2019 Capstone Senior Projects

Here at WKUPJ, we are excited to present a collection of the 2019 PJ436 Projects course final thesis. Students complete their photojournalism curriculum by enrolling in a semester-long instructional “workshop” that provides individual guidance and hands-on practical experience in producing a story that covers a topic of their choosing.


Life After Death

How grief forever changes a life


Death is the one certainty everyone will one day have to face. However, when facing the death of a person you love, the grief can change your life forever. This documentary explores three stories of loss and chronicles the difficulties and years of heartache that come with the death of a loved one.




For The Love of Jude

After a tragic accident, Katii Bishop searches for a new normal


Katii Bishop, a mother of four, copes with loss after the tragic death of her daughter from a car accident on December 28, 2018. The accident has left Katii searching for what life looks like without her daughter, Jude. Katii realizes, though, that although time moves on, the grief doesn’t necessarily get easier.




High Hopes

Two stories of people in Kentucky who devote their lives to help those struggling from addiction in a state hit hard by the opioid crisis


This project brings together two sides of the opioid crisis in Kentucky. A personal story and a story about the epidemic on the frontlines accompanied with data on the epidemic in the state of Kentucky and resources for addicts and their families. The personal story is about Nikki Arnold-Strunck who lives in Richmond, Kentucky. Nikki lost her son, Brendan Strunck, to a heroin overdose when he was 24-years old. Now she travels around Kentucky to places like recovery centers and jails sharing their story and how his overdose effected her in hopes that she can change peoples lives. The story shares how she continues to cope with the loss of her son three years later and uses her story as part of that. The story on the front lines is through the eyes of members of the Louisville Fire Department about the multiple overdose calls they run on a daily basis, in a State hit hard by the opioid crisis.




Spokes in the Wheel

Finding a balance between being competitive and having fun is something John and Jenny Lachowicz strive for as they raise their three sons Sam, Jacob, and Van, through BMX


In Clarksville, TN., the Lachowicz family are finding their roots and planting a plentiful garden. While juggling homeschooling, racing, and social interaction, bicycles bring this family closer in ways that cannot be explained but only witnessed. A wheel cannot spin without each spoke, much like a family cannot function smoothly without each member. Each individual, pulling and pushing at times, but always together in the end. The rambunctious family of 5, hold each other accountable and look at every day as a new day to make it a great one. This journey is far from over and they do not plan on stopping anytime soon.




Revolving Doors

How a jail in rural Kentucky is working to break the cycle of addiction and recidivism


In a state with the second highest incarceration growth rate in the country, Butler County Jail is seeing the direct effects of incarceration for addiction. In an effort to break the cycle of recidivism, the local jail is focusing on rehabilitation, offering many programs for inmates who want to start their road to recovery while serving time.




A Mother’s Choice

Women across Kentucky fight for the legal rights of midwives


In the state of Kentucky, midwives are not legally allowed to attend a home birth due to laws that have not been updated since 1975. Practicing midwives are put into a system that does not recognize the work that they are and have been doing for years. On March 13, 2019 senate bill 84 an act relating to Certified Professional Midwives, passed through the House and the Senate.




Leaving a Mark

Accepting the spots that make them unique


Spreading awareness about vitiligo in hopes that if someone sees another person who has it and looks different, they will be accepted instead of treated differently. Vitiligo is a skin condition that causes the loss of pigment in blotches. It can affect the skin on any part of the body regardless of age, race, or gender.




Bound By Love

Defining the word family may be a hard task for some, but for Ashley Purcell, family is defined by one thing; love


After having two children of her own and living a comfortable life with her small, but content, family, Ashley felt that something was missing. After talking with Scott and her two children, John and Ava, Ashley and her family collectively decided that what they were missing was an opportunity to share the wonderful life they had built for themselves. After being made aware of the foster care system in their community through their church, the Purcells decided the best way to share their lives with those in need was to become foster parents.




To Be Like You

International students work to find their place in an American Society


Students at Geo International High School work to become more than just seen as an international, but to be someone like you. They seek to be successful in life, language, and learning to develop who they are in this diverse world.




