For five Ball State University students, reporting from the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, was the most intense and exhilarating experience of their young careers.

Student Grace Hollars

“This Olympics was the biggest challenge of my life,” said Grace Hollars, a junior who is studying photography. “As strange as this sounds, it was a front row seat to my future career.”

The students were part of the University’s immersive learning experience BSU at the Games, a student-run news agency that provided daily coverage of the games, producing stories, photos, video, and graphics that were featured in national news outlets. In addition to the students in Pyeongchang, four other members were stationed at the College of Communication, Information, and Media, operating as the home team.

Over the course of their Olympic experience, the students reported on nearly every sport, from snowboarding to figure skating to freestyle skiing. And they interviewed several the world’s best athletes in their respective sports, from Shaun White to Nathan Chen to Hoosier Olympian Nick Goepper.

“This Olympics was the biggest challenge of my life,” said Grace Hollars, a junior from Muncie, who is studying photography. “As strange as this sounds, it was a front row seat to my future career. I had the opportunity to dip my feet into a world I have been dreaming of being a part of since I was a little girl. I’ve always wanted to be a photographer. For me, nothing has come close to the high of photographing a sporting event.”

Big shots, big stories

One huge highlight for Grace was having her photo placed among a dozen pictures taken by world-class photographers and posted on a wall at Canon’s Field Office at the PyeongChang Media Press Center. Her photo shows halfpipe champion snowboarder Shaun White roaring with joy after seeing his score that won him his third Olympic gold medal.

The photographer told her story about meeting White in a Youtube video.

“Nothing has given me such a rush and I got to actually live my dream job for ten days. Experiencing the hardships of failures and celebrating my successes,” said Grace, who also recently was named the Indiana College Photographer of the Year. “My eyes would sparkle when I met some of the professionals who have been to several Olympics. And my heart would sing when I snapped a great shot.”

Shaun White photo by Grace Hollars

Grace Hollars’ picture of a victorious Shaun White was among a dozen pictures taken by world-class photographers posted at the PyeongChang Media Press Center.

Even though she was thousands of miles from home, Samantha Johnson, a senior studying telecommunications and journalism news, said she and the other members of BSU at the Games responded to every challenge thrown at them, including language barriers, unfamiliar customs and long treks from one venue to another in subfreezing weather.

“Even though we spent every day at the parks, one aspect of every competition gave me chills each and every time: Flags were waiving and arenas were deafening when the announcer would say, ‘Representing the United States of America …,’” said Samantha, who hails from Martinsville, Indiana. “Knowing that I, too, was representing the United States is a feeling I will never forget.”

BSU at the Games made its debut at the London 2012 Olympics. Students produced stories, news graphics, photos, and videos that appeared in major news outlets such as the Huffington Post, USA Today, and the Chicago Tribune. Ball State students also have been at the Winter Olympics in Russia and the summer games in Brazil.

Invited to the front lines

Because of Ball State’s experience with previous Olympic contests, TeamUSA granted University students full media credentials. During past games, BSU at the Games was limited to providing “behind the scenes” stories and not coverage of actual competitions. This is the first time college students were invited to the front lines of the Olympics.

“It was an indescribable feeling I felt as I stood at the bottom of the halfpipe realizing that reporters surrounding me were from the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Washington Post and the Associated Press,” said Elizabeth Wyman, a senior news journalism student from Indianapolis. “I gelled in with some of the most talented sports reporters in the industry — holding my own as just a college student. It was a feeling I want to feel again. Next time, I’ll be a pro.

Senior Samantha Johnson

Senior Samantha Johnson makes herself at home in PyeongChang. Samantha said the team responded to every challenge thrown at them, including language barriers, unfamiliar customs and long treks from one venue to another in subfreezing temperatures.

“One of the most difficult parts about covering the Olympics was not having anyone tell me where to go, when to arrive, who to talk to, where to stand. It was frustrating but also liberating knowing that I was able to figure it out on my own and do it well. While I had the time of my life being at the Olympics, interviewing the most elite athletes in the world, it was refreshing that in that moment I also proved to myself that I could do this job, and do it as well — if not better — than others.”

“These students gained unparalleled career experience in journalism, telecommunications, photojournalism, public relations and graphic design to begin their professional networks and portfolios,” said Ryan Sparrow, MA ’08, a lecturer in journalism who served as faculty mentor for the immersive learning course and accompanied students to South Korea.

“Since our return to the states, I have felt the loving envy of my CCIM classmates,” said Samantha. “I have heard the countless ‘welcome home’s.’ I have received many compliments on my work. But more importantly, I have felt the pride of my friends, family, university, community and myself.

“This experience has allowed me to be a face for Ball State University and the journalism industry. Through this, I have grown personally, professionally, and academically, and I will always treasure my experiences in Pyeongchang, South Korea.”