So What’s it Like to be a Public Voices Fellow, Megan?

alrutzIn a note to OpEd Project Senior Facilitator Teresa Puente, UT-Austin Public Voices Fellow Megan Alrutz shared her thoughts on the fellowship and its effects on her life and work:

Dear Teresa,

I am so grateful for ALL of your energy over the last few weeks. The OpEd Project, and specifically your mentorship, is changing the way I think about the world, my research, and my role as an ally and a change maker.

My family is now reading my work. I’ve reached more readers in a week than several of my academic articles reach in a year. And I am paying attention to the news and global events with a new lens.

You are helping me get better at many of the things that first brought me into the field of Theatre for Youth, and then into academia.

Feeling lots of gratitude. Thank you for all that and more,


So what was ‘Write To Change The World’ like, Julia?

Julia Burch attended our recent Write To Change The World seminar in New York City on March 7. She explores expertise and self-doubt:


For some years as a stay-at-home-mom, the question I have dreaded the most is “what do you do?”  In response, I have gone for self-deprecation: “I’m a post-academic: my doctorate and $5 will get me a latte grande.” Or worse: “I’m a housewife.”

So the obligatory round of introductions at last Saturday’s Core Seminar made me squirm. But when they upped the ante and asked us to fill in the blanks in the following sentence:  “I am an expert in ______ because ______.” I began to sweat. I fell back on my PhD and declared myself an expert on shipwreck narratives on the strength of my dissertation. By the end of the day, I had a new appreciation for the value of my expertise in that single topic. By the following day, I found myself surprised that I had failed to mention my most recent public and professional  experience as a local education activist and a writing coach, and I had new ways to fill in those blanks.

I read books, news, op-eds, and blogs avidly. I have often read and thought, “I could do that, but……” BUT. I habitually stopped as if at a chasm, miles deep.  That “but” marked an inexplicable self doubt. Some version of that chasm is all too common—even among the remarkable people I joined in Saturday’s seminar.

The OpEd Project invited us to attend to and explore that self-doubt; it revealed that even if there is a chasm, however deep, it is only one or two feet wide in places; and it showed us the way to start walking to cross it.

Writing Winning Headlines

What makes effective headlines?  Deborah Douglas, one of the journalist leaders of our Public Voices Fellowship at UT-Austin, shared her thoughts, in a recent missive to her fellows.

1338301e314ea8b61026d681368344ee_400x400Should you, the writer, supply a headline with your piece? Is it reasonable to expect media outlets to honor your well-crafted headline just as they do with your piece? What’s at stake when we write our own headlines?

The truth is headlines written by writers, both freelance and staff, are just suggestions. However, arresting headlines that make editors do a double-take have a greater chance of (a) getting editors to open your email pitch; (b) showing editors/producers up front you know just what it takes to connect with their audience; (c) actually being printed with the rest of your wonderful words.

Headlines are critical to reflecting the personality and tone of a publication. We’ve talked about adjusting our individual writing tones according to particular publications, well, headlines are the same way. I’ve noticed recently that Slate likes to throw down the gauntlet in many of its headlines: “There’s Only One Way to Defeat ISIS.” Or “Apply to Law School Now.” Really? Now?

upworthylogoclearThose presented by Upworthy are effective at projecting the emotional tone they seek in connecting with their audience. Consider: “Like, OMG. Let’s Go To Africa And Save People!’ Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Be That Person.” Or “I Thought We Banned Cocaine For Health Reasons. Nope. Not Even Close.” I don’t know about you, but I’d want to read those stories.

Lastly, let’s consider “Fleeced: A Look at the Terrible Life of Migrant Workers Everywhere,” the header for fellow Sienna Craig’s piece on Nepalese migrant workers. Pacific Standard Editor Nicholas Jackson used the word “terrible” to infuse the anxiety and anguish so aptly described by Sienna in her op-ed. I see quite a few “terrible” headlines these days, and they always make me want to find out why.

For tips on ‘How to Write an Upworthy Headline’, click here.

Write to Change the World: Chicago February 22, 2015

FullSizeRender (4)Our most recent public program in the Windy City brought together wide-ranging experts from an award-winning human rights journalist, to the founder of an organization that aims to transform the educational experience of students in El Salvador, to professors, research associates and graduates of Northwestern University.

Big thanks to Senior OpEd Project leader Michele Weldon, and to our hosts, The Illinois Humanities Council, for it’s great work “fostering a culture in which the humanities are a vital part of the lives of individuals and communities.”

