Five alumni join 2022 class of
Student Media Hall of Fame

By Kelly Morgan, BA’22

 

An award-winning television producer, a journalist-turned-scholar of media innovation, a co-founder of Vandy-in-Hollywood, an opinion editor at The New York Times, and an award-winning entertainment correspondent are the latest inductees in the Vanderbilt Student Media Hall of Fame.

 

Selected for the 2022 class are Stuart Watson, BA’83; Hayes Ferguson, BA’84; Chad Gervich, BA’96; Katherine Miller, BA’10; and Francesca Amiker, BA’12.

 

The Student Media Hall of Fame was established in 2009 to honor Vanderbilt University alumni who have achieved outstanding personal or professional accomplishments and/or made distinguished and lasting contributions to their field and/or to society in general. The names of the five new inductees will be added to a permanent Hall of Fame display in Sarratt Student Center.

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FRANCESCA AMIKER

BA’12

As a Vanderbilt undergraduate, Francesca Amiker was a leader in video production through the work she did with Vanderbilt Television. Today, she is a four-time Emmy Award-winning journalist who serves as a correspondent for E! News at E! Networks.

 

When she served as Vanderbilt Television’s morning anchor on the Morning VU show, she interviewed celebrities and fellow students on-air to help them share their stories with the Vanderbilt audience.

 

“I became a self-starter and self-sufficient journalist thanks to Vanderbilt Student Communications,” Amiker said. “When I graduated into the real world, I quickly realized I had the privilege of knowing how to find the story, shoot the story, write the story, edit the video for the story and deliver the story as an anchor or reporter on a newscast—all while still going to classes.”

 

“Knowing how to do it all in a fast-paced environment is what quickly landed me my first, second, and third local news jobs,” she said. Those skills would later help launch her national career.

 

After graduation, she dove into a career in journalism, working her way up until she became morning entertainment anchor at 11 Alive News, NBC Atlanta, where she founded the station’s first-ever entertainment franchise The A-Scene, a 30-minute entertainment show.

 

As anchor, she covered subjects from technology to politics, and she went above and beyond to land exclusive set visits and red-carpet interviews. Within a year of joining the morning show, viewership doubled, and for the first time ever, 11 Alive saw an increase in younger viewers.

 

“When I think about accomplishments as a journalist, I think about what impact I’ve had on the communities that I’ve served,” Amiker said. “I am proud of the smiles I left in Lansing, Michigan, the justice that I helped acquire for certain communities in Jacksonville living in squalor, but one of my proudest accomplishments was being able to sit on the anchor desk in my hometown of Atlanta and have my mom and dad watch from their living room. I added to the fabric of my city by creating an entertainment community that helps actors, producers, and directors rise in the industry.”

 

Coming full circle, she visited Vanderbilt in 2021 to serve as the keynote speaker for VSC’s annual Media Intensive workshop, a program designed to introduce incoming students to media opportunities at Vanderbilt and beyond. “Close your eyes and envision your biggest dream,” she told students after recounting her own inspirational story. “You are going to get yourself there through your own hard work.”

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HAYES FERGUSON

BA’84

Hayes Ferguson served for a decade as a newspaper reporter, including five years as a foreign correspondent. Now she directs Northwestern University’s Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and acts as a clinical associate professor in the university’s McCormick School of Engineering.

 

Long before her award-winning career as an entrepreneur, she received her BA in political science and Spanish from Vanderbilt University. While a student at Vandy, she was a photographer for the Commodore yearbook and a DJ for WRVU, where she interviewed multiple bands live on-air.

 

In what would be the first interview in a career that has included hundreds, Ferguson spoke with members of The Long Ryders.

 

“A few friends came down to the studio after the band started playing songs on-air, and the session turned into a party that required station management to intervene,” she said. “I’ve been far more professional since then.”

 

Also in heavy rotation during Ferguson’s shift were fledgling bands like the Smiths and R.E.M. A favorite memory is bartending at R.E.M.’s Nashville record release party for their debut EP.

 

“At the time, they were a group of relative unknowns playing music that was unlike anything that was on commercial radio,” she said. “About 40 people showed up in a room in Sarratt to celebrate their first record and drink cheap beer.”

