‘A Free and Open Press’: UWG’s WOLF Radio Students Visit D.C., Meet VP Kamala Harris

Julie Lineback

Monday, December 5th, 2022

If you can interview the Vice President of the United States, it’s likely you can achieve anything in broadcasting.

University of West Georgia students Janelle “Jay” Carlisle and Braylen Smith set the bar high for themselves as journalists – even before graduation. Earlier this fall, the mass communications majors – along with Shawn Isaacs, general manager of The WOLF Radio – were in the nation’s capital listening to White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speak when a special guest walked in.

“I was genuinely shocked when Vice President [Kamala] Harris entered,” Carlisle recalled. “I know my face showed amazement because I was one of the first people to see her walk in. We were told someone would be stopping by, but it didn’t cross my mind that it would be her.”

“I was at a loss for words,” Smith added. “It’s not every day you’re in the same room as the Vice President of the United States.”

The trio had traveled to Washington, D.C., in recognition of World College Radio Day 2022, as part of a delegation of students representing the medium of college radio from across the country. As another honor to commemorate the occasion, UWG President Dr. Brendan Kelly proclaimed WOLF Radio as the official station of the university.

Isaacs explained UWG has been a participant in every College Radio Day since its inception in 2011. When the College Radio Foundation (CRF) received the opportunity to return to the White House, an invitation was extended to him. 

The WOLF is a top college radio station with awards in multiple national and international broadcasting communities – five Spirit of College Radio awards, presented by CRF, in addition to honorable mentions from the Broadcast Education Association and a Best Overall College Station in the 2022 Intercollegiate Broadcasting Systems Media Awards.

The trip to D.C. allowed students to meet with White House officials and ask them questions on the importance of journalism, working with the media, and other topics critical to higher education, like student loans, student debt and college affordability. 

“This was an opportunity for students to network and broaden their perspectives,” Isaacs continued. “The bigger benefit was the chance to interview and speak with high-profile members of our government.”

So high-profile that Harris, second highest executive officer of the United States federal government, stopped by and spent nearly a half-hour giving an inspirational speech and answering questions. Carlisle stood out amongst the crowd – as Harris noted, “Her hand was the highest” – and inquired how the government could provide an initiative for students to attend college in addition to assistance with student loans.“I’ve always noticed how vigilant reporters were in raising their hands during televised press conferences, but I didn’t know why,” she said. “With this experience, I was able to finally understand as a journalist when a combination of adrenaline and excitement fueled me to discover more.”

Carlisle said the main takeaway from Harris’ speech was that the youth of the nation has the ability to redirect the country to a brighter future.

“The more we vote and voice our concerns about how our government is run, the better their understanding of where the nation as a whole wants to move,” the student shared. “We have to take that stand to ensure the right representation for that better future is put in position.”

As someone who is charged with preparing the next generation of broadcasters, Isaacs said Harris’ speech emphasized the basic principles the country was founded upon.

“Vice President Harris talked about how a free and open press is essential to a stable nation,” he recalled. “The power and responsibility of free speech and press are a crucial fourth cornerstone of democracy.”

Smith said this experiential opportunity helped supplement his education and broaden his horizons in multiple ways.

“The trip overall taught me to always be prepared, to think on my feet and make sure I do proper research,” he described. “My main takeaway from Harris’ speech was that our voices matter, and we should always strive to tell the truth.”