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KU News Release

July 21, 2008
Contact: Mary Jane Dunlap, University Relations, (785) 864-8853.

KU graduate student producing election special with national minority fellowship

Rhonda LeValdo

LAWRENCE — A Native American graduate student studying journalism at the University of Kansas says too few stories about Native Americans make it into mainstream media.

Rhonda LeValdo, an Acoma Pueblo, who teaches at Haskell Indian Nations University in addition to pursuing her master’s at KU, has received a $10,000 National Minority Consortia Fellowship to help increase minority coverage. The National Minority Consortia are five national media organizations funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to deliver programming that brings minority voices to the public airwaves.

LeValdo and one other Native American receiving the fellowship are developing stories on the presidential election with a Native American perspective. Their stories will be posted on the Online NewsHour, the Web site for the “Jim Lerher NewsHour” on PBS.

“I hope to get the word out that although we are small in numbers, our vote does count,” LeValdo said. “In the primaries, American Indians in South Dakota and Montana managed to use their numbers to make a difference.”

One of her stories focuses specifically on Native American college students and how they feel about the candidates. When former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle campaigned for Barack Obama at Haskell in February, LeValdo heard students ask about federal funding for education. Tuition costs have increased at Haskell, and few parents can help with those costs, LeValdo said. In her own case, LeValdo remembers borrowing money for a plane ticket just to come to Haskell.

LeValdo teaches radio and TV production at Haskell and also produces “Native Spirit,” a weekly radio show on KKFI-FM in Kansas City, Mo. Originally from New Mexico, LeValdo earned an associate’s degree in media arts at Haskell and a bachelor’s degree in journalism at KU in fall 2007.

Her entry to journalism came through her work as an assistant in video production at Haskell. As a student, LeValdo produced a video on American Indian issues and was editor of the Haskell newspaper. Her technical experience and skill with students led Bill Curtis, then the video production instructor, to encourage LeValdo to complete a bachelor’s degree so that she could qualify to teach.

Although she knew her way around a production studio, LeValdo said she was not as confident in a print newsroom. Transferring to KU’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications required adjustment to news-writing style. She worked at KJHK, KU’s student radio station, producing a special on Native Americans that led to a call from the KKFI.

LeValdo said she can empathize with many of her Haskell students who also have a strong interest in making videos but are new to writing stories.

She brings her class to KU’s journalism broadcast studios to observe the taping of a KUJH-TV news show. The amount of equipment and technology in KU’s broadcast studios always impresses her students who share one computer and two cameras at Haskell.

“I hope some will be inspired to transfer to KU once they have completed their associate’s degrees,” said LeValdo, who thinks Haskell provides unique and priceless experience for its students.

“Coming from New Mexico, I stayed on the reservation,” LeValdo said. “The great thing about Haskell is an intertribal education that we receive just talking to each other. It is priceless.”

LeValdo said she not only learned about tribal groups that were new to her but also about issues that rarely make it into the headlines for some tribal groups — in part because of their remote locations.

She graduated from high school in Phoenix, Ariz., where her mother, Alfie LeValdo, makes her home. As a youngster, LeValdo lived with her family on the Acoma reservation near Albuquerque.

LeValdo and Denny Gayton have two children, ages 3 and 6. LeValdo notes that Gayton supports her work in broadcasting and higher education as well as her goal to cover American Indian stories and issues more widely.

The National Minority Consortia members are the Center for Asian American Media in San Francisco; Latino Public Broadcasting in Los Angeles; National Black Programming Consortium in New York; Native American Public Telecommunications in Lincoln, Neb.; and Pacific Islanders in Communications in Honolulu.

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