Pulitzer Student Fellow Reflects on Her Experience Abroad

A photo from Mariana Riva's trip to Colombia.

By Desaray Hickombottom, Communication Studies major, Class of 2020

Mariana Rivas, a senior journalism major who grew up in Houston, Texas, has been awarded a fellowship from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to report on birthright citizenship in Colombia. The Pulitzer Center provides journalism students with the opportunity for paid fellowships to pursue international reporting projects. Their projects focus on topics of global importance, with an emphasis on issues that have gone unreported or under-reported in the mainstream American media.

Rivas, who is originally from Caracas, Venezuela, traveled to Colombia to investigate the challenges faced by Venezuelan mothers who give birth. Colombia does not have birthright citizenship, so these children are born stateless.

She said she wanted to be involved and write about the Venezuelan crisis in some aspect since her family is originally from there. “I knew I wanted to write something about the Venezuelan crisis in some aspect and I knew I wanted a specific topic that still captured the bigger issue,” she said.

Rivas said the material from her classes was applicable to her experience in Colombia. “Everything from taking pictures, how to interview, how to write and organize a report,” she said. “It was good to know that what I learned will be useful in the real world, regardless of what I’m reporting on.”

She also said that all of her journalism professors have been very helpful. Jean Brown, Uche Onyebadi, and Jaime Loke are a few of the professors who have helped her organize the information and photos she gathered while in Colombia.

Rivas hopes her story shows what problems people in other countries encounter.

“Whenever these mothers migrated, they didn’t think about their children’s citizenship,” she said. “I wanted to show that you can start over and your new reality isn’t necessarily as idealistic as you might’ve thought it would be.”

Rivas said visiting Colombia was one of the most rewarding, but also one of the hardest experiences she’s encountered. “It was shocking because I’d never been around so many people that are suffering,” she said. “But it’s important for people to step outside of their comfort zones in order to learn informative information about topics such as citizenship in Colombia.”

Rivas is graduating in December, and plans on working for a news outlet or print publication. She said she also plans on going to law school in a few years to study immigration law.

Rivas’ work will be published at a later date online at the Pulitzer Center.

A photo from Mariana Rivas' trip to Colombia.