my free time, I love exploring Madison’s art museums, making art (I paint and, in true journalism-nerd fashion, make collages with vintage magazines), and being the one roller skater on the bike paths!