CoJMC to honor students, alumni and leaders during J Days

CoJMC to honor students, alumni and leaders during J Days

Monday, April 21, 2014 - 7:00pm

Students, alumni and distinguished professionals will be honored during the college’s J Days celebration April 23-25.

The annual celebration kicks off with Game Night on Wednesday, April 23, where students can participate in Game Night. Each student club will host a carnival-style game in Andersen Hall so that students can come together to have fun and relax.

On Thursday, April 24, the CoJMC will host panel discussions featuring honored CoJMC alumni throughout the afternoon, followed by a networking event. The first panel, “Your Future in ADPR: Skills You Need in the Digital Age,” features Jay Wilkinson, Firespring CEO, and Shari Sallee, health care communications consultant. The second panel, “Your Future in Broadcast and Journalism: Skills you Need in the Digital Age,” features Kelly Johnson of The Washington Post and Rob McCarney of KETV in Omaha. The third panel will combine the four panelists in a discussion titled, “You’re Hired: The Dos and Don’ts of Landing Your First Job.”

J Days Connect, which follows the panel discussions, allows participating students to informally network with industry veterans who will share their experiences about trends, mass media communications and finding jobs in their industries.

The week culminates with three events on Friday, April 25: the J Days awards luncheon; J Days Showcase; and J Days Honors Convocation. 

During a luncheon for the honorees, the college will present Alumni Awards of Excellence to Kelly Johnson, Rob McCartney, Shari Sallee and Jay Wilkinson. The Broadcast Pioneer Award will be presented to Jack Payne; the Advertising and Public Relations Professional Achievement Award will be presented to Brandon Curtis; the Kappa Tau Alpha Outstanding Service to the Profession Award will be presented to associate dean Charlyne Berens; the Thomas C. Sorensen Award for Distinguished Nebraska Journalism to Emily Szink of KMTV Action 3 News, and Jan Schultz and Russ Pankonin of The Imperial Republican; and the Hitchcock Outstanding Graduate Student Awards go to Allison Busch and Wade Hilligoss. 

Current students will have the opportunity to exhibit their work during the J Days Showcase in the afternoon.

Brandon Curtis, digital brand manager at Red Bull of Salzburg, Austria, will deliver the keynote address at the annual honors convocation that evening. 



The college will induct students into the journalism honor society, Kappa Tau Alpha, and recognize students who made the dean's honor roll and university honors. In addition, scholarship recipients and those who won regional and national competitions in advertising, public relations, broadcasting and news and special awards will be recognized. 



Begun in 1992, J Days is a week-long celebration held each spring to honor and recognize the work and achievements of current students, alumni and industry leaders.

Bios of the honorees are below. 

Alumni Awards of Excellence:

Kelly Johnson (’96) is currently the Sunday Business editor of The Washington Post. In 2007, she covered the Financial desk during the financial crisis, bank collapse and the seizure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by the federal government. In 2006 Johnson worked as an editor on the Foreign desk. Prior to coming to The Post, she taught for seven years at the American Indian Journalism Institute, a program for Native American students who are interested in journalism careers, and was a copy editor for The Oregonian.

Rob McCartney (’84) has anchored the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscast at KETV Channel 7 in Omaha since 1995 and served as KETV Capital Bureau Chief from 1992 to 1995. McCartney’s previous experience is with KOLN/KGIN in Lincoln and NTV in Kearney. He began his broadcast career as a student doing on-air shifts at UNL’s campus radio station, 90.3 KRNU, and Lincoln FM station KXSS 95.1. 

Sheri Sallee (’95) returned to Nebraska in 2013 to start a non-profit dedicated to child health advocacy. Her career as a health care strategist spans nearly two decades in public relations, cause marketing, public affairs and corporate communications with companies such as Edelman Chicago; Perry Communications Group of Sacramento, Calif.; and Sutter Health, one of California’s leading health systems.

Jay Wilkinson (’88) founded Firespring in 2001. Today, Firespring has thousands of clients on five continents and was listed in Inc. Magazine as one of the Top 50 Small Company Workplaces. Wilkinson started numerous businesses while in high school and college. In 1986, Wilkinson helped to launch Campus Connection Magazine in New York City. In 1992, he opened an AlphaGraphics printing franchise, which broke the first-year sales record for the 350-store network.

Advertising and Public Relations Wings Award and Honors Convocation Speaker:
Brandon Curtis (’07) began his professional career at Archrival. After two years, Curtis moved to Red Bull, first as a national collegiate marketing manager to an international applications manager and, finally, as the head of international digital brand marketing where he is based in Salzburg, Austria. In 2012, he created the #skybluepink campaign, a social media movement, for his father who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. 

Nebraska Pioneer Award:
Jack Payne’s career in broadcasting spans 46 years and includes association with six radio stations and one television station. He is best known in Nebraska for his 17 years at WOW and WOW-TV and his 22 years at KFAB Radio. Payne created and produced many “firsts” for television sports broadcasting in the Omaha market. He also broadcast Nebraska football and basketball, high school basketball tournaments, the Drake relays and state high school track and field.

Kappa Tau Alpha Outstanding Service to the Profession Award:
Dr. Charlyne Berens is associate dean and teaches honors courses about freedom of expression. She has also taught courses in writing, reporting and editing as well as a media survey course for majors and non-majors. In addition to teaching she has published two books about the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature. Her most recent book is a biography of Nebraska’s former U.S. Senator, now U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. She received one of the Freedom Forum Journalism Teacher of the Year awards in 2002 and was honored with UNL’s College Award for Distinguished Teaching that same year. The Association of Students of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln named Berens Outstanding Educator of the Year in 2005-06. She was named to the Nebraska Press Association Hall of Fame in 2011 and received an honorary doctorate from Concordia University Nebraska in 2012. 

Thomas C. Sorensen Award for Distinguished Nebraska Journalism
Emily Szink, Jan Schultz and Russ Pankonin will be honored with the Thomas C. Sorensen Award for Distinguished Nebraska Journalism. Szink is a reporter with KMTV Action 3 News. Schultz, news editor, and Pankonin, co-publisher, are with the Imperial Republican. A UNL grad, Sorensen was a former Nebraska journalist and came from a Nebraska family notable for its service in politics, education and business at the state, national and international levels.