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Alumna in Action, April 2012: Leora Falk '07

Leora Falk chose Barnard for all of the usual reasons: small school, urban environment, supportive advising, and great classes. But she was also drawn to the fact that Barnard required a senior thesis from all of its students. “I have no idea why 18-year-old me was thinking about writing a thesis,” says Falk, “but for some reason I really liked [the idea].”

During her senior year, Falk ended up writing not one, but two theses—a 60-page novella under the supervision of Mary Gordon ’71, Millicent C. McIntosh Professor of Writing and English, and an academic paper on Shakespeare’s Othello, overseen by Peter Platt, professor of English. “It was great to be taught by someone so passionate about what he studies and so excited to be teaching,” she says of Platt. “There was a ton of enthusiasm in all of his classes.”

Falk also spent a great deal of her time writing for the Columbia Daily Spectator. She became a reporter on the recommendation of onetime Spec editor in chief Megan Greenwell ’06, and went on to become the paper’s deputy news editor. “It consumed my life,” Falk says, recalling the day she and Amanda Erickson (CC ’08) stayed up all night reporting on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s invitation to speak on campus.

“We got statements from the university administration, put the information out at midnight on the Spectator Web site, and went to bed at 5 a.m. When we woke up at 9 a.m. to go to class, there were posters about it all over College Walk, and students had organized protests,” says Falk. “It was so powerful—it made me see the power of information.”

After graduation, Falk, who majored in English with a creative writing concentration and minored in political science, went on to intern at the Chicago Tribune’s Washington bureau, and then worked as a climate change reporter at Bureau of National Affairs for three and a half years. Last year she began graduate school at Harvard’s Kennedy School and is working toward her master’s in public policy on a journalist scholarship from the Shorenstein Center.

“My professors at Barnard made [the scholarship] possible,” says Falk. “Professor Richard Pious wrote me a recommendation for graduate school. He’d also written my mom a recommendation to Harvard when she was in school, so he meant a lot to two generations of students.”

Graduate school has given Falk a bit of a break from beat reporting. This summer, she is interning at the State Department to gain a more international perspective on policy, and in class, she’s studying the intersection of technology, policy, and the media so she can better understand the effects of tech on peoples’ lives. But Falk won’t be out of the news cycle for long. After she completes her degree, she hopes to go back to being a journalist—“a better-informed and smarter one,” she says.  —Atossa Abrahamian