 

Ferguson’s stint at WRVU led to gigs hosting music and news shows in Trenton, Philadelphia, Italy, and her hometown, New Orleans. But she ultimately was drawn to writing and reporting—something that came easily, thanks to years of radio interviews.

 

After covering Latin America for The Times-Picayune from a base in Mexico City, Ferguson was awarded a Knight-Wallace fellowship for accomplished journalists at University of Michigan. Following the yearlong sabbatical in Ann Arbor, she wrote for People magazine before pivoting to digital media entrepreneurship in the late 1990s. She was part of the founding management team of Legacy.com, among the 50 most visited websites. After the company was sold, she held leadership roles at multiple digital media startups before joining Northwestern.

 

“I’ve been very fortunate to do a lot of things I’m passionate about, through a very non-linear career,” she said. “A key lesson learned, which I share with my students all the time, is: Do what you enjoy and the rest will unfold in unexpected and rewarding ways.”

 

“It’s really hard to predict where you’re going to land five years after graduation, much less 40 years later,” she tells her students. “But the experiences you gain in college will lay a strong foundation for whatever is to come.”

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CHAD GERVICH

BA’96

Chad Gervich is a television producer, bestselling author, award-winning playwright, and dedicated educator who has continued to support the Vanderbilt community long after his matriculation.

 

A class of 1996 graduate, Gervich began his media career as a DJ, radio host, and producer for WRVU and Vanderbilt Television. “Working with VSC was the first time I realized I could take these things that I loved—music, TV, film, etc.—and actually do something professional with them,” Gervich said. “They weren’t professional in the sense that they paid me, but they all allowed me to make professional decisions, put those decisions into the world, and see how they were received.”

 

Fast-forward 25 years, and he has written, developed, and produced shows for a staggering number of media titans: HBO Max, Paramount+, ABC, FOX, Warner Brothers, Amazon, VH1, MTV, Endemol, CBS Studios, YouTube, TruTV, and Food Network.

 

He is best known for his work on HBO’s acclaimed documentary "Gaming Wall Street”; E!’s hit comedy "After Lately," starring Chelsea Handler; Lifetime's "My Partner Knows Best," starring Jason Biggs and Jenny Mollen; Disney Channel’s "Dog With a Blog”; and ABC’s “Wipeout.”

 

In addition to his television work, he has also authored three books, including the best-selling Random House title “Small Screen, Big Picture: A Writer’s Guide to the TV Business,” commonly considered television’s go-to “bible” for those working in the industry. Gervich teaches all of UCLA’s undergraduate TV-writing courses, and he has taught and designed courses for NYU, Emerson, Warner Bros., Fox, Nike, and the Singapore Media Academy.

 

“I feel most proud of the fact that I’ve survived, that I’ve been writing in Hollywood for nearly 20 years,” Gervich said when considering his career in hindsight. “It can be a brutal industry. I’ve thought about giving up a million times, and maybe the day that it beats me is just around the corner … but it hasn’t happened yet."

 

In 2007, Gervich co-founded Vandy-in-Hollywood, a professional organization which has placed 300+ Vanderbilt students in professional internships, and he recently was appointed to the Vanderbilt Alumni Association Board.

 

“To me, Vanderbilt is where I became myself—or at least, where I started to become the self I wanted to be. It’s where I started writing things that were meaningful,” he said. “While I’m super proud of all the work we’ve done with Vandy-in-Hollywood, and while I love the idea of giving back, the truth is: I don’t do it to give back. I do it, selfishly, for me. To stay connected to Vanderbilt.”

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KATHERINE MILLER

BA’10

Katherine Miller is a writer and editor who focuses her work on some of the most pressing issues of our time: elections and challenges and threats to democracy. Miller recently joined The New York Times as a writer/editor in Opinion, and she previously served as a political editor at BuzzFeed News.

 

“I am very proud of overseeing BuzzFeed News's 2016 campaign coverage and broader politics and government coverage,” Miller said. “The last decade in American politics has really been turbulent and difficult, and my greatest source of pride is really working with a wide variety of reporters as an editor to tell some of those really deep stories about lots of different political figures.”

