Dave Umhoefer presenting his fellowship-enabled work at the program’s annual conference in October 2016.

Interim director named for O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism

The J. William and Mary Diederich College of Communication announced today that Dave Umhoefer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has returned to the Perry and Alicia O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism as interim director.

Umhoefer spent the 2015–16 academic year as an O’Brien Fellow, working with students and faculty to produce for the Journal Sentinel the three-part “Act 10 at Five” series focusing on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining law five years after it took effect. His team examined financial reports and teacher data on the state’s 424 districts; compared old and new bargaining agreements in 100 districts; interviewed educators in 25 districts and conducted a detailed survey of school superintendents.

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Umhoefer won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. His six-month investigation of Milwaukee County’s pension system exposed a corrupt, illegal scheme in which more than 350 employees had increased their pensions by a collective $50 million.

Umhoefer replaces Herbert Lowe, who served as the fellowship’s director from its inception in 2013 and the Diederich College’s journalism professional in residence since 2010. Lowe recently resigned from Marquette for a position with the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications.

“While we are sad to see Herb leave as founding director, the ability to bring a Pulitzer-winning journalist into our program helps to build upon what we are doing,” said Diederich College Dean Kimo Ah Yun, who noted that a search for a permanent director would ensue in the coming months.

“An important component of the O’Brien Fellowship has always been to provide our students with an experience they can only get at Marquette,” Ah Yun said. “We are fortunate to find a person such as Dave to work with and mentor them as he also works to guide the program during the coming year.”

Dr. Ana Garner, chair of the department of journalism and media studies, said Umhoefer “brings outstanding experience and expertise” and is in a “unique position to elevate and support the work of our students and incoming O’Brien Fellows.”

Marquette journalism student Brittany Carloni (front) asks Jacob Tenaglia (left), an education student at the University of Wisconsin a question, as Umhoefer and MU journalism student Stephanie Harte (back left) and MU graduate student Sarah Hauer also take part in a daylong reporting trip as part of Umhoefer’s 2015–16 fellowship project.

Umhoefer said he looks forward to working with the 2017–18 class of O’Brien Fellows. Gary Harki and Anita Hassan, investigative reporters, The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk and Houston Chronicle, respectively; Erin Richards, an education reporter, Journal Sentinel, and Andy Soth, senior producer and reporter, Wisconsin Public Television in Madison, will be based at the college as residential O’Brien Fellows during the 2017–18 academic year. The fellowship will also support Eben Pindyck, an independent journalist from Greater Milwaukee, as a nonresidential fellow.

“As an O’Brien Fellow, I experienced firsthand the positive difference the fellowship can make in pursuit of in-depth reporting,” Umhoefer said. “Now, as interim director, I have the chance to help others to produce the story of their lives.”

Lowe credited many people with helping him to situate the O’Brien Fellowship as among the nation’s best university-based journalism initiatives. Nearly 60 students have spent at least a semester helping an O’Brien Fellow, with a few either earning project-related bylines or producing associated videos. Several have traveled with fellows to states such as California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Texas — and even to Belgium, Brazil, China and Peru.

“Seeing the fellows and their assigned students grow as teams each year is the best part of the job,” Lowe said. “Dave is one of several fellows who significantly affected a student’s future through the experience. I am thrilled that he is returning to lead the O’Brien Fellowship.”