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From broadcast to books

Summer Commencement 2014-h. Monica Pearson
Monica Kaufman Pearson

Former TV news anchor Monica Kaufman Pearson earns her master’s degree from the Grady College

Monica Kaufman Pearson, the award-winning journalist and former WSB-TV news anchor in Atlanta, was among the 1,380 students eligible to walk at UGA’s summer Commencement ceremony Aug. 1.

Pearson retired from WSB-TV in 2012 after decades in front of the camera and enrolled in a master’s program in UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Like many nontraditional students who go back to school later in life, Pearson was seeking a change in direction.
Pearson, who has won more than 30 local and regional Emmy Awards, wanted to teach journalism to college students, but first she had to become one herself and earn a master’s degree.

“After 37 years working at (WSB-TV) and 45 years in the business, it would have been a shame to take everything I had learned to the grave,” Pearson said. “It was so important to share what I’ve learned in the business with young people. I wanted to share information, but I also wanted to leave my legacy.”

The term “nontraditional” typically is used to describe an undergraduate student who takes a break in studies between high school and college-or attends school part time, works at least 35 hours a week, is financially independent, supports a family, is a single parent or did not earn a formal high school degree.

Pearson falls into a category of nontraditional graduate students, which describes someone who is 35 years or older and attending graduate school. Of the
6,688 graduate students enrolled at UGA during the 2014 spring semester, 1,491 were nontraditional.

Pearson said it was “freeing” to transition from being a TV anchor to being a student.

“To encounter Monica Pearson, ensconced in a towering stack of media history books, clad in a UGA hoodie, as I did often this year, is to be reminded of the power of education and the life of the mind,” said Charles Davis, dean of the Grady College.

You might wonder what an award-winning veteran journalist would have to learn about journalism and mass communication from a graduate school. While already knowing plenty about producing news, Pearson said she learned about the theories of communication and diversity in media.

“My mind was just opened so much,” she said. “I was a good reporter. I would have been a better reporter if I had gone through this (program) earlier.”

Pearson found her niche studying the history of American media.

Inspired by a course taught by Janice Hume, head of the Grady College journalism department, Pearson wrote her master’s thesis on Reconstruction era news coverage of Georgia’s first African-American U.S. representative, Jefferson Long.

As a TV journalist, Pearson was known for her profiles about influential people. In her TV show Closeups, Pearson interviewed celebrities to gather their personal stories. As a graduate student, she was able to explore historical personalities through research.

“It’s like a Closeups interview, only he’s not here to answer my questions,” Pearson said.

Instead, she extensively researched historical documents to learn about her subject.

“Perhaps the most wonderful aspect of Monica’s return to school is how passionately she has thrown herself into her thesis research, and how, like many nontraditional students, her professional experience informs her graduate study,” Davis said. “She’s an inspiration to us all.”

With graduate school complete, Pearson is realizing her goal to teach college students. She will lead a class this fall at Atlanta Metropolitan State College.
Pearson also is considering pursuing either a doctorate or a Master of Fine Arts degree.

For a woman who already accomplished so much in life, Pearson seems to have found new inspiration from her recent college experience.

“I had the best time of my life,” she said. “Learning is so different in your 60s from when you’re in your 20s.”