Just a Regular Joe

It’s not easy being a man. It’s especially not easy being a transgender man active duty in the US Army


Follow Nic Maloney’s journey through finding himself and finding love. Stepping off the ledge, past the point of no return, transgender people, once certain steps are taken, there is no going back. Maybe he sometimes wishes he was born a man, but he wouldn’t be who he is today, and with who he is today. He has no regrets, and wouldn’t change a thing. “Even though it sucked.” It is not a cookie cutter life, or love. He met his wife when he was a woman. His wife identifies as a lesbian, after spending most of her life believing she was straight. To everyone on the outside, they appear as a straight couple. For her, she struggles with Nic’s identity taking the front, but feels she needs to protect him, so they don’t always tell new people the whole story.




Within Our Border

The Southern Border creates conflict between two countries, a president, and migrants seeking asylum


The Southern Border has been a hot button issue in American society in recent years. The project is a news piece which focuses on how the southern border affects society in recent years. The project does not focus solely on an individual, but is more of the bigger picture of how society functions between the United States and Mexico. The idea of the southern border between the 2006 Border fence Act and President Trump saying “Build that wall” in front of thousands of supporters shows the growth of the southern border fence; and how many asylum seekers every year wait for their claim. Within our borders, our society creates a conflict between two countries within the same continent.



Our 2019 Senior Single Photo Exhibition

At the end of the semester, we ask our capstone PJ436 students to select one photo that means the most to them from their time here at WKUPJ and to tell us something about the image. Obviously, it is a powerful thing to graduate from our program – we could not be more proud of this year’s seniors.



Paducah, Kentucky | Photojournalism major; Political Science minor


  • The Paducah Sun [Kentucky]
  • The Chautauquan Daily [New York]

Katii and Kyle Bishop inform their daughter Hannah that her younger sister, Jude, had died a few days after a tragic car accident they were in. The three sisters, Hannnah, 9, Norah, 7, and Jude, 5, were in a December 28, 2018 car accident. The tragedy resulted in them being transported to multiple area trauma centers and treated for life threatening injuries. Taking her health into consideration, Katii and Kyle decided it would be best to wait until Hannah made enough progression before telling her the news on Feb. 7, 2019, at the Frazier Rehab Institute.


On Feb. 7, 2019, I drove to the Frazier Rehabilitation Institute in Louisville, Ky., to meet Hannah for the first time. As Katii paced anxiously and then laid down on the hospital bed, I knew what was about to happen. Katii had discussed with me earlier in the day that it was time to tell Hannah about Jude. The hospital room was quiet and sterile as Katii carefully began to ask Hannah questions like “Do you know about heaven and angels?” I stood there looking through my viewfinder with tears rolling down my cheeks. In that moment, I had to find the balance between knowing I had a story to tell and feeling the pain of what was happening in front of me.

I made this image not long after I began my journey with the Bishop family. It never ceases to amaze me when someone allows me the opportunity to document the most intimate moments of their life. This is the most difficult and meaningful image I have ever made. I have laughed with this family; I have grieved with this family. Over the course of my time spent with the Bishops, I have realized that sometimes being a photojournalist means picking up the camera to document a situation that’s unfolding in front of you, and other times it means sitting with people and being an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. I will forever be grateful for what the Bishop family taught me about storytelling as well as what they taught me about myself.




Gainesville, Florida | Photojournalism major; Criminology minor


  • Gainesville Sun [Florida]
  • Lexington Herald-Leader [Kentucky]
  • Indianapolis Star [Indiana]

Lashay Brooks, 24, of Louisville, Ky, wears her African head wrap on April 22, 2018. “That wrap is an escape from not having to do my hair or my wig. I can dress it up, put make up on and still be confident without my hair being done. I can be me, a black woman,” she said.


This picture means a lot to me, it was taken in my advanced lighting class which helped me come to the decision to own my own portrait studio. Through the process of taking this image, it taught me how to blend background colors in order to highlight different skin types. Taking this photo helped me get out of my comfort zone by experiencing a different aspect of photography, fashion photography. It taught me the ability to be able to tell a story about an object instead of a person. With learning that, there are many more doors and opportunities that could be opened just by knowing a little more.




Nashville, Tennessee | Photojournalism major; Entrepreneurship minor


  • West Brentwood Living [Tennessee]
  • St. Louis Review [Missouri]
  • The Post and Courier [South Carolina]
  • The Flint Journal [Michigan]

Jimmy Gayton stands and applauds as Zandrina finishes singing “Rise Up” during the Emanuel 9 Rally for Unity on Saturday, June 23, 2018 in Marion Square. Gayton’s sister-in-law was Myra Thompson, one of the nine victims in the Emanuel AME shooting in 2015.


