Where are they now? Former scholarship winner focuses on stories that matter

Public radio reporter Stella Chavez focuses on education issues in Texas.

Stella Chavez finds the stories that often linger in shadows, whether it be those of migrant farm workers in Florida or a sexual abuse victim.

While at The Dallas Morning News in 2006, Stella co-authored “Yolanda’s Crossing.” The seven-part series details the 5,000-mile journey of a young Mexican girl abused repeatedly by an uncle who smuggles her into the United States. The series received much recognition including the Livingston Award for Young Journalists, the Dart Award for Excellence in Reporting on Victims of Violence, the Associated Press Managing Editors International Perspective Award and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists print feature award.

Stella, a University of Texas at Austin alum, spent most of her career in newspapers before landing in public radio as KERA’s education reporter/blogger, where she is chronicling the class of 2017 as Dallas area students make their way toward graduation.

What is your most rewarding part of your job?

Getting out of the office to interview people from different backgrounds. I love learning about new things and talking with people. I also enjoy spending time in the classroom and observing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a classroom for elementary kids or one for adults.

How did the Hispanic Communicators-DFW scholarship help you achieve your goals?

I got a scholarship from the network each year I was in college. I’m extremely grateful for that. My parents didn’t have a lot of money and couldn’t afford to pay for my entire college education, so every bit helped. The organization was also a great source for finding mentors and inspiration. I’ll never forget the first scholarship banquet I attended — author Sandra Cisneros was the keynote speaker. What she said has always stayed with me. She said one should always write from their heart. Whenever I struggle with the writing process, I think back to her words.

What has been the most interesting  event in your career?

The day after 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez was taken from his home in Miami. I was a reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and out covering the protests. At one point, a group of protesters tried jumping onto a fire truck that was passing by. Police in riot gear began firing tear gas into the crowd. I’d never experience anything like that, so I was a bit in shock. Most of the seasoned reporters and photographers wore bandanas around their face. I remember bringing a towel or something with me, but I don’t believe I was wearing it. I started running away from the gas, but it was too late. My eyes were burning. When I called my editor, he joked that this was a good thing, something about it being a rite of passage for a reporter. I laughed about it later.

What are you most proud of?

My work on “Yolanda’s Crossing.” It was an incredibly challenging project that pushed all of us who worked on it to the max. We were able to tell the story of an incredibly brave young woman. I’ve also pushed myself in ways I never had before like writing personal essays and even co-writing a TV script for a contest. The older I get, the more I’m willing to try new things. Now that I’m in public radio, I’m learning an entirely different way of writing and storytelling.

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