Q&A with Jessica Opoien

Jessica Opoien is editor-in-chief of the Iowa State Daily and a junior in journalism and mass communication.

What is your favorite memory of college?

Just one? I’d like to think my favorite college memories have yet to be made; after all, I’m only halfway through the experience.

So far, though — and I know this seems like a cop-out answer — my favorite memories are just about any of the times I’ve spent with friends. Those memories include football and basketball games, road trips, concerts, late-night study sessions, late-night study distractions, movie nights; you get the picture.

I’ve met some great people here, and I think it’s the people — not the activities — who make the memories great.

What is your favorite thing about Iowa State or Ames?

Coming from a town of 12,000 people, I love that the population of Iowa State is more than double that number. I love the culture that comes with having so many different people; at the same time, I love the small-town feel of Ames. It’s so cool to me that, on a campus of 28,000 people and in a town of 50,000 people, I am still likely to run into someone I know whenever I’m out and about. It’s a perfect balance.

Where is your favorite place to eat in town?

All right, I’m going to do this one by category, because I like food too much to narrow it down to one place.

My favorite place to eat when my parents come to town is Aunt Maude’s. Favorite place for a date? Maybe Dublin Bay. Favorite place to eat with friends? Joy’s Mongolian Grill. And if I order a pizza, it’ll definitely be from Jeff’s Pizza Shop — with smotharella sticks, of course.

How was your freshman year?

My freshman year was crazy. I lived on an Honors floor — Martin-Starbuck, whoop whoop! — and I met so many amazing people, many of whom are still some of my closest friends two years later; including my best friend and roommate, who was my suitemate on the Honors floor. It was an incredibly supportive environment, almost like a built-in family.

However, my freshman year wasn’t perfect. I took way too many credits worth of classes, and I tried to get involved in too many groups and activities — basically, I overextended myself in classic freshman style. Because of that, I learned my limits. And while I still probably take on more than I should, I’m much smarter about it.

What was the most embarrassing moment of your freshman year? Did you make any silly freshman mistakes?

Most embarrassing moment? Hmm, how about most ridiculous moment instead?

My best friend, Monica, and I had a tradition of eating cookie dough and watching “Grey’s Anatomy” together every Thursday night — a love of food and a sappy TV drama, it’s what brought us together.

Neither of us had a car on campus at the time, so we relied on CyRide to take us to Hy-Vee, where we purchased the cookie dough — readers, take note — Monica and I are searching for a new Thursday night treat at the urging of my mother, who fears we will contract a case of E. coli, if we keep up our cookie dough habit.

One evening, before we fully understood the CyRide system, we just hopped on a bus without consulting a map, hoping it would eventually take us close to our destination. Of course, it did not — but it did lead to what can only be described as an Adventure, with a capital A. Moral of the story? Check a map if you’re not sure, or, at least, always be up for a CyRide adventure.

Did I make any silly freshman mistakes? I’m sure I made plenty, and I’m willing to bet a lot of them were results of my biggest freshman mistake, which was keeping a schedule that left about three or four hours per night for sleep. Don’t do that. Just don’t. It probably won’t kill you, but it won’t be much fun for you or anyone who interacts with you.

What advice would you give to incoming students?

Don’t let fears or shyness or preconceived notions stop you from doing something that has the potential to be fun — within reason, of course.

This is your chance to try new things. Be friendly. Talk to people. The experiences you have in college will shape you a lot more than the ones you had in high school.

Be cautiously open-minded about how, and with whom, you spend your time. Also, explore the ISU campus — but venture out into Ames, too. This town has a lot to offer.

Check out Main Street, Campustown, Somerset or one of the parks in town. Ames was recently named one of the top 10 places to live in America by CNNMoney.com, so make sure you don’t miss the town beyond the edges of campus.

When did you know what you wanted to do with your life? When did it click, when did learning become fun?

To be honest, I don’t remember a specific moment or decision to go into journalism. Throughout high school, and possibly before that, I just knew I was going to be a journalist. I’ve always been passionate about writing and reading.

