ROUTE – A visual journey down Historic Dixie Highway

Stretching from the tip of Florida to the top of Michigan the historic Dixie Highway created communities along its Route.  Travel with Anna Leachman and Gabi Broekema as they document its path through the state of Kentucky, telling the stories of its people, religion and businesses, along its winding road.

View the entire project here:

Survivors – Finding Hope Beyond Domestic Violence

Ever so often students do a project that shakes you and makes one stop to notice the depth of storytelling that our students are capable of producing. Survivors is a senior capstone project by Allie Schallert and Arthur H. Trickett-Wile that had the room on an emotional rollercoaster during the presentation. It is a story of two women and their journey through the impacts of domestic violence.

View the entire story here:

Documenting a Mennonite family by Emilee Arnold

Junior Visual Journalism & Photography major Emilee Arnold gained access to a family of seven children growing up in a Mennonite community in rural Western Kentucky.

Olivia Beachy, 8, salutes during a Bible verse recitation at Franklin Mennonite School on March 31, 2023. Students at the school memorize 100 Bible verses throughout the year alongside their courses in math, science, history, and English.
Olivia Beachy, 8, collects eggs from the chicken coops in her family’s yard in Auburn, Ky. as part of her evening chores on March 28, 2023. “The reason I make lists of chores all the time is so they learn how to help each other, and how to be responsible for what’s around them,” said Valerie Beachy, Olivia’s mother. “I’ve said that idleness is the devil’s workshop.”
Isaac Beachy, 16, talks with his mother about his cross tattoo during a family dinner on Sunday, April 2, 2023. The tattoo is a point of contention with his mother, who dislikes the tattoo but is “glad it is what it is”.
The Beachy family enjoys a homemade meal of deer steak and potatoes at their residence.

Valerie Beachy and daughter Olivia, 8, pray facing the back of the room during a service at their Mennonite church in rural western Kentucky.

Aging in America by Brett Phelps

Junior Visual Journalism & Photography major Brett Phelps  has spent the past year documenting 87-year-old Billy Salsman as she struggles to live on her own as a childless widow. Her failing health and loneliness is taking a toll on her making day to day life a challenge.

Eighty-seven-year-old Billie Salsman is among the 6 million Americans age 85 or older. She has no children and has lived alone since she became widowed in 2008. Salsman has a multitude of health issues and has recently suffered from three strokes that have affected her speech, swallowing, and mental processing. She lives on a limited retirement income and cannot afford to reside in an assisted living or nursing home facility without losing her home. Salsman’s social life is limited to the neighbors who drive her to the grocery store and doctors appointments and the therapists who provide in-home services To combat her loneliness, Salsman passes the time reading the Bible and researching her family’s genealogy, as Salsman no longer attends in-person church services. Salsman credits her longevity to her Christian faith, “You must remember the word ‘joy.’ Put Jesus first, then others, and then yourself.”

Eighty-seven-year-old Billie Salsman selects a necklace to wear to her doctor’s appointment at her home in Hodgenville, Kentucky on April 7, 2023. According to Salsman, her husband gave her jewelry for birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas over the years. “I enjoy dressing up on occasion, but it’s hard for me to with my arthritis.”


Salsman winces in pain as she uses an assistive device to pull her leg into the bed at her home in Hodgenville, Kentucky on the evening of April 6, 2023. “I sleep with my Bible, and sometimes when I hurt bad, I beg God to relieve the pain. I take my Bible and lay it on that spot. And you know, I soon doze off to sleep.”

To stay close to God and to combat loneliness, Salsman reads her Bible at her home in Hodgenville, Kentucky on April 23, 2023. Salman reflected, “God is the word. I feel close to him when I read my Bible.”


Salsman takes a moment to reflect at her late husband’s tombstone in Hodgenville, Kentucky on April 9, 2023. “My companion, James Salsman, died on September 17, 2008. He was a good Christian husband, and I thank God that he chose such a good person for me. I miss him. I miss him bad,” shares Salsman.


The Road Home by Rhiannon Johnston

Rhiannon Johnstone, a junior in the Photojournalism & Documentary program at Western Kentucky University tells a story of the life of a long-haul trucker, Bobby Coffey-Loy. Bobby juggles driving 8,000 weekly miles while caring for his terminally ill mother. Seeking connection and understanding on the road, Bobby turns to the LGBTQ+ Trucking Network, a support system he founded with his husband Ricky. Rhiannon built an interactive multimedia experience to help you better understand the story.

Please view the entire project at

Losing Cherokee by Sean McInnis

Western Kentucky University’s Photojournalism & Documentary Sean McInnis, a junior, explored the culture and language of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians tucked away in the Great Smokey Mountains. While interning last summer at the Charlotte Observer, Sean learned about how the Cherokee language is quickly disappearing, and the efforts that are being taken to preserve it. To better tell story, Sean created a multimedia presentation that pulls together examples of the Cherokee language in written and spoken form and broke down a timeline of the Cherokee Nations struggle the past 200 years to hold onto their culture.  Visit the it at:

Poetic Journey – Advanced Short Form Documentary

In an assignment in the Advanced Short Form Documentary class taught by Tim Broekema, students where given the challenge of creating a video in the idea of Poetic Documentaries, a from first seen in the 1920s.

