Alumni Spotlight - Sara Bruestle

Writing her way to success

By Dana Chrysler
Everett Community College Alumni Outreach Specialist

As editor of the Mukilteo Beacon, EvCC alum Sara Bruestle oversees and produces writing, photography, and copy editing for the weekly newspaper, as well as manages the newspaper website and several columnists. She credits her experience as a reporter and copy editor for EvCC’s school newspaper, The Clipper, and her education at the college for igniting a passion for her career. In this interview, she shares how she became an editor and the rewards of her career.

Please tell me about your family: where did you grow up, and did you have brothers or sisters?

I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska and moved to the Seattle area when I was 15 with my family. We simply wanted a change. I’m still a Nebraskan at heart, but I love Seattle. The culture, the art, music and food is more my style. I have one sister who is younger, named Kelsey.

When and where did you graduate from high school?

I graduated from Henry M. Jackson High School in 2004. I had a 3.98 GPA when I graduated. I was big on band and journalism in high school. No sports for me! I was in the symphonic band and pep band all three years I was there and added wind ensemble my senior year. I also wrote and copy edited for the school newspaper my junior and senior years.

How did you choose EvCC? Was there a selection process involved in your decision making?

I actually won a partial scholarship to Everett Community College for $1,700. The school counselors nominated me for the scholarship. I was their office assistant my senior year, and in the speech right before my name was announced as the winner, they said I was surprisingly funny and put a smile on their faces, even when they were having a bad day. I hadn’t decided which community college to go to yet, so my decision was basically made for me. All I had known before then was that I was going to do two years at a community college and then transfer to the University of Washington.

Do you think your time at EvCC helped you pursue your current career? If so, how?

Definitely! When I started at EvCC, I didn’t know if I would major in journalism or English, though I had it narrowed down to either of the two. I talked to my English 101 instructor a lot about it, and asked him to be my adviser while at the college. He helped me figure out that I wanted a degree that would give me definable skills that I could apply to my career. He said that my options were limited if I majored in English, but that I could do all I wanted to do with a journalism degree, so journalism it was. I signed up for all of the journalism classes I could after that. I took all but one by the time I graduated, and they were all taught by the great Andrea Otanez. She is the best teacher/instructor I’ve ever had, no joke. Her classes were structured in a way that really complimented my learning style. Her passion for journalism shined through, so much so that her passion for journalism became my passion. I would love it if I could follow in her footsteps. I’ve said it before: I learned all I needed to know about journalism at EvCC.

What did you do after you left (or graduated from) EvCC?

I graduated from EvCC with an associate’s degree with an emphasis in journalism in 2006. I then transferred to the University of Washington and declared my journalism major.

Did you ever envision your current career while in college?

I had known since high school that I wanted to be a journalist, but I never thought I would be the editor of a newspaper already. I wanted to be a copy editor at The Seattle Times like Andrea Otanez and write feature stories on the side. It hasn’t happened that way, but I feel very fortunate to be where I am today. Not a lot of journalism majors can say they became an editor at age 24. (I’m now 27.) Heck, not a lot of journalism majors can say they’re using their degree.

What courses or activities did you find to be most valuable and how did they help prepare you for your professional career or success in life?

I’d say all of the journalism classes from Andrea helped me prepare for my career and for succeeding in similar classes at the UW. The classes at UW basically covered the same material, but they weren’t as structured as Andrea’s classes, so I have a feeling I would have been lost and frustrated a lot more if I didn’t already know what to do. I remember one of my journalism classes at UW didn’t have a textbook and, anytime I would turn in a story, the only feedback I’d get was the word “Good” at the top of my paper.  I wanted more than that. The lecturer would then tell me: “I’m not worried about you. You had Andrea.” It was also valuable for me to be a part of The Clipper. I was a reporter and copy editor for the school newspaper, which is great experience. Journalism is the kind of career you need to practice to be good. The copy editor gig was actually my first job with a paycheck!

Was there anyone during your time at EvCC who acted as a mentor for you? Tell me about that relationship and why it was valuable.

I had three mentors while at EvCC: Gary Newlin, my English 101 instructor; Andrea Otanez, my journalism instructor; and Bob Killingstad, my Calculus instructor. Gary was the adviser who helped me decide to major in journalism rather than English, Andrea inspired me to become a journalist who upholds the high standards of good journalism she teaches and Bob convinced me to stop taking Calculus so that I could focus on journalism.

What is your lasting impression of EvCC?

EvCC is a great school. I received a good education there from instructors that cared about my learning and my future.  I think starting off at a community college and then transferring to a university is a smart way to go. Not only is it cheaper than four years at a university, you get to have more one-on-one time with your teachers.

Please tell me about your current position or career.

I am the editor of the Mukilteo Beacon, which means I do most of the writing, photography and copy editing for the weekly newspaper. I’m also the webmaster for www.mukilteobeacon.com and supervise page design. I have a reporter intern who writes one story a week for me, and I also manage several columnists. It’s a lot of work, but I like to think of it as journalism boot camp. I’m getting a lot of training by doing.

What helped you stay motivated, both in school, and in your career?

I’m very self-motivated, but it also helped that I had Gary, Bob and Andrea encouraging me and guiding me as I worked to achieve my goals. I thanked them formally in a goodbye column as a graduating editor (copy editor) of The Clipper. Now I just do my very best to put out the best Mukilteo Beacon I can every week. I do it so that I can be proud of myself, but also because I want them to be proud of me, too.

What do/did you find rewarding about it?

The best day of the week is Wednesday, the day the paper is out. There’s nothing like seeing all of your hard work in paper form. I especially like it when I get feedback from my readers. I like knowing that a story I wrote was helpful or touching to them. It helps remind me that I do what I do for the people of Mukilteo: I’m informing them, entertaining them and helping to build community.

What do/did you find most challenging?

My job is what is challenging: It’s like six jobs in one. It can get overwhelming sometimes. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m only one person and that the paper can’t be perfect every week. Though, I do try.

Would you do anything differently if you had the chance to do it all over again?

I don’t know if I would, no. I am very lucky to be the editor of the Mukilteo Beacon. The publisher hired me on as a reporter when every other paper had been giving me the same “we’re looking for someone with more experience” line. He gave me the chance to get more experience. I owe him my thanks for that. When he needed a new editor, he looked to me. He believed I could do the job. It’s a challenging job, yes, but I don’t think I would be happy doing a job that wasn’t a challenge. I like knowing all of my hard work is making a difference.

What were your keys to success?

I would say a combination of hard work and networking led me to my success. I was a good student who studied hard, and now I’m an editor who works even harder. I try to make the most of my connections, too. Your instructors and/or professors are great allies: They helped me get an internship at The Seattle Times, my first (albeit temporary) job also at The Times, and an opportunity to speak at a Washington Community College Journalism Association's awards luncheon.

What words of advice would you give to current EvCC students?

Your first quarter at EvCC, find an instructor you trust and ask them to be your adviser. Meeting with an adviser will help you figure out what you want to do with your degree. You’ll be better able to set and keep your goals in focus. Also, if you’re thinking of going into journalism, join the campus newspaper ASAP. You won’t regret it.

From this vantage point in life, what do you care about the most?

I want to make the most of my career. I also I want to leave my mark, most likely through the written word.