2017 Capstone Projects


We are excited to present an exhibition of the PJ436 Projects class, WKUPJ’s capstone course. From the depths of the longest cave system in the world to flying over the United States/Mexican border to an arranged wedding in Pakistan, the students criss-crossed their way around the Commonwealth, country and globe to bring you stories that matter.


The Cost of Bats

Kentucky sees implications of deadly fungus decimating bat populations.


Bedded rock layers gave way to water that dripped down the earthy limestone rock, covered in thick green moss, and created a muddy floor below.  The drops echoed in the deep depression of earth, created by the sinkhole that exposed the mouth of the historic entrance of Mammoth Cave in Mammoth Cave National Park.  Brown leaves dangle from rock crevices and concrete steps make up a staircase that leads its visitors into the damp darkness of the underground world.

Slipping deeper into the cave, traversing through sinuous passageways, bats cling to the rocky walls and nestle in small roosts.  This cave as well as many others in the park provides ideal locations for Kentucky bats to hibernate during winter months.

Steve Thomas, the monitoring program leader for the Cumberland Piedmont Network, and his crew, outfitted in helmets, headlamps and gloves, worked their way through Bat Avenue – a passage in Mammoth Cave once teeming with bats.



La Lucha Sigue

For undocumented woman, the fight goes on.


Diana Lopez is familiar with the non-English speaking courtroom in Nashville. She’s been there twice before to settle two different charges of driving without a license. But circumstances were different on May 4. As an undocumented immigrant in the era of deportation-happy President Donald Trump, stress levels surged when Lopez heard that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were at the courthouse during the days leading up to her appearance. Lopez plans to fight back, no matter if it’s from inside a jail cell, or on the streets of the United States.




The Femininity Project


Throughout history and around the world, the idea of what is feminine has constantly been evolving. Despite its changing context, the gendered social construction, made up of both socially-defined and biologically-determined factors, maintains a place of permanence in society today. Women are womanly. They’re feminine. But what does that mean?

Femininity is a fluid concept, open to the interpretation of those who claim it for themselves. For women, the feminine is not a separate entity, but an expression of one’s own identity. The Femininity Project is a magazine profiling nine women with different backgrounds in varying stages of life, each sharing her own perspective on womanhood and the implications of femininity for her personally.



Pre Arranged


A look at the deeply rooted tradition of arranged marriage in Pakistani Culture and its collision with the globalizing world.

From honeymoon bliss to cold feet, marriage in Pakistan is the same as any other country, only for the children in the Sadal family it was a fate chosen for them. Putting their trust in their parent’s decisions, they seek out love in a way that diverts significantly from the narrative of a love-at-first-sight culture.



The Road Not Taken


Derek Neal was born on August 28, 1985 in Bowling Green, Kentucky. From an early stage of his life he was introduced to wrestling and from that point he was hooked. He would spend hours as a child in the backyard wrestling and teaching himself how to “pop a crowd”, make them boo or cheer, and how he could adapt that to his own performance. At one point he came across a wrestling school in the area where he met his trainer who took him under his wings and taught him about the art of wrestling in and outside the ring.



Thicker Than Blood

Blood isn’t necessarily thicker than water.


In life it is believed that acceptance is something every person deserves, no matter their race, gender, or sexual orientation. A large segment of the population never deals with a struggle for acceptance quite as difficult as gender mis-identity.

Explore the life of Riley McCracken, a recent Western Kentucky University graduate, and his search for acceptance as he continues the process of transitioning from female to male. Because of this transition, Riley has been cut off from his family life. He struggles to find the love and acceptance that a family is supposed to provide. His girlfriend, Kendra, serves as a great source of strength for him and has helped him begin to find himself. He has opened himself up to the LGBT community around him by getting involved with Drag performances and he has established friendships with other transgender people who serve as a new family. Riley’s story proves that blood may not be thicker than water.



Made With Love

The Sixth Love Language: Food.


Part of what makes us so interesting as humans is that we’re all different. We come from different places, have different families and traditions, and each have a very different life. Somehow, though, we all connect with each other with our ability to love but also with one other thing. Food.