It prioritize experiences, visuals, and aim to present the world from diverse perspectives. Characterized by abstractness and a flexible narrative structure, this sub-genre of documentaries boldly ventures into unconventional and experimental forms and themes. Its primary objective is to evoke emotions rather than convey a definitive reality.

Here are examples from two of our Photojournalism & Documentary students in the class.

Rod by Sean McInnis

A look inside the underground, do-it-yourself, traveling musical duo ROD, featuring Micah Wu and Angie Willcutt.


Like Father, Like Son by Brett Phelps

Maya Angelou said, “Every journey begins with a single step.” For Michael Phelps, his journey with fishing began with the first cast he made as a child with his father on a dock at the Lake of the Ozarks near Versailles, Missouri. Phelps continues this father-son pastime with his sons on the pond banks and lakes of Kentucky. Phelps understands that it’s not fish he is after, it’s something much more significant.

Emilee Arnold

Emilee Arnold’s first internships last summer had her covering five eastern Kentucky and West Virginia counties, while working for the Appalachian Newspapers, Inc. A Bowling Green, KY native Emilee is a junior Photojournalism major at Western Kentucky University. Here are a few of her pictures from this past year.

Dean Woods, 58, holds his wife Brenda’s hand during an eye exam at a Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic at Easy Perry Elementary School in Hazard, Ky. RAM clinics offer free vision, dental, and medical care to patients in underserved areas. The couple were among the first to arrive at the clinic at its opening on June 3, 2023.

Olivia Beachy, 8, chases a classmate in a game of tag during indoor recess at her Mennonite school on March 31, 2023.

Family and friends of Martin, Ky. resident Amber Spradlin mourn during a visitation at Hall Funeral Home on June 22, 2023. Spradlin was found dead at a home in Martin on June 18, with Kentucky State Police deeming her death a result of “life-threatening injuries from suspected foul play”. Her family alleged at a later press conference that she was stabbed eleven times. As of September 18, no arrests have yet been made in connection to her case.

In the weeks following her death, relatives of Spradlin made calls for justice through demonstrations, a vigil, and memorial services. Her family says that they seek to keep Amber’s story in the community’s memory and see the perpetrator brought to justice.

Eli Randolph

WKU junior Eli Randolph discovered one of the best things about photojournalism this past year.  Having consistent class assignments pushing him into the community, Eli discovered the photojournalism joy of meeting amazing strangers every day and stepping into their lives for a brief moment. Here are a few pictures the Murfreesboro TN native took the past year at school.

Four cowboys walk through smoke while holding the American flag before a rodeo event in Bowling Green, KY, Saturday, February 11th,2023. The scene depicts a patriotic display of Western heritage and American pride as the riders prepare for the competition. The atmosphere surrounding the flag was unmatched as the bearers honored United States service members. With the smoke and dust in the air the flag was unfurled and the national anthem sang.

Landon and Millie Westbrook sit in their kitchen after returning from a funeral at 10 pm on April 20, for a family friend whose father committed suicide the week prior. “After the tornados tore down all of his barns he was never really the same,” said Landon. According to the CDC farmers are twice as likely as people in other occupations to die by suicide.

Millie walks her zebra, Marti, though the doors of her barn to get it used to being led. Although there is a lot of struggles farming and surviving doing so there are moments of peace. Over the past 4 years Millie has refurbished an old tobacco barn to be a clean, welcoming space for people to rent for anything from weddings to birthday parties. In the early days of using the barn she got increasing questions from customers to pet her animals in one of the adjacent barns. After having so much feedback she decided to make a part of the event barn package.

2023 Capstone Projects

What happens when your freshman year of college everything shuts down for a pandemic and your a Photojournalism Major? Learn to adapt. Our graduating senior class had to learn how to engage with people when the world says to distance. When events on campus don’t resume until your junior year in college. You learn invaluable skills in an always changing world. (Example electric at our senior picnic shelter would never turn on during a rainstorm)

Students in the photojournalism sequence spend the last semester of their major working on a individual or small-team 16-week long projects.  The results of their efforts can be viewed at this site:


Survivors by Allie Schallert and Arthur Trickett-Wile

Domestic violence is a worldwide problem, but in the U.S., Kentucky leads the proportion of women who face it.


Champion of My Own World by Charlie Haynes

Despite challenges, boxing coach Josh “Rocky” Mata still manages to follow his passions and inspire other along the way


Route by Gabi Broekema and Anna Leachman

A documentation of Kentuckians who work, worship and live along the historic Dixie Highway


Stone of Comfort by Gunnar Word

Despite having overcome a rough childhood and unlikely odds, Ebenezer Griffith is on a journey to try and represent the United States in the Olympics in 2024


Tonality by Georgia Mallett

Finding a voice in identity and music


Unbreakable Bond by Tyler Breneman and Cristina Betz

Despite their vastly different backgrounds, two sibling support one another in a way no one else can.