Want to join us next time?  We’ll be back in Chicago on April 11-12, for a back-to-back advanced version of Write to Change the World, where we’ll use the second day to explore timing, cross-pollination, and where good ideas come from.  You can attend the first day, or both days.  Register here.

FullSizeRender (6)

So What’s it like to be a Public Voices Fellow, Lynn?

Lynn 2I have to say, this experience has far exceeded my expectations in a number of different ways.

First, it has provided me with some general “life skills” that I was not expecting. Skills around how to present myself publicly, how to wear my credentials and my expertise proudly, and skills around thinking about the bigger message and what is important to get out there. Second, these meetings have truly been convenings. Webster’s dictionary defines ‘convene’ (and this was always my favorite way to start my college application essays!) as ‘to come together in a body’ and that is truly what these meetings have felt like. They feel like they have brought together an extraordinarily talented diverse group of women as a single cohesive body. And I honestly am not sure we would have met had it not been for this program. That is sad to say given that we all likely work within a one mile radius of each other (except for Diana but what a wonderful excuse to be able to see her lovely face every few months!).


This has been such an added benefit of this experience. I have had the opportunity to meet women who work in the Departments of Linguistics and Pathology, from the Law School and Academic Affairs. I have re-connected with friends and colleagues from the Med School that I don’t see often enough and I have (re-) connected with someone who I actually graduated with from high school in Los Angeles (unbeknownst to us–we figured this out at our last convening as we sat next to each other chatting!).

I have had the pleasure to learn from all of you—from sitting in these meetings with you and from reading your words and “hearing” your voices. The leadership from our conveners has been amazing—inspiring, driving, but with humor and kindness. Both the “fellowship” and the learning have been wonderful.

Lynn Fiellin is Associate Professor of Medicine at Yale University School of Medicine and a practicing HIV physician and Addiction Medicine Provider. Lynn is pictured above. 

Write To Change The World, NYC February 7, 2015

Katy Rubin was one of the experts who joined us last week at the ‘Write to Change the World’ seminar in New York City. Here are her thoughts on the day:

Katy Rubin

Katy Rubin

“Hello, my name is Katy Rubin, and I’m an expert in fear. Wait, no, that’s not right – I’m actually an expert in engaging radically diverse communities in concrete social action through theatre. And I have a lot to say about how the innovative “Legislative Theatre” process can generate creative policy change around homelessness and the criminal justice system, and truly democratize the democratic process. If you catch up with me after a performance by Theatre of the Oppressed NYC, the organization I founded in 2011, I will be happy to tell you all about it.

But I’ve been mostly afraid to write about it – intimidated by the permanence of putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and unsure that my ideas are worthy enough to share so publicly.

FullSizeRender (2)

This past Saturday I participated in The Op-Ed Project’s Write to Change the World Seminar, and I learned a few things. One: I have a responsibility to share my ideas, both as an engaged citizen working for social change and as a woman, whose perspective is underrepresented in the “world’s conversation.” Two: I am already an expert in something, and I better not wait to write until I’m 100% certain, because that day will never come. I knew already that there are many brilliant thinkers whose voices are underrepresented in media, and on Saturday I met 15 of them. Therefore, Three: I want to read the op-ed of every participant in the workshop, from school principals to Quaker environmental activists, and maybe they want to read mine too.

I also took home a notebook full of practical tools for constructing an argument and communicating effectively with an audience of both supporters and skeptics. The Op-Ed Project pushed us out the door with a gentle threat: they’ll support our writing with a mentor-editor within the next three months, but if we don’t write our first op-ed by then, we lose the opportunity. They know how to confront my fear head-on, and I intend to meet the challenge: to fulfill my responsibility to join the conversation.”

The OpEd Project will be back in NYC on March 7. Registration information for Write to Change the World can be found here.

FullSizeRender (4)

Write to Change the World, San Francisco – February 7, 2015

FullSizeRender-2Experts in a range of fields convened at the ACLU of Northern California on Saturday for our first Bay Area seminar of the new year. The program brought together a civil rights lawyer, a critical care physician, a best-selling author, a political cartoonist, and others for a fun and highly productive day around expertise, credibility, and how to use your knowledge for maximum impact.
Participants are working to change the conversation around the need for universal preschool, gender equity in sports, economic empowerment, and racial equity in higher education. We can’t wait to see their voices influencing the public debate this year.