In high school, I took my interest in politics to a much higher level. I turned into sort of a news junkie. I only considered going to colleges with journalism programs, and now that I’ve taken journalism classes and gained some field experience through my time at the Daily and an internship with CNN, I know it’s the right path for me.

At the end of the day, it comes down to the fact freedom of the press and good journalism are essential to democracy. I feel very strongly that I can make a meaningful impact by helping to educate and inform the public.

How did you get where you are now in your career?

I started working at the Daily during my first month at Iowa State, as an opinion columnist. Shortly after I started, I was promoted to assistant opinion editor, and when the opinion editor graduated in December, I earned his position for the second semester of my freshman year. I continued to write columns during the summer, and when I came back to Ames in the fall of my sophomore year, I worked as a news reporter, covering the administration beat. I continued to cover that beat all year, adding the title and duties of news editor for the second semester.

Most recently, during the summer, I interned in New York City with CNN’s Money Unit, which was an amazing experience. I’m also entering my second year as secretary of the Leo Mores Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and as a member of the ISU First Amendment Day Committee — and of course, I’ve taken lots of journalism classes.

Those are the tangible steps I’ve taken, but the real reason I am at this point in my career, serving as editor-in-chief of the Daily, is that I’m madly, passionately, head-over-heels for journalism. I’ve found the thing I love to do, and taken every opportunity I can to do it.

Describe your job. What are your duties?

As editor-in-chief of the Daily, I oversee the editorial direction of Iowa State’s independent, student-run newspaper. I work with news, sports, opinion and visuals editors, designers, copy editors and the staffs that work for those sections. In addition, I work with the advertising and public relations departments, along with the professional staff. I’m responsible for everything from determining whether or not to run a story, to organizing the budget.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

There’s no way I can choose just one thing.

The thing that makes this job so wonderful is that I work with a fantastic group of people who share a passion for journalism with me. And, going hand in hand with that, the best thing about my job is that I’m surrounded with journalism all the time.

I wouldn’t be able to do this job if I didn’t wholeheartedly love everything it’s about, because it creeps into every area of my life. I can’t flip the journalism switch on and off, so it’s good to have a job that requires me to keep it on at all times.

What was your proudest accomplishment of the last year?

That’s a tough question. I think it’s a toss-up between being named editor-in-chief of the Daily for the 2010-2011 academic year, and being hired as a summer intern with CNN’s Money Unit.

What is your biggest goal for next year?

Well, I wrote a 14-page strategic plan detailing my plans and goals for the Daily when I applied to be editor-in-chief, so to be honest, I’m not sure where to begin.

The most important goal is to help, teach and encourage all of the Daily’s employees to be better journalists. I’m fortunate to work with an amazing, talented staff and I’ll do everything I can to make sure that they benefit from their time with the Daily, and that their experience is a positive one.

What do you think is the biggest issue currently facing students? What can we do about it?

The biggest issue students face right now, in my opinion, is money. Having enough money to pay for college while holding onto enough to live, paying off loans, finding a job that will pay the bills after college; these situations aren’t getting any easier.

I don’t know the magic answer to the average college student’s money woes, but I do know twe can all stand to learn a little more about finances.

What are you most looking forward to in the next year?

After spending my summer far from home, I’m looking forward to spending time back in the Midwest, closer to my family and friends.

What are your must-do and must-see things for students? What does a student have to do before they graduate? Before they finish their freshman year?

I think the must-do is probably a little different for everyone, but here are a few ideas I’ve enjoyed:

Cheer on the football team from the front row of Jack Trice, and do the same for the basketball teams in Cyclone Alley.

Visit Ada Hayden and Ledges State Park.

See a show at the M-Shop.

Participate in Veishea activities.

Do the “Cyclone Power” chant and Cowbell — if you don’t know what Cowbell is, talk to your nearest ISU Cyclone Football ‘Varsity’ Marching Band member.