On an extremely hot Charleston, S.C. day I went to this assignment while interning at The Post and Courier. I was sitting in front of the stage making images of the people in the crowd as one of the singers preformed the song “Rise Up.” The entire rally was filled with so much emotion and by the time she started singing I was tearing up while trying to keep taking pictures.

One of my favorite things to capture in images is raw emotion. Whether that is extreme joy or sadness, I always strive to capture those in a picture. One person in particular caught my eye that day, a man standing up front was pouring his heart out while singing along. As he sang, it almost looked like he was screaming to the sky while tears ran down his face.

Sometimes it is hard for me to make these images because it feels like I am intruding on a private moment, but after making this image and talking with the man I found out his sister-in-law was one of the people who died in the Emanuel AME shooting in 2015 and he was more than happy to talk to me about it and give me his name. He even thanked me as I left. After this I realized that while some images might be hard to take, the people in them sometimes just desperately want to tell their story and have people understand what they are feeling. I think that’s why I love this image so much, because I realized I am capable of being the photojournalist I want to be and produce work that can connect people.




Elizabethtown, Kentucky | Photojournalism major; Entrepreneurship minor

Martha Emmons, 63, of Paducah lies back on her bed to put on her shoes while getting ready for work with her husband, Hutch Smith, 67. Martha and Hutch own BikeWorld, a bike shop, which they opened together in Paducah in May 1987. With the shop’s 30th anniversary approaching this coming May, Martha says, “It wasn’t until we were about to have our 20th year that we thought ‘Huh, I think we’re going to be pretty successful in this.'”


As photojournalists, there is absolutely nothing like cultivating a meaningful relationship with the subjects that allow you into their lives. Personally, I feel like I have succeeded as a photographer when the relationship with my subjects progresses to the point where I am allowed to be a part of quiet, intimate moments in their lives. In this image, I feel like I achieved that special kind of relationship with the Emmons’. In this moment it was like I wasn’t even there. We were so comfortable with one another that it was nothing for me to be in their bedroom while they got ready in the morning. That is special. Although I might not remember the images that I made during this story, I will always remember the time spent getting to know Martha and Hutch and the connection I made with them. This is why I do what I do, because ultimately it isn’t the images you walk away with, it’s the relationships.




Santa Rosa, California | Photojournalism major; Journalism major; Military Science minor


  • US Army; Fort Knox [Kentucky]
  • 101 Airborne 2 Battalion Combat Team; Fort Campbell [Kentucky]
  • Deb Dawson Equine Photography [California]
  • Discoveries West [California]

WKU Army ROTC Cadet Tom Pelkey, from Rochester, Minnesota, prepares to open the contents of his MRE (meals ready to eat) while taking shelter with his battalion-mates at Training Area 14 on April 14, 2018 in Fort Knox, Ky. A lightning storm descended over the area while Cadets conducted a platoon sized ambush lane. Luckily the Army had tents setup within range of retrograde movement. The tents would house close to 10,000 Cadets as they move through TA14 in the upcoming summer training. WKU Cadets, once a semester, travel to the base Army Cadet Summer Training Advance Camp is taught in Fort Knox, and conduct FTX (field training exercise). All Cadets under contract to be commissioned in the Army as 2nd Lieutenants must first pass Army Advanced Camp, often attended in the summer between junior and senior year.


This was my fourth of a final six FTX’s I was privileged enough to be allowed on while earning my degrees at Western. I was in the Navy when bellbottoms were still issued, and originally had no idea I was going to be a journalist when I went back to school in 2013. One of the three people who set me on the path to become a full package journalist, Thomas De Alba, died 29 days short of his 28 birthday this past week.

What started as just a class in photography, has turned into three collegiate degrees. Everything I have seen and done has prepared me to be a journalist. Because of Thomas, the other co-editor in chief, Nadav Soroker, and Anne Belden our professor, I came to WKU to pursue a degree in photojournalism. When I got to WKU I was told my photo work was “not even good enough to get the job done.” Thanks to WKU PJ, I have improved and hope to be able to cover troops as an embed journalist for a national news source. I would prefer to work as a civilian for a civilian company to better protect my sources, the troops, instead of being a PAO or otherwise government employee.




Woodbridge, Virginia | Photojournalism major; political science minor


  • Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department [Virginia]
  • Victoria Advocate [Texas]

Ellen Estill plays with the youngest cat she has in her home at the time who she calls Wild Man. He was found sick and injured in the road. Ellen took him in, got him veterinarian care, nursed him back to health, and has found a new home for the eight-week-old kitten. “They’re part of my family, I love every one of them,” says Ellen. 


