by Rachel Rippetoe
One evening, Olivia Rockeman scattered through dorm halls with other reporters, knocking on over 100 doors.
The California Aggie, University of California Davis’ student-run newspaper, was defunded and reduced to a digital stream, only publishing online every Tuesday and Thursday. Rockeman, a freshman at the time, was hired on the cusp of the “Print the Aggie” campaign, an initiative to introduce an annual $9 student fee that would fund printing the paper once a week.
According to Aggie Editor-in-Chief Bryan Sykes, every person on staff at the time partook in canvassing. And the vote passed by a narrow margin.
“I still strongly believe that if literally one person did not step up and do everything that they could’ve, we would not have been able to pass that initiative, and that includes Olivia,” Sykes said. “It came down to the wire.”
The Aggie resurfaced with an even stronger presence on campus, and soon, Rockeman would be waking up at 5 a.m. every Thursday, driving a van around campus to distribute thousands of copies of a paper she had invested hours into copyediting.
“It’s always fun to come back later in the day and maybe one of the stacks you distributed was almost halfway gone,” Rockeman said.
That was three years ago. Since then, Rockeman, 20, moved from City Desk reporter, to copy chief, to managing editor. With a staff of over 130 reporters, editors and photographers, Rockeman reads an average of 60 stories every Sunday.
She says this with little bravado. Working as a copy chief for two years, Rockeman made contributions to hundreds of articles yet hardly received any recognition.
“Being a copy reader, you can influence an article in so many ways, but your name is not on the byline,” Sykes said. “I think that really speaks to someone’s character.”
Sykes says that as managing editor, Rockeman is a fun and pragmatic leader at The Aggie. Her role of motivating staffers feels similar to a camp counselor, perhaps because she is one. Rockeman has worked as a counselor at Camp Kesem, a free summer camp for children who have parents with cancer, for three years.
Rockeman was drawn to the camp because her father died of a similar illness when she was in high school.
“It’s not often that you come to college and have a single parent and get to be in this club where lots of other people do too,” Rockeman said.
Rockeman’s counselor name is “Kale,” and she said she loves working with 13 and 14-year-old kids who are facing familiar challenges.
Rockeman was about that age when she embarked on her student journalism career, joining the yearbook staff in seventh grade. She became editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper and applied to work at The Aggie her first day at UC Davis. Rockeman, who grew up outside of San Diego, said what was once a fun hobby, eventually grew into a vocation.
“I think once that kind of clicked for me I started to see what stories can do for people and the impact it can have beyond just what it was doing for me,” Rockeman said.
Rockeman has always had an entrepreneurial spirit, she said. From childhood lemonade stands to restaurant jobs, she has a sustained interest in how money gets made and where it goes. This, combined with her love of journalism, drew her to business reporting.
Last fall, Rockeman made an excel sheet of every business reporting internship she could find, with Dow Jones News Fund listed at the very top. She took an hour-long bus ride to Sacramento State just to take her entrance exam.
“I was like, ‘Is this even worth it at this point?’ but I threw myself into it and I got the call in December and was like wow that was so worth it,” Rockeman said. “Basically exactly what I’m doing this summer, that’s what I want to be doing when I graduate.”
Rockeman will intern at the Sacramento Business Journal and is excited to bring her knowledge of the Davis community into their newsroom. After eight years of copy-editing, counseling and managing, she’s ready for anything.