Food has a way of bringing even the most different of people together. It’s so easy to connect over a meal. Sharing food with others can take you from strangers to friends, and sometimes even make you fall in love. There is a sixth love language, and it’s sharing food.



A Jockey’s Journey


The sport of horse racing has seen many famous faces throughout the industry. Legendary jockeys and thoroughbreds have come and gone over the past decades, and everyone is doing what they can to make it to the finish line first. For 20-year-old Katie Clawson, her first full year of horse racing has brought about many successes, yet many challenges. Coming off of a major injury two summers ago, Katie has raced at just about every track within the Kentucky circuit already. With nothing but pure drive and passion to keep her going, Katie hopes to make a name for herself as a female apprentice horse jockey.



Summer’s Solstice

Human trafficking survivor empowers women with a grassroots Christian ministry


Summer Dickerson, 38-year-old from Louisville, Kentucky, is human trafficking survivor and former prostitute. Within two years, she initiated recovery from her old lifestyle, accepted Christianity, and founded a ministry to empower other women. She is also mother of 11 children, who accompany her in her ministry work. Her relationships with her husband and children have improved drastically since her personal transformation.

Soon after committing to Christianity, Summer started a Bible study for sex trafficking victims. She invites women in clubs and bars around Louisville to a weekly meeting. She invites women in more desperate need to live with her and her family in their home. In summer of 2017, she plans to open a transitional home for them as well. Here they will receive mentorship and community in exchange for maintaining strict rules for recovery.



Changing Every Day

Over the past 15 years more than 2500 men have pursued a change through the Journey Into Manhood program. But is change from homosexuality possible?


Brett lived as homosexual for 10 years — and for a long time, he didn’t even think it was something that should be changed. A serious breakup with his last boyfriend made him rethink his life, which led him to join the Journey into Manhood program.

Today he strives to live the life God created him for, in the hope that he will find a wife and start his own family.



Sam: They, Them, Their


We are all born with a brain that is molded and shaped by those around us and the circumstances in our lives. One thing that never changes is the person we are born as. Gender and sexuality are often misinterpreted as black and white or the same thing. This is Sam’s story; a non-binary, college freshmen who is trying to figure out what are the next steps to take after figure out who they are in every aspect and what that might mean to those around them.



An Island in Time

One man slows down as life speeds up.


Life is accelerating at an ever increasing pace. The Internet has made the speed of life race to almost unheard of levels. As a society, the choice has been made to mash the button and hurtle towards wherever it is that the digital age decides to take us. Steve Shafer decided he didn’t want that. As a farmer, a blacksmith, and most importantly, a teacher, Steve has decided to pursue a slower lifestyle in the hills of middle Tennessee.



Gotcha’ Forever


Kendra, 15, always feared that she wouldn’t have anyone to be there for her. Two years ago, Ben and Kayla Thompson of Bowling Green, Kentucky, took in a pair of sisters, Kendra and Caitlin, 10, that needed a place to call home. After entering foster care, Kendra didn’t think she had a chance of adoption because of her age. “I knew my sister might get adopted, but I was like I’m not getting adopted,” Kendra said. The past few months, the Thompson family has been preparing for both of the girl’s adoption hearings.



The Kentucky Wine Project

Nurture by Nature


Drew and Jessica Rogers, of Smith’s Grove, try to balance full-time jobs, three kids, and the Bluegrass Vineyard. The couple have been working towards their grand opening, but they are forced to postpone it until Drew returns from a one month training session in Hawaii.



Found Hope, A Survivor’s Story

The 27-year sexual assault marriage victim now free


Connie Knapp, 66 is was a victim of a 27-year marriage were she was sexually assaulted by her husband. Knapp did not have a way out until she finally stood up for herself in a time where she was the most afraid. It was when her husband was being serious about killing her in their own Kentucky home where they lived and raised three children.



Struggle for the Dream

Christina Dawson wants to spend her whole life in service for unemployed people.


The Founder & CEO of SOKY Job, LLC commits her life to developing an online job search engine used to advertise open positions in Southern Kentucky.