This photo is from my second time participating in the photojournalism portion of the Mountain Workshops in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky in October of 2018. I was ecstatic when I drew a slip of paper with the keyword “kitty” on it out of the hat and the description said 35 cats. I met Ellen that day and immediately bonded with her over our mutual love for cats, coffee, chocolate, and what she was doing for these cats who may have gone without a home otherwise.

Ellen runs Kitty Lodge Inc., a retirement home for elderly cats. She takes in cats whose owners have passed away or have become too old to care for them. She even sometimes takes in younger cats because she of course would not turn one away.

“It’s just something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Ellen said. “I feel like God put on my heart that it was a service that needed to be done.”

Ellen is 71-years-old and returned to work as a veterinary assistant solely to provide for the cats. Recently Ellen was awarded a grant from the Doris Day Animal Foundation to help with the cost and care of providing for her cats. As part of the application for the grant, my photo story on Ellen was submitted alongside and helped secure the grant for her. While I was in town for the workshops, Ellen and I started off every morning together by sipping coffee and eating Honey Bunches of Oats. I was even in town for her birthday and we had a wonderful dinner at a local restaurant. Stopping to see Ellen on my way back home from school is always the highlight of my journey and I am always sad to say goodbye. Ellen and this story will forever hold a special place in my heart. Ellen and I are very similar in many ways which can be encompassed by this quote, “When I die,” Ellen says, “I want to come back as some crazy nuts cat just like me.”




Nashville, Tennessee | Photojournalism major; Creative Writing minor


  • Philmont Scout Ranch [New Mexico]
  • The (Owensboro) Messenger Inquirer [Kentucky]
  • WKU Football Videographer [Kentucky]
  • Kertis Creative [Kentucky]

Jockey Jose L. Ortiz rides the number 9 horse Yoshida as he beats out Beach Patrol (10)ridden by Joel Rosario during the 2018 Old Forrester Turf Classic at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY.


The Kentucky Derby has always meant something to my family so when I was asked if I wanted to go and shoot the illustrious event I could not pass up the opportunity. Working for Dan Dry, a derby veteran, was nothing short of unforgettable. The freedom he granted myself and the other classmates that were on the team let me stretch my eye and try new things with my camera. The motion blur that you see in this picture was one of about 40 takes between multiple races.

I enjoy looking at life like I am traveling at light speed and that I am always moving forward. Some days it is not always like that but as long as I have this image, my life keeps moving and changing. In order to grow, I believe you need to take chances and always know that moving forward is the best direction. I have been told I like to take chances with my photography and this is a prime example of when taking a chance, timing, and position, all come together and a frame is filled with something exciting.




Louisville, Kentucky | Photojournalism major; Digital Advertising minor


  • Waterstep [Kentucky]

Mary Duke, mother of two, comforts her youngest child while cleaning her home in Alvaton, Ky. Duke is a co-president of the Kentucky Home Birth Coalition, which is a social media platform that provides space for women to get involved in the midwife community. Duke owns My Sunshine Birth Services, which helps women in Bowling Green and surrounding areas with multiple services including pre and postpartum visits, lactation consults and labor.


I feel like everything I had learned in the program brought me to this moment inside Mary Dukes home. I woke up the morning of March 3, 2019 and headed out to the home of a woman I had been longing to meet for 6 months. I had spent countless hours and interviews talking to women in the community, where I was always asked the same question “Have you talked to Mary Duke?” Mary Duke is one of the leaders of the midwife and doula community in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Imagine my frustration, I was working on a project where I had not had contact with the main character of my story. As a freshman, I learned how to find your story. As a sophomore I learned the importance of character, as a junior I learned patience. All of these lessons brought me to Mary Dukes’ door. I was welcomed inside and instantly felt like I had known her and her family for years. This photo of her comforting her child in her kitchen, a small detail of her life, reminds me of my journey through this program, something I will never forget.




