Hands-on experience is vital to the development of broadcasting students, which is why 2005 graduate Sarah Zaman feels her time at WEIU-TV was so vital to jump-starting her professional career.
“I would say there’s pretty much not a week – and I honestly wouldn’t be wrong if I said there’s not a day – when I don’t think about my time at WEIU,” said Zaman, who hosts a high-rated Pakistani show for the Washington, D.C.-based Voice of America -- the U.S. government’s official foreign broadcasting agency that airs on radio and television in more than 50 countries in 42 languages.
Zaman works for VOA’s Urdu television service; Urdu is the Pakistani national language. While she has worked as a news anchor in past VOA ventures, her current contract has her in a reporting and production role.
“What I learned here and in the communication studies department from people like Kelly Runyon, Mike Bradd and a lot of other professors really gave me that foundation that was needed to have a proper career," she said during a return to Charleston to be honored as an EIU Global Ambassador.
It’s abundantly clear Zaman has already established herself as a success story in the broadcasting field. Let’s skip back to the beginning, though. How did a young woman from Pakistan end up at Eastern in the first place?
“I was planning on coming to the U.S. to study,” remembered Zaman, who was living in Pakistan’s second-largest city of Lahore. “I really needed to go to a school that would give scholarships to international students. I was basically doing research on that, and Eastern has a really generous scholarship program for foreign students both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
“I saw that program and said this is going to give me the opportunity to get my education without being a financial burden for my parents. I applied there and they were kind enough to take me and accept my admissions application.”
Zaman arrived at EIU ready to study print journalism, but quickly realized her true calling was in the broadcast medium, so she switched to communication studies with a concentration in electronic media production.
“Mike Bradd was my advisor and he told me about WEIU-TV,” said Zaman. “I joined that, and it was probably the best career move I could have made. I was a student and technically it’s not a career move, but really that’s what built my career.”
At WEIU, Zaman established herself as a key contributor to News Watch, the network’s Emmy-winning student news program.
“I did news writing, reporting, videography, editing, running tapes, audio, every single thing except directing a show," she said.
“Through that, I learned everything you would need in a professional position as a TV producer or TV journalist.”
Zaman didn’t just work at WEIU, either. She held down part-time gigs at Chick-fil-A in the union food court, as well as Booth Library. With all that work on her plate in addition to a full load of classes, she still took a perfect 4.0 grade point average on to her graduate studies at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
After leaving Gainesville with a master’s degree in documentary film production, it didn’t take long for Zaman to reel in her job with VOA.
“I liked it because they had a TV program that aired in Pakistan,” said Zaman. “For me, it was a huge attraction because I could live and work here in the U.S., and my family back home could still see me. I could be a little bit more in touch with them.
“The other idea is that if I’m working in the U.S. and working for a show that airs in Pakistan, if I decided to go back, I could already have some name recognition and a resume built in that market.”
Zaman doesn’t necessarily see herself stepping away from VOA anytime soon, but she says she’ll always keep her options open. With the resume she has already put together, those options will almost certainly present themselves – and Zaman is eager to laud EIU with a great deal of the credit for that fact.
“It gave me the foundation for my job and graduate school,” said Zaman of her WEIU experience. “When I moved to graduate school, a lot of the students over there had no TV background. I was the youngest in my class there, and I was the only one who had significant video/TV production experience.
“I really feel like that experience I had (at EIU) not only gave me the foundation but the confidence that I could do this. When I started working at VOA, I had that same confidence.”
Another constant in Zaman’s praise is for Bradd, her former advisor, and Kelly Runyon, WEIU-TV’s news director.
“These two people, I would say I really owe a lot to them,” said Zaman. “They cared about their work, and that made me feel like they cared about what I wanted to be in life. I had some really good people teaching me and looking out for me, and I really can’t thank them enough.
“All those people going through the TV station and through the communication studies program, they should feel fortunate that they are with people who know what they’re doing and care what the students learn through these programs.”