Graduate Student Highlight: Professional M.A. Class of December 2023

Four Professional Master's program graduates pose with Stacy Forster after their portfolio showcase
The four Professional Master’s program graduates pose together with program manager Stacy Forster after their portfolio showcase on Friday, December 15, 2023. From left to right, Stacy Forster, Riley Dougherty, Eric Herbst, Michael Horton and Wanruo Zhao.

This December, four Professional M.A. students in the J-School presented their portfolios of published work and completed their degrees. Each of these students dove into their various areas of passion and honed their journalistic and storytelling skills across various forms of media.

Here’s a look at our four graduating ProTrack students, the work they’re most proud of, and what they hope to do next.

Riley Dougherty

Riley Dougherty headshotArea of Focus: Sports communication and marketing, specifically community outreach and fan engagement.

Background: Dougherty graduated with a degree in Communications from the University of Colorado where she focused on sports writing. Choosing the J-School for her graduate degree was an easy decision for her.

“I wanted to go somewhere esteemed and somewhere that would make me feel like part of a community and an individual with something to say rather than just a statistic or a seat to fill,” Dougherty said. “That’s exactly what I’ve found here. Networking with faculty and my peers has been an amazing experience, and I’ll carry those connections with me for the rest of my life.”

Portfolio Highlights:

  • Winners and Losers from the First Round of the NHL Playoffs
    • Dougherty wrote this column for her JOURN 450: Advanced Sports Communication course and it was published in the Jump Around Report, of which she was also one of two managing editors. The column highlights the best and worst moments from the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. “This piece served as a reminder of why I wanted to go into sports journalism in the first place,” Dougherty said. “It was fun to write, and I felt like I was able to use my ‘voice’ in a way that I hadn’t really done yet in the program.”
  • The Next Forty: Assistant Director of NIL and Community Outreach Talks Importance of Giving Back
    • Another column written for JOURN 450: Advanced Sports Communication and published in the Jump Around Report, this piece detailed a conversation with UW-Madison’s assistant Director of NIL and Community Outreach, Bianca Miceli. “[This article] was probably the most important conversation I’ve had with anyone over the course of this program,” Dougherty said. “It made me realize that I want to be doing what Bianca is doing on a regular basis. It was an enlightening feature to write, and helped guide me through a period of confusion and uncertainty about my future.”

Future Plans: After graduating this December, Dougherty will return to the East Coast to cover sports for the Boston Chronicle online. She will also dive into podcasting and help out a friend with a Bruins podcast.

Eric Herbst

Eric Herbst headshotArea of Focus: Academic communications






Michael Horton

Michael Horton headshotArea of Focus: Sports journalism and communication

Background: Originally from Houston, Horton earned his B.A. in Communication in 2022 from Texas A&M University and was a sports writer for the Texas A&M school newspaper, The Battalion. “The people I met when I visited UW-Madison are really what brought me here,” Horton said.

Portfolio Highlights:

  • Five potential targets for the Bucks in the 2023 NBA Draft
    • During his time in the J-School, Horton interned at Brew Hoop, the SB Nation affiliate of the Milwaukee Bucks. This piece was among Horton’s first as an intern. “Since I was new to the site, I was trying very hard to make a good impressions,” Horton said. “I was very proud with how this turned out.”
  • Deer Diaries: A Milwaukee Bucks Podcast, Episode 158: Dame Time comes to Milwaukee
    • This emergency podcast episode was recorded the day of the announcement of the Bucks’ trade for Damian Lillard and marked Horton’s first foray into professional podcasting. “Everyone was going crazy, and we started recording really fast,” Horton said. “It was my first time reacting to breaking news on a microphone like that.”
  • Rapid Recap: Bucks 124, Grizzlies 116
    • This game recap was the first Bucks game that Horton got to cover in person. He attended the pregame press conference and shootaround and was also invited to go to the locker room after the game with other media members. “It was super fun and one of my favorite experiences during my time at UW for sure,” Horton said.
  • Madison Kennedy Little League kicks off another fun-filled season of baseball
    • This Madison Commons article focused on the Kennedy Little League baseball teams and the volunteers that support the league. “This [article] was really early on into my Brew Hoop internship, so it was really cool to take a step back and talk about local sports with such passionate people,” Horton said.
  • Salt Lake City Stars/Billings Bison Rebranding Proposal
    • This proposal was an extra credit assignment for JOURN 350: Sports Marketing Communications and the mission was to rebrand an NBA G-League team. “I had a ton of fun doing this assignment over the winter break in 2022,” Horton said.

Future Plans: After graduation, Horton will continue to write for Brew Hoop while also looking for a full-time job.

Wanruo Zhao

Wanruo Zhao headshotArea of Focus: Multimedia and graphic design

Background: Zhao graduated from American University, Washington D.C. in 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies. He joined the J-School’s professional masters program shortly thereafter. “I chose this program mainly due to its repuation and internship provided,” Zhao said. “I didn’t have much experience before, so my main goal during this program was to strengthen my resume.”

Portfolio Highlights:

  • Down to Earth
    • Written for Curb magazine, Zhao’s article highlights women in agriculture and Wisconsin Women in Conservation, which helps women farmers and landowners in Wisconsin with their farmland. Zhao interviewed two female farmers and conservation coaches to gather specific details about their experience.
  • Polk County public relations strategy
    • Polk County was looking to attract young people to live and work in the area and needed to strengthen their social media presence. Zhao helped design a new logo and create sample social media posts for the county, including a social media mockup and social advertising. The final plan was sent to Polk County for them to implement.

Future Plans: After graduation, Zhao will begin looking for jobs and schedule interviews.