 

While at BuzzFeed News, Miller hosted VSC students for a tour of the newsroom in NYC. Before joining BuzzFeed, she worked in conservative media, including at the Washington Free Beacon where she was an editor.

 

In announcing Miller’s move to The New York Times, the newspaper reported, “Over eight years at BuzzFeed News, Katherine edited and oversaw their politics coverage through the 2016 election, helped developed new projects and shows, and worked on big features.”

 

“Working with great reporters,” The Times reported, “She’s edited unique profiles of figures like Bernie Sanders and Herman Cain; definitive accounts of the 2017 congressional baseball shooting and disastrous 2020 Democratic Iowa caucus; investigations like one into alt-right white supremacists in Washington; and during the pandemic era, features on the struggles of Gen Z and school teachers, as well as young Black activists navigating what comes after the protests over George Floyd’s death.”

 

Before Miller began her impressive journalism career, she studied English at Vanderbilt, graduating in 2010. During her tenure at Vanderbilt, she led the website version of The Hustler, which was then called InsideVandy.com, and helped attract 40,000+ visitors to the new site. She also led the Torch, a conservative and libertarian monthly, and she served as a member of the VSC Board of Directors.

 

“Working for the paper in college introduced the idea to me that you could go above and beyond with a story or the design of something, and people you actually knew might find value in reading it, and that there's a real potential connection between what's written and what's read, whether that's about politics or a restaurant,” Miller said. “And, as a result, if you can really articulate something that people experience or feel about how a person is or how things work in writing (which is very difficult, and often involves realizing you're wrong about things) then that's a meaningful exercise.”

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STUART WATSON

BA’83

Winner of 10 Emmys and three Peabody Awards, Stuart Watson is an entrepreneur, author, podcaster, and speaker who has interviewed more than 7,000 people on camera.

 

Graduating from Vanderbilt with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature in 1983, Watson got his start in journalism at the university, both in class and as a contributor to Versus literary magazine and WRVU.

 

“My first really memorable journalism exposure at Vanderbilt was an English Lit class called ‘Literature vs. Journalism: Art vs. Craft,’” he said. “We met in Old Science before it was saved from the wrecking ball and renovated. We compared the fiction of writers like George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway to the newspaper reporting they did around the same events.”

 

“I saw Barbara Kopple’s Oscar-winning documentary Harlan County, USA at the Sarratt Cinema not long after it came out. I think all that stuff worked together to contribute to the idea of artful non-fiction as a legit craft worth doing.”

 

Watson still remembers Vanderbilt’s great Dean Sarratt once saying: “It’s a fine thing to have an open mind, provided that it is not open at both ends!”

 

“I never forgot that,” Watson said. “Vanderbilt opened the mind of this closed fundamentalist from behind the Magnolia Curtain and paved the way for me to become a real spiritual person. I learned I could couple a spiritual pursuit with my life in professional journalism and practice my principles in my daily affairs.”

 

A Neiman Fellow at Harvard in 2008, Watson served three terms on the board of directors of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE). Perhaps the most remarkable highlights of his career, however, are the organizations Watson founded.

 

After losing his mom and dad on the same day from the same disease, Alzheimer’s, Watson founded his company Voice Locket in 2021. Using his four decades of professional experience, he captures and preserves the life stories of the people we love most—in their own words, with their own voices.

 

“I feel like my whole life has led me to founding Voice Locket,” Watson said. “Interviewing 7,000+ people on camera. The Vanderbilt University education. The Harvard University fellowship. But mostly, it's deeply personal. A calling.”

 

He also launched the media brand In Her Words and the podcast by the same name to elevate the stories of a diverse group of strong women who bounce back. In 2020, he published his related book “What She Said & What I Heard: How One Man Shut Up and Started Listening.”

 

“The work I’m most proud of I have yet to do,” Watson said. “Stay tuned. I ain’t dead.”

 

Kelly Morgan served as 2021-22 editor-in-chief of The Vanderbilt Review and was an inaugural recipient of the Bayless Fellowship, awarded by Vanderbilt Student Communications.