Ball State journalism graduate student Erika Espinoza, ’17, has won an honor that takes most journalists several years of experience, if at all: a Pulitzer Prize.

She was part of a team that won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting and may be the first Ball State student to receive the honor while still in school. She was part of The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network team that created “The Wall,” a 2017 special report providing in-depth coverage of the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

“I really hope this lands me a job,” said the 2017 Honors College and journalism graduate, who is now a master’s student in Emerging Media Design and Development. “The project was a lot of time and commitment. I think all that time and hard work will pay off in the end.”

Ball State President Geoffrey S. Mearns noted the award is another example of University students’ incredible accomplishments.

“On behalf of the Ball State community, I congratulate Erika on this achievement,” he said. “The Pulitzer is the top award for any journalist, but it is especially remarkable for a student to win it. This honor is proof of how Ball State empowers its students, faculty, and staff. It demonstrates how our University is the one to watch.”

A prize-winning tradition

Erika may be the first Ball State student to be honored with a Pulitzer, but several alumni over the years have received the award. Other Department of Journalism alumni who were part of 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning teams include Stephen Beard, ’97, who created 3D graphics and a logo for “The Wall,” and Matt Berry, ’06, who took photos and reported for “Seven Days of Heroin,” a project by The Cincinnati Enquirer that won for local reporting.

Erika was part of a team that assembled “The Wall: Unknown Stories, Unintended Consequences,” a collection of more than a dozen stories and documentary videos, a podcast series, and a special presentation in virtual reality, allowing viewers to see themselves along the border.

Journalists from The Arizona Republic and other USA Today Network newsrooms in states bordering Mexico worked for months, reporting on existing security and the potential impact of President Trump’s proposed wall.

Erika — who arrived in the United States from Mexico as a 9-year-old when her parents moved to Indiana — worked on site design for the extensive project.

“When I first learned about the project while I was an intern, I went to my boss and said I wanted to help,” she said. “Even after I left Arizona, I worked on the project on a part-time basis while as an undergraduate here at Ball State and then during the summer during my internship at Univision.

A big project with little pieces

“It turned out to be a big project with a lot of little pieces. I was working with reporters, editors, designers, photographers, and others to tell this story.”

Tracy Collins, director of the Phoenix-based design studio that oversaw graphics and site design for the Pulitzer Prize-winning project, said that Erika made significant contributions.

Erika Espinoza with journalism colleagues

Graduate assistant Tiffany Watt, ’16, and journalism faculty Ryan Sparrow and Jennifer Palilonis get a guided tour from Erika Espinoza of the prize-winning site she helped design.

“Erika has always been a great member of teams that are pushing for innovation,” he said. “On this project, she was often a key part of the team that executed on the ‘what if’ that’s so critical to pushing storytelling forward. Erika has the analytical mind and technical training to turn those pieces into reality, augmented by the touches that she knows will make everything better.”

The 22-year-old is now back on campus, finishing her first year of graduate school in Ball State’s Emerging Media Design and Development program — the right place for the talented student, said Jennifer Palilonis, the George and Frances Ball Distinguished Professor of Multi-Media Journalism.

“Erika is in the right place because we are a project-based graduate program,” she said. “It’s less about teaching and more about facilitating. We provide opportunities for our students to learn and grow. And Erika is a great example of when that happens.”