Donors launch endowment to aid Journalistic Learning Initiative

Middle school student studying

A pair of longtime UO supporters have made another gift to help a program that gives a boost to middle and high school students by building their reporting and storytelling skills.

The gift from Nancy and Dave Petrone established an endowment to help the Journalistic Learning Initiative become self-sustaining. The program, launched in 2015 by journalism associate professor Ed Madison, works in collaboration with the School of Journalism and Communication and the College of Education to improve academic outcomes for students from underserved communities.

The Petrones believe it is important to invest in young people, especially those who grow up with less-privileged backgrounds.

“JLI gives students the tools they need to succeed in school and their future careers, from critical thinking and the confidence to ask questions to skills in research, interviewing and public speaking,” Dave Petrone said. “The program also builds their self-esteem and the courage to do things they’ve never done before.”

The gift brings the Petrones’ donations to the Journalistic Learning Initiative to a total of $1.1 million. The couple gave an initial gift of $500,000 in December 2017, and the program’s impact was so significant they decided to give an additional $600,000 in October 2020 — $500,000 for the organization’s operations and $100,000 to establish the endowment.

Although the Petrones’ gift kicks off the Journalistic Learning Initiative Endowment Fund, the goal is to grow the fund to $2 million so the program can become self-sustaining. Anyone can donate to the endowment, which will support the organization’s mission to empower students to discover their voice, improve academic outcomes and engage in self-directed learning through project-based storytelling.

“You may have heard the term ‘built to last,’” Madison said. "The University of Oregon is a great institution that is nearly 150 years old. We want to build this project to serve kids beyond me being here. That’s what an endowment does.”

Madison said the Petrones’ gifts have allowed the Journalistic Learning Initiative to grow in ways it wouldn’t have otherwise.

Bi-Mart, a prominent Northwest region retailer, is underwriting the organization’s expansion into 20 rural communities next fall, which could not have happened without the Petrones’ gifts to grow the program,” Madison said.

The gifts support several Journalistic Learning Initiative operations, including program assessment, curriculum development, teacher training, workshops, professional development, online expansion and multimedia documentation of the organization’s work.

Nancy and Dave PetroneIn 2020, Madison also received a grant through the Tom and Carol Williams Fund for Undergraduate Education to establish The Student Voice, the Journalistic Learning Initiative’s newest extension. The digital publication connects undergraduate students with high school journalists and their faculty advisers to curate stories through weekly virtual newsroom sessions.

“We have a virtual newsroom where we talk to high school kids from different parts of the country about what’s going on in the news this week and hear them tell us about the stories they’re working on,” Madison said. “Then we’ll republish their work in our digital publication.”

The Student Voice launched in January and will function as a class for UO students during winter and spring terms.

Hanin Najjar, a journalism senior at the UO and co-editor of The Student Voice, said launching the program was rewarding, and she hopes to see it grow in the future. “The Student Voice is very important because it gives a platform to and amplifies the voices of young people,” Najjar said. “In the past few years we’ve seen that young people have a lot to say, whether it’s on gun violence, gender equality, racism or other issues.”

—By Joanna Mann, School of Journalism and Communication