A student standing on the outdoor patio of the Newseum.
Georgia Geen standing on the outdoor patio at the Newseum in Washington. As executive editor of The Commonwealth Times, she led a team that won the paper's first Pacemaker Award, the preeminent prize of student-run newspapers. (Courtesy photo)

Class of 2020: Georgia Geen helped VCU’s student newspaper become one of the country’s best

Geen, executive editor at The Commonwealth Times and a VCU journalism student, is set to start an internship this summer at the Los Angeles Times.

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Though VCU will not hold an in-person commencement ceremony this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the university will host a virtual commencement celebration May 8 and spring graduates will be invited to participate in the university's formal commencement ceremony on Dec. 12. In these challenging times, thousands of students will earn their degrees this spring. These are some of their stories.

Georgia Geen often saw a familiar face as she walked through the Virginia Commonwealth University campus — her mom. While Geen, an aspiring journalist, was working on her bachelor’s in communications, her mother was earning a master’s degree in creative writing.

“It was really fun,” Geen said. “She and I are really close, and it was nice to see her and get to hang out.”

Like her mother, Geen has devoted her college experience to writing. She has spent four years at The Commonwealth Times student newspaper and will graduate from the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences with a degree in mass communication. She will also earn a second bachelor’s in Spanish from the School of World Studies when she graduates in May.

Her hard work at the paper and in the classroom has paid off. Geen, who grew up in Mechanicsville, is set to begin a 10-week internship this summer at the Los Angeles Times, one of the largest metro dailies in the country.

Geen became interested in writing at an early age. She attended creative writing camps throughout high school and was active with her high school newspaper. When she started at VCU, she inquired about working at The Commonwealth Times and freelanced as a contributing writer for arts and culture stories.

“I was really impressed with the work they were doing,” Geen said. “I thought the staff had a lot of personality. It seemed like a really dynamic group of people.”

By the end of her freshman year, Geen had been hired as a staff writer and eventually became editor of the arts and entertainment section. Over the past year, she has been the paper’s executive editor, setting the editorial direction for the publication. Last month, when the COVID-19 outbreak forced the newspaper to stop printing, Geen and staff developed plans to continue publishing stories online.

Geen said she has grown a lot over the past four years. When she started with The Commonwealth Times, she was only comfortable writing about arts and culture. As time went on, she had to learn other areas of the publication and how to manage a staff, which can be challenging at a student-run newspaper.

“We are students,” Geen said. “We spend almost all of our time together. We are going to become close. You have to figure out how to divide the personal and professional.”

The highlight of Geen’s time at the newspaper was winning the 2019 Associated Collegiate Press Pacemaker Award, the preeminent prize of student-run newspapers. The Commonwealth Times was selected not only for the Pacemaker Award, but also a second-place honor and Best of Show at the association’s conference earlier this year.

Geen’s internship at the Los Angeles Times will focus on audience engagement and social media. She knows it will be a major change from the small staff at The Commonwealth Times.

“It will be a little bit of an adjustment,” she said.

She feels her time at VCU and work at the newspaper have set her up for success.

“Working at The Commonwealth Times has been the thing that made my college experience,” she said.

Geen knows that she confronts a tenuous path with journalism, as the field has undergone major restructuring in recent years. But she has a passion for telling stories and engaging readers through social media and other media channels. She knows that will serve her well. And Geen says her mother has been a huge supporter of her pursuit. She wants Geen to be successful as a writer and has encouraged her to go after her dream.

“I want to stay in journalism for as long as the industry will have me,” Geen said.