Dec. 13, 2023
Class of 2023: Tarazha Jenkins embraces the power of three majors
Jenkins nurtures a passion for politics and communications that already has given her Capitol Hill and media experience.
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With not one, not two, but three majors, recent graduate Tarazha Jenkins forged an impressive path through Virginia Commonwealth University that reflected her interests and her inner self.
She blended two of her majors – political science and mass communications – to develop her passion for political communications, which wasn’t offered a formal course of study at VCU. But Jenkins didn’t feel a need to create a true interdisciplinary studies degree, either, as she embraced a deep connection to her third major – African American studies – in a department that felt like home.
“The entire Department of African American Studies pushed me through VCU,” she said. “I would not have had three majors without Melissa Siebert,” the department academic advisor who worked with Jenkins for three years.
Siebert called her protege an exceptional student who will make a difference beyond VCU.
“She will be somebody that will be a changemaker. There’s no doubt in my mind,” Siebert said.
Jenkins began finding her academic calling during her freshman year. She went to New Hampshire for the 2020 presidential primaries as part of an experiential learning class led by political science professors Deirdre Condit, Ph.D. and Alexandra Reckendorf, Ph.D. Students met with presidential candidates, visited political party headquarters and attended campaign events and conferences.
“I really got a feel of the whole entire political campaign sphere, and I fell in love with it instantly,” she said.
While on the trip, Jenkins got into a debate with New Hampshire’s then-secretary of state, Bill Gardner. She and other VCU students asked him why New Hampshire should hold the nation’s first presidential primaries and if the state was diverse enough for such prominence. This led to Jenkins and the other students to being on two podcasts to speak about their experiences.
“It was definitely a pivotal point in my entire life, where I realized I want to do political communications. I saw what me personally asking a public official could do for people,” Jenkins said.
She has nurtured her interest through multiple internships, including with Sen. Tim Kaine and Rep. Bobby Scott. Her experience on Capitol Hill was facilitated through the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and in her work drafting releases and monitoring news reports, she has seen the media’s impact on society – and how important public messaging is in politics.
“I really fell in love with that service aspect of it,” she said.
Jenkins also interned at NBCUniversal on the MSNBC show “All In With Chris Hayes,” which was a major shift from working on the Hill and an opportunity to gain experience on the other side of the news desk. She sat in on executive meetings about news coverage, transcribed Hayes’ meetings and fact-checked the elements of the show.
“If anything slipped up in the show, it was our fault, so having that pressure was really good for me – and seeing that fast-paced environment was completely new,” Jenkins said.
On campus, she did student reporting with VCU Capital News Service, which she called an important step in her journalistic training of writing and publishing articles.
“My first solo article was featured in the Washington Post. I was like, ‘This is amazing.’ I felt like I was making a change,” Jenkins said.
Alix Bryan-Campos, director of Capital News Service and assistant professor of digital journalism, said Jenkins asked to join the class, which is uncommon for students who aren’t required to take it. She said Jenkins covered many complex political stories with a greater understanding of how policy impacts everyday life.
“I feel really fortunate to have students like Tarazha who understand how important their work is and want to grab opportunities,” Bryan-Campos said. “I think she’s going to be graduating with experience that puts her at the same level as many people working professionally.”
Jenkins spent her final semester writing for the Commonwealth Times as a “last hurrah.” She called it a nice way to round out her education at VCU and a culmination of all the skills she learned at the university.
“I would just say like my time at VCU was definitely wild,” Jenkins said.
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