Kristie Kemper inducted into the Southern Regional Press Institutes Inaugural Hall of Fame
A lifetime of fostering journalism
Kristie Kemper inducted into the Southern Regional Press Institute’s Inaugural Hall of Fame
A spring Buckeye tree pushes out spires of white flowers from its branches. Hundreds of shiny and dark brown nut-like seeds puddle the trunk. The light-colored spot at the center accents the seed’s mysterious resemblance to a deer’s eye. A six-year-old girl scoops one and hands it to her sister who is leaving home for the first time for college.
Many years later, Kristie Kemper removes that same Buckeye from her purse at the Southern Regional Press Institute (SRPI) in Savannah, Georgia. She looks at a classroom full of elementary students. She has them interview her to find out why it is so important to her.
“I always carry my Buckeye with me,” she says, removing it from her purse in a small plastic bag. “My little sister, who is 11 years younger than me, gave it to me. I can still see her standing in our backyard. She’s looking up at me because she is basically a little girl. It’s supposed to be good luck. Before I left, she wanted me to have it. I have carried it ever since.”
She puts the seed away and ponders how many of these elementary students will go on to be journalists and what kind of impact a journalism conference like the SRPI will have in their lives.
“I was looking at all these very young, bright, energetic kids, but I’m thinking they’re not all going to be journalists. A whole class isn’t going to go into journalism,” she says. “So I ask them, ‘What do you think you might be learning from working on your article today that you could use even if you don’t become a journalist?’ And you know how little kids are—all these little hands go up, and they’re saying things like learning to write, interview, and type better, and I thought, ‘They get it.’ I just remember those little bright eyes—and if you can foster that anywhere, you are accomplishing something.”
She says she can see that same energy and enthusiasm with the college-aged students she takes to the SRPI each year, too. She has been attending the conference since 1986, doing everything from conducting classes to directing workshops to working on the planning committee.
The SRPI was founded by the late Wilton C. Scott in 1950 to help high school and college students acquire skills in communications.
Kristie says its heritage is very special, noting how it offered opportunities to African American students, particularly those interested in media and journalism, when there weren’t as many other places for them to get that experience. The two-day SRPI is traditionally held in February or March on the Savannah State University campus.
For the 65th SRPI, Kristie was inducted into the SRPI’s first ever Hall of Fame. She joined 11 other individuals, including SRPI founder Wilton C. Scott, UGA Professor Emeritus of Journalism John English, and more.
“I was initially surprised,” she says, “but during the night of the ceremony, I was very humbled—some of these people were real pioneers. I just felt honored to be in that company.”
Kristie has a long history with journalism.
In fact, she will tell you that the first word she read was out of a newspaper.
“I remember when I first realized I could read,” she says. “I could read the word ‘Apple’ in the newspaper. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, all these letters they’ve been trying to teach me in school spell something and it’s right there.”
In high school, Kristie rescued her school’s dying student paper alongside her class who wished to revive it. She served in editorial roles until she graduated. Her passion for journalism didn’t end there, however. She went on to take multiple journalism courses in college and worked for the student newspaper there, as well. And when she first started at Georgia Highlands College in 1979, she was asked to head up advising the student newspaper, the Six Mile Post, in 1980. And she has been advising the publication ever since.
“I really enjoy it because of the students I get to work with,” she says. “It’s not easy at all. But I love seeing where the students end up, getting new students in, and watching them develop. So many have gone on to do good things with what they’ve learned.”
In addition to her SRPI Hall of Fame induction, Kristie has earned several accolades over the years, including the Board of Regents Teaching Excellence Award in 2003, the Wilton C. Scott Award for Excellence in Scholastic Journalism from the SRPI in 2014, and the Wesley C. Walraven Faculty Award from GHC in 2015. She is also a tenured professor of English at GHC, and holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in English and a Master of Arts in English from the University of Tennessee. She still carries the Buckeye her sister gave her wherever she goes.
For more information on the Southern Regional Press Institute, please visit: https://www.savannahstate.edu/class/departments-mass-comm-srpi.shtml