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Meet Elissa Sonnenberg

Spend just a few minutes with Elissa Sonnenberg and you'll know why she's truly "back home" in McMicken College of Arts & Sciences.

Date: 11/15/2006
By: Britt Kennerly
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Spend just a few minutes with Elissa Sonnenberg and you'll know why she's truly "back home" in McMicken College of Arts & Sciences.

You'll find it a breeze to open up with this Cincinnati native – an energetic personality, an engaging conversationalist and an enthusiastic teacher.

A field service assistant professor of journalism, Sonnenberg has no problem finding her way around campus, or sharing the value of a UC education with her students.

Not that long ago, after all, she was the editor of the News Record, working to complete a degree in English. After earning a master's in education at Northwestern University, she forged a solid writing career nationwide at publications including, locally, Cincinnati Magazine.

Just Google her: The very first item that pops up mentions Sonnenberg work that's been published at, Moms Online and the Environmental News Network.

"This is funny, but anymore, I mostly Google myself to see who might be publishing my work illegally!" she said.

"I spent a lot of time in the 1990s writing features for the Environmental News Network and health stories for a national network of hospitals, so it's amazing to see where my name might pop up!"


Elissa Sonnenberg, field service assistant professor of journalism, is a UC graduate and former editor of the News Record.

Sonnenberg's name also pops up in mentions of her being named a 2006 YWCA Rising Star, an award for career women who "have demonstrated leadership in their careers and have contributed to the community."

"The YWCA is such an inspiration for me and has been for years. I became involved with their annual Career Women of Achievement program while I worked at Cincinnati Magazine," she said.

"That introduced me to the work of the Battered Women's Shelters and the world of good the YWCA does to help women, children and men in need of support, education and opportunities.

"To be recognized as a “Rising Star,” and especially to have been nominated by a truly inspirational leader, educator and entertainer Kathy Wade, humbles me, to be honest. I was, and continue to be, thrilled by the opportunities this presents for me."

Sonnenberg tells the rest of her story, in her own straightforward, self-deprecating style.

Q) When did you know that writing would play such a big part in your life?

A) I’ve always been a writer and reporter! When I was 4, I interviewed my stuffed animals for important breaking news stories. (Talk about geeky!) I wrote in elementary school, revived my high-school newspaper and joined The News Record staff my freshman year at UC.

Q) What are some of your strengths as a scholar, writer, editor and educator? And after all these years of fact-hunting and fact-checking, do you still enjoy research?

A) I've always loved researching, studying and learning. I suppose those interests led me to journalism in the first place. A natural sense of curiosity, of enthusiasm and of genuine interest in my topics helps me remain focused and energetic whether I'm working on long-term or short-term projects.

As a writer, I greatly enjoy putting my narrative skills to work in non-fiction. Digging deep into topics and untangling complex webs of subjects gives me a sense of satisfaction that no other type of work ever could.

As an editor, I work hard to support writers' distinctive voices while helping them pinpoint their own strengths and overcome any inherent weaknesses, which I prefer to call challenges.

I love to teach because it allows me to learn, to listen and to grow alongside my students. Seeing the art and craft of journalism through fresh eyes not only inspires as a teacher, it encourages me as a writer and as a responsible citizen. I've always been a research junkie, so having more time to delve deeply into topics is like a dream come true.

Q) What are some of your favorite moments from your writing/editing career?

A) This one makes me sound like the geek that I am, but there you go. A few years back, I was attending the Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism in Boston and rode on the same elevator as Gay Talese. I was completely tongue-tied; he was the most polite and impeccably dressed man I'd ever seen.

As far as writing moments, one stands out – before the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opened, there was some controversy about moving one of its central exhibits, the slave jail, from a field on a Kentucky farm where it had been originally built and used.

Fascinated by this deteriorating log cabin filled with horrors from the past, I followed its journey over the course of two years, from the shadows of a barn that had been built around it to the sparkling new Freedom Center. I'm the only reporter who spent time at the farm, watched the deconstruction and reconstruction of the jail and talked with passionate supporters and opponents of the project. I eventually wrote stories about this distinctive piece of history for Preservation magazine as well as Cincinnati Magazine.

Q) What are some of the major challenges you see facing young journalists who'll be coming out of universities over the next few years?

A) Wow! I think the new generation of journalists will have to work hard to merit the trust of readers while finding creative ways to reach audiences with ever- greater demands on limited amounts of time.


Elissa Sonnenberg says she hopes to help students whom she advises to find satisfying careers.

Q) What's great about Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati?

A) I love UC because it's such a melting pot of what makes the city distinctive. It's a large university with a wealth of small-school opportunities for students. It's an exciting time to be a part of a new and growing program here – I feel we are on the verge of ever-greater successes!

As for hobbies, most of those revolve around my family – I have two sons, 11 and 9, and they attend Cincinnati Public Schools. We're busy prepping one for junior high and learning long division with the other! My husband and I have lived in Northside for more than a decade and love the fact that it continues to get better and better. I've never lived in a neighborhood where people care so much about each other and our community identity.

Q) What brought you back to teaching, and to UC?

A) I started teaching as a volunteer not long after I got my undergraduate degree. I tutored in inner-city schools here before deciding to pursue my master's degree at Northwestern. While attending the School of Education and Social Policy, I taught high-school in inner-city Chicago, and even though I went back to working in journalism for more than a decade, the thrill of teaching never left me.

I taught a few classes as an adjunct at UC in the late 1990s, but was deeply immersed in my work at Cincinnati Magazine for the last five years as my department there grew from one to six! However, I always kept in touch with Journalism Department Director and Professor Jon Hughes, who has been a mentor to me since I was 18 years old. When I learned about the job here, the timing was perfect for me – I had established a successful career in the city and regional magazine world so that I could offer those insights to students, while returning to teaching, which continues to be a parallel passion in my life (along with writing).

Q) When you were here as a student, would you have majored in journalism had that been in place? You also mentioned that your career path before now has made taking on this role easier; that you wouldn't have been as capable had you not followed that path. How do your degrees in English and education complement what you're doing now?

A) Absolutely, I would have majored in journalism! The journalism program I attended was incredibly strong, though, so I'm not complaining. We have great alums in wonderful publications and companies around the county. It's an impressive success story. I think the work I've done and continue to do as a journalist helps me offer a depth of advice to students, as well as connections to my colleagues around the country, that can be very helpful. My teaching background, and love of the learning process in general, makes me especially energetic when it comes to finding effective methods for teaching and learning about journalism.

Q) Who are some of the people who helped you realize your dreams?

A) Professionally, my mentors have been Jon Hughes, who encouraged me here at UC, and Laura Pulfer, my first and still best editor, who accepted me with open arms as an intern at Cincinnati Magazine. My first colleagues at The News Record helped immeasurably – they taught me that I could be a leader and a teacher at the same time. Their talents continue to awe me.

Personally, my husband Jim has supported me in following my writing and teaching dreams when they weren't the easiest choices even though time has shown they were the right ones. His understanding and encouragement, his belief in my talents, continue to fuel my progress.

Q) If you can accomplish at least two things here at UC, what do you hope they'll be?

A) Another wow. I hope I'll be able to work closely with students in my class and those whom I advise to help them find satisfying careers and I hope to help the Journalism program grow and flourish.

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