Through Our Eyes-04/18/17

Ibtisam at the International Center of Kentucky in Bowling Green in April 2017. She is a refugee from Somali, and her family is preparing to move to Ohio on the weekend. The International Center helps hundreds of refugees to resettle and transition to life in America. With one of his first executive orders, Donald Trump cut refugee intake from 110,000 to 50,000. The International Center and many of its programs now face cuts.|Gabriel Scarlett.

Nature meets industry outside of Detroit, MI in March 2017. For decades the Environment Protection Agency has regulated this delicate dance between the two. Under the Trump administration, the EPA’s budget is set to be cut by nearly 30 percent–$2.6 billion–in an attempt at boosting the manufacturing and energy sectors.|Gabriel Scarlett.


Through Our Eyes-04/11/17

Michelle Calnan, 52 of Knoxville, Tennessee sits in her bed after getting little sleep the night before due to symptoms of Benzo withdrawal. “I don’t want to be in this body. I’m tired of seeing the same trees out of the same window feeling the same way,” said Calnan while she wept in her bed. Calnan was prescribed Klonopin ,an anti-anxiety drug for over 20 years that is designed to be used for a maximum of four weeks. She is currently attempting to taper off the medication which is a lengthy process taking anywhere from three to six years.|Michael Noble Jr.

Rosalino Santiago Garcia and his wife, Sabina Garcia Pacheco, wait to have a lasso placed on their shoulders by their sponsors during the couple’s wedding ceremony in Santa Ana, Oaxaca, Mexico on March 25, 2017. The lasso is a staple of Hispanic weddings and symbolizes the couple’s everlasting union. The two were officially married five years prior in a civil union, but it wasn’t until March that they could afford to throw a proper celebration after they saved enough of the money that Rosalino earned as a migrant worker in the tobacco fields of Kentucky.|Nick Wagner

Siena Heights University Asia Gardner sprints to the finish line as she anchors in the second heat of the 4×100 meter race during the Hilltopper Relays on Saturday April 8, 2017 at Charles M Reuters Track and Field Complex.|Shaban Athuman

Indiana Tech’s Jordan Partee falls into the sand pit after jumping 6.64 meters during the Hilltopper Relays on Saturday April 8, 2017 at Charles M Reuters Track and Field Complex. Partee would finish in 8th overall with a 6.74 meters.|Shaban Athuman

**This past Tuesday, WKU students skyped with members of RIT’s NPPA student chapter and exchanged photos for a joint critique session. WKU students discussed and selected the best photos from RIT. They did the same with us. Check out what RIT selected as their top photos from this past week! A big thanks to RIT for making the collaboration happen!


America Divided

America Divided

A look into the opinions leading up to the 2016 Presidential Race, documented by WKUPJ students Mie Hee Christensen and Michael Noble Jr.

Using Verse’s, interactive video platform you are able to self navigate the video and dive deeper into a variety of subjects concerning voters in the final days before the election.

To experience the interactive site visit:



Through Our Eyes-03/28/17

Rafey Wahlah of Lahore Bunjab, Pakistan has been in the United States for four years. Wahlah is currently the President of the Pakistani Student Association at Western Kentucky. This association was founded three years ago by students of this nationality. Wahlah stated, “When I first came here there were only four Pakistani students, a year later there were about 30; as I graduate this year, I fear we won’t have many Pakistani students attending this University to continue the PSA organization.”|Ebony Cox

Mariam Athuman, 5, is bathed in the afternoon light at her home in Roanoke, Virginia. Her family moved to the United States from a refugee camp in Tanzania in 2008. She is now a citizen.|Shaban Athuman

Much hangs in the balance for Rafey Wahlah, a senior at Western Kentucky University. Wahlah, the current president of the Pakistani Student Association at WKU, will graduate this spring with a degree in Political Science and hopes to return home to Lahore, Pakistan where his family resides but has also begun to seek out work in the United States while he is still eligible under the OTP student visa work program that allows foreign college students enrolled in US schools to begin their careers in the US for a short time in hopes of being selected for an H1-B visa, the first step in the green card process.|Alyse Young


WKUPJ Wins 23rd Overall Photojournalism in the Hearst Intercollegiate Photojournalism Competition

WKUPJ Wins Overall in Hearst Intercollegiate Photojournalism Competition.

