by Danielle Chemtob
It was the end of Mengqi Sun’s senior year at Tufts University, and after working 30 hour weeks as the managing editor at the student newspaper, the Tufts Daily, she decided to get up at 7 a.m. on Saturday to go to New Hampshire.
The night before, she had received an email from a group of students driving up to the Democratic National Convention, who said they had an extra seat in the car. And even though she had never been a political reporter, she decided to volunteer.
She hadn’t even had time to register as a member of the media, but the convention gave her a press pass anyway when she arrived. She watched the convention in the press room with reporters from professional outlets across the country.
“Just being able to see democracy in action especially from the journalist’s perspective was really cool for me,” she said.
When then-Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley walked in, Sun was sure she was the only student reporter in the room. She asked him a question about college affordability, and was starstruck when he actually answered it as if she were a professional reporter.
And that moment was pivotal in her decision to pursue journalism.
“A lot of things I get in school are in a bubble,” she said. “It doesn’t really have a real-world impact. In journalism, I was able to get up there in one day and get a story published the next day — I can see the impact really quickly.”
Sun, 24, just graduated from Columbia University with a Master of Arts in journalism and a concentration in business and economics reporting. She lives in New York City.
She is fluent in English and Mandarin, hailing originally from Shanghai, China, where she lived until moving to the United States for college.
While she’d dreamed of being a reporter growing up, she didn’t fully decide to go into journalism until her senior year of college, when she became heavily involved at the Tufts Daily, serving as the managing editor. In the role, she broke barriers: she became the first international woman to serve on the managing board, and even organized a conference on diversity in student journalism.
She majored in economics and international relations at Tufts, and decided to get as much professional experience in journalism as possible before her master’s program. She worked at NPR’s Boston news station, the Boston Globe and the Christian Science Monitor, all in one year.
At Columbia, Sun took a six-credit seminar class with Paul Glader, a visiting professor at the school in spring 2018 and the program director of the Dow Jones News Fund business reporting program.
She was one of the youngest in his 13-person class, but Glader said her confidence grew as the course progressed. She took copious notes in small print in a moleskine notebook during each guest lecture.
He was particularly impressed by her instinct to follow a story on Propel, a tech company serving low-income Americans on food stamps.
“Part of our tech economy in the U.S. tends to solve problems for the wealthy, for the elite, for the people in San Francisco who can’t find a parking place — those are not third world problems,” Glader said. “But there are plenty of problems of poor, low income people struggling to get by in America so I thought it was smart that she went after a story like that.”
And that wasn’t the only big story Sun followed — she just finished her master’s thesis, a 9500-word feature story looking into a failed nuclear reactor building project in Columbia, South Carolina.
“I don’t know anybody in South Carolina,” she said. “I just flew in there one week in January, tried to build my sources walking around locally [and] tried to get everybody really involved in the story to talk to me about this really big fiasco that’s happening.”
Sun will be interning at the Wall Street Journal this summer through the Dow Jones News Fund program.