We’ll be raising money at the 2018 IRE Conference in Orlando to support diversity scholarships. All donations made during the conference — on-site or online —will go toward this important cause and help send journalists of color to the 2019 IRE Conference in Houston.

We asked previous diversity fellowship recipients to share how the award made a difference in their careers. Here’s what Ralph Chapoco of the Washington County Daily News told us: 

It was toward the end of the fall in 2016, fearing I had mistakenly chosen the wrong profession, that I began to wonder what my next career choice would be. Would I remain in the field that I had come to admire and adore, or would I return to my prior job, that of a scientist?

Journalism amounted to a career transition for me. I started as a scientist, transferred to marketing before finding my calling as a journalist. It has been three years since I made the switch. I have lived throughout the Midwest and written about a range of issues, from education to taxation.

Each transition represented an evolution for my skills and experiences, but after one year working at the Washington County Daily News (West Bend, Wisconsin) I felt I had begun to stagnate.

It was then that I reached out to veterans of the trade to solicit some advice. They told me about Investigative Reporters and Editors, the mission of the organization, programs available for journalists to deepen their understanding of the profession — and a conference where journalists from every part of the country and from every corner of the profession attend.

My life changed when I learned I would be one of the award recipients — the resources of a small-town publication are limited, and the only chance to attend was with a scholarship.

During the four days at the conference, I had the chance to learn from those at the top of their profession, from people I hoped to one day become. One of my most memorable moments was listening to a lecture about proper interview techniques. In that session, I learned the nuances of asking the necessary questions to obtain the most important answers.

I was taught how to identify the type of information a source could offer, and how to elicit that material from asking insightful questions. I understood how to present myself and how to establish a strategy for interviewing difficult officials.

All those resources pale in comparison to the data sessions I attended. With the assistance of IRE staff, I learned how to manipulate spreadsheets and analyze data, offering me greater insights into potential story ideas.

Of all my experiences in Arizona, I believe meeting my mentor was the most significant. The conference afforded me a person I could speak with about issues I deal with daily, receive guidance for addressing difficult concerns and someone I could rely on for motivation.