Hearst Journalism Awards program recognized Western Kentucky University as the overall winner in their Intercollegiate Photojournalism Competition.  This marks the 23rd year that Western as won First Place overall in the prestigious competition.
To win overall in Photojournalism students competed in two competitions, News and Features, and in Picture Story/Series.

In the first competition two students from WKUPJ could enter up to 8 images each. Senior Harrison Hill won 1st place and Sophomore Gabriel Scarlett took 2nd place with their collection of images.

The second competition was Picture Story/Series with Junior Srijita Chattopadhyay taking first place for her story about a mother’s struggle with the loss of her 12-year-old daughter who died from an overdose brought on by bullying at school.  Freshman Lydia Schweickart placed 10th in the competition with her story about a mom starting her career as an exotic dancer to support her family after her fiancee lost his job.

Congratulations to our students who competed, along with the rest of our students who push to make our program a success every year. As the WKUPJ family we inspire and challenge each other to do better and in turn we all are a part of our fellow student’s success.


Stitched Past by Sawyer Smith

Stitched Past

WKUPJ student Sawyer Smith examines the impact of the social enterprise company Krochet Kids who’s mission is to empower women to move out of poverty through education and work.

Sawyer traveled to Lima, Peru to document their program in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods.

View her project here: https://sawyersmith.atavist.com/stitched_past


On Poisoned Land by Gabriel Scarlett

On Poisoned Land

How the Navajo still suffer from a country’s flirtation with nuclear war.

WKUPJ student Gabriel Scarlett examines the effects from decades of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation’s health, water and environment.   According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “Nearly four million tons of uranium ore were extracted from 1944 to 1986; left behind were more than 500 abandoned uranium mines, four inactive uranium milling sites, a former dump site, and the widespread contamination of land and water. Only recently has the government attempted to assess and mitigate this contamination, but full reclamation of the land is unlikely.”

To see more about the in-depth project visit: https://gabrielstephenscarle.atavist.com/on-poisoned-land

Begay with two of her sons, Lewis and Leonard, who died of cancers at 25 and 42, respectively. She counts at least a dozen of her close relatives who she believes died of exposure in or around the mines.
“Do you want me to show you where I dreamt of the water running?” Desaire Gaddy muses. “All through here, just blue water and dolphins.”

The Way We Love by Lauren Nolan

The Way We Love

Love may be the only experience we all share. It makes us human. It’s part of our story. Love brings us to the extreme ends of the spectrum of human emotion, from feelings of overwhelming joy to unparalleled heartbreak. But what does real love look like?

The Way We Love is a documentary and multimedia package by WKUPJ Senior Lauren Nolan, exploring how we love in the modern world.

Experience the entire piece at http://thewaywe.love


Through Our Eyes-02/14/17

Sumner Franklin (on left), from the University of Kentucky, takes a punch to the face from Miguel Brarzey, from WKU, at the Sigma Chi Fraternity Fight Night in the Sloan Convention Center on Friday, Feb 10, 2017. Franklin won the match.|Silas Walker

London Alford, 4, and older sister Quinlann Alford, 6, from Bowling Green react to the cowgirl trick riders performing their stunts at the Lone Star Rodeo. Quinlann enjoys the rodeo for the animals. “When I grow up I want to be a vet,” said Quinlann. | Michelle Hanks

Jill Matthews, a Freshman from Louisville, stands with her clarinet in Minton Hall on February 14, 2017. Matthews is a music major and has played the clarinet for 9 years. “I love playing music,” Matthews said. “It teaches me something new about myself every day.”|Morgan Hornsby

Sigma Chi fighter Justin Williams walks into the ring before his bout during Sigma Chi fight nigh on Thursday Feb. 9, 2017 at the Sloan Convention Center.|Shaban Athuman

Kenowa Hills’ Megan Titus reacts with her teammates after it was announced that Kenowa Hills won the Knight Invite at Kenowa Hills High School on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017.|Mike Clark

A rodeo contestant competes in the steer wrestling competition at the Lone Star Rodeo in Bowling Green, Ky. on February 10, 2017|Kendall Warner