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Lauren Stepp, a senior at West Henderson High School, has been named the North Carolina High School Journalist of the Year by the North Carolina Press Club and the Scholastic Media Association.
"Her portfolio has a wide variety of journalism experience," said WHHS journalism teacher and school newspaper adviser Brenda Gorsuch. "She had her writing clips from her freshman, sophomore and junior years. She had her redesign of the Wingspan from a newspaper to a news magazine — she created the prototype for that.
"She had her experience from professional work because she had her clips from the Hendersonville Lightning. Another cool thing that helped her is last summer she received a scholarship to attend the Al Neuharth 'Free Spirit and Journalism Conference' at the Newseum in Washington for a week. It was really a good experience."
Stepp's 50-page portfolio goes next to the national level. After judges review the student award winners from the states, they will announce a national winner at the Journalism Education Association meeting in San Diego on April 10.
Stepp, who is co-editor of the national award-winning Wingspan, has received a full scholarship to UNC Charlotte. The North Carolina High School Journalist of the Year award added a $2,000 scholarship. The award also means that WHHS gets $500.
Stepp is the second WHHS student in a row to win the state award. Last year's winner, Hailey Johns, is currently a freshman at UNC at Chapel Hill.
"I never set out when I began my journalism experience to win this award," said Stepp, who is also a free-lance writer for the Lightning. "That was never my goal. But putting my all into journalism and really finding a passion for it has driven me to go beyond what's expected, through writing for local media and taking it national with the Al Neuharth experience."
The daughter of William and Marianne Stepp, Lauren takes advanced placement courses, works on the Wingspan and helps out at her brother Andrew's company, Premium Organic Landscaping in Mills River. Her planned major double major of earth science and environmental public relations combines her interests and on-the-ground experience.
Gorsuch, who has guided West students to state and national awards, inspired Stepp to reach high, the senior said.
"She has a philosophy that good isn't good until it's perfect," Stepp said. "That carried over not only to journalism but outside journalism as well into academics. I pushed myself. As a mentor she inspires you to do not only your best but beyond that."