How I Learn by Doing

My First Associated Press Byline

By Roselyn Romero
Headshot of Roselyn Romero

Journalism student Roselyn Romero. Photo by Joe Johnston.

This past summer, through a stroke of luck and a ton of persistence, I was selected out of more than 160 applicants to intern for the global investigations team of the Associated Press (AP).

This internship is sponsored by the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, a national organization based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with the goal of increasing and retaining reporters and editors of color in investigative journalism. One of the co-founders of the society and the editor of AP’s global investigative team, Ron Nixon, was my mentor throughout the 10-week internship.

The most important story I worked on — and the story that led to my very first AP byline — was about COVID-19 vaccination record cards.

After I got vaccinated against COVID-19 in the spring, I looked forward to submitting proof of my vaccination so that I could participate in in-person activities and return to campus. But I quickly realized the simplicity of the submission process: all students had to do was take pictures of the front and back of our vaccination card and upload those images to our online student portal.

The process piqued my interest, and I instantly wondered how — and if — Cal Poly officials were verifying COVID-19 vaccination records. My curiosity spread beyond Cal Poly: are other colleges and universities equipped to handle potentially fraudulent vaccine cards?

I learned that through hard work, courageous reporting and a relentlessly curious mind, I could flourish in an industry that I love and want to work in for as long as I live.

I interviewed dozens of college students and faculty members at Cal Poly and across the country. I reached out to the California State University Office of the Chancellor, the Attorney General of California and the FBI field offices in Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. I spoke with public health officers, global health policy professors and other health experts at the University of Southern California, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Vanderbilt University, University of Michigan and other top-tier institutions of higher education. I was determined to find out how widespread fake vaccine cards were and how students were obtaining them.

Days after my story came out, I found out that Senator Chuck Schumer had called on the FBI and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to collaborate with the Department of Health and Human Services in its crackdown on fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards. It was incredible to see my reporting make an impact on the national level.

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I was raised in Southern California by two immigrant parents from the provinces of the Philippines. I had no connections to the journalism industry prior to attending college. But through this entire internship experience, I learned that through hard work, courageous reporting and a relentlessly curious mind, I could flourish in an industry that I love and want to work in for as long as I live.

Thanks to the continual support of my journalism professors at Cal Poly — including Richard Gearhart, Patti Piburn, Mary Glick, Michael Park, Julie Lynem and so many others — I was able to boldly aim for opportunities I would not have ever dared to shoot for when I was a timid college freshman. My courses equipped me with the technical skills, legal and ethical knowledge and cultural sensitivity to succeed in my internship.

I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to not only work alongside some of the world’s best investigative journalists, but to also represent the Cal Poly community and my Filipino heritage on the national and international scale. I plan on improving and continuing to utilize these skills wherever I go after I graduate, and most importantly, I hope to inspire more young journalism students of color to fearlessly pursue their wildest dreams and to follow the Cal Poly philosophy of Learn by Doing.

Roselyn Romero is a fourth-year journalism major with minors in Spanish, ethnic studies and women’s and gender studies. In addition to her AP internship, she has practiced journalism at Mustang News and KSBY News in San Luis Obispo.