Louisville, Kentucky  | Photojournalism major; Film major; African-American Studies minor


  • The Center for Gifted Studies [Kentucky]
  • Las Vegas Review Journal [Nevada]

Patrick McGee Jr. holds his younger brother Arqueil Clark and Mother Aretha McGee as they made a makeshift memorial with a teddy bear and balloons tied to a liquor bottle, and spend the night in tears, remembering the highlights of LeeAndrew’s life before being murdered at the age of 26 at the Dino’s Gas Station in the Westend of Louisville. This day, they commemorate the one-year anniversary since his murder on March 28th, 2017. As nightfall brightens up the gas station lights, the McGee family place a teddy bear and balloons in LeeAndrew’s memory, of someone they lost way to soon. “I don’t even like going by Dino’s anymore. They killed Breezy. Watch the teddy bear we put down in the front of Dino’s be gone by tomorrow,” Patrick McGee Jr. said.


This picture means the world to me. During my time as a photojournalism student at WKU I have not seen a photo that showed black pain in the inner city like my photo has. That’s what I wanted to accomplish when I started my ‘broken branches’ project. I wanted a person in a different state to see the struggle my hometown of Louisville is going through. The photo almost didn’t happen. I didn’t have a car at the time so I had to catch a Greyhound bus back and forth from Bowling Green to Louisville as I worked on the project. I was originally taking photos of a balloon sendoff commemorating the one-year anniversary of LeeAndrew McGee’s passing at a local park in the Westend of Louisville but my bus was delayed so I had some extra time with the family.

My project up to that point was conversations and portraits. But this was the first time I was actually seeing first-hand the pain a black family in Louisville was going through. There was real pain there.

Upon arriving at the gas station, the family put down a teddy bear and a bunch of balloons tied to a liquor bottle were LeeAndrew was murdered. Two friends smashed two liquor bottles and screamed in anger over his passing. The moment happened so quickly. By the time I decided to take a close up of Patrick McGee Jr., his tears were almost gone and the hugging moment became more somber. Within five seconds of the image being made the mother said “let’s go.” In these five minutes, I experienced more pain and suffering than I have ever seen from any other photo I took before. I went home that night thinking I can’t believe that happened, I can’t believe I experienced that. The photo received an award of excellence in COPY but I was just happy a black student’s photo from his hometown could show black pain in Louisville. I love my black people and I love Louisville and that moment is dedicated to anyone lost by gun violence in the city.




Louisville, Kentucky | Photojournalism major; Sociology minor


  • Interlochen Center for the Arts [Michigan]
  • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel [Wisconsin]
  • Philadelphia Inquirer [Pennsylvania]

Officer Charles Irvine Jr., 23, lies in the hearse as he is escorted by the Milwaukee police department and saluted by the Milwaukee fire department as he passes beneath the American flag over N. 9th St. on Fri. June 8, 2018. It has been 22 years since an officer died in the line of duty in Milwaukee, Wis. On June 7, 2018, Officer Charles Irvine Jr., died in a car accident while in pursuit of a reckless driver. His partner lost control which caused the squad car to flip 20 times before landing on its roof.


It was a Thursday night when I received a phone call from the director of photography, Berford Gammon, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, telling me about a death of a police officer. He needed me and fellow WKU student Chris Kohley, to go down to the medical examiner’s office to capture photos and videos. We showed up and the whole street was filled with police officers waiting to hear of any news. After that night, I was sent to cover a press conference with the Chief of Police.

I was told that the image I’m capturing would be running center A1. It was a nerve-racking feeling, but I felt confident in my ability to create a strong image. I showed up early to scout an area I wanted to set up to capture the image. I knew I needed to get the hearse driving underneath the flag, so I got down onto my stomach and pointed the camera up hoping for the best to get everything in frame. If it weren’t for WKU Photojournalism I wouldn’t have known to show up early, stay late, or how to compose a photo, get close, step back and try new angles. This image is a constant reminder of how far I have come in this program.




Bloomfield, Kentucky | Photojournalism major; Criminology minor


  • Philmont Scout Ranch [New Mexico]
  • Chesapeake Bay Program [Maryland]
  • The Denver Post [Colorado]
  • The Los Angeles Times [California]

A portrait of my grandfather, Bennie Goff—or Pop to us grandkids—on our family farm in Bloomfield, Kentucky.


I was born and raised on my family’s farm in rural Kentucky, where I was fortunate enough to experience all that a kid can on farm—space to run and ride horses, a love of nature, and the type of motivation that can only come from being surrounded by the hard labor it took from my family to keep a farm running. Of course, I took all of that for granted for most of my childhood, until my aunt gave me my first camera. She taught me to take pictures on our farm, where we would practice aperture and shutter speed by photographing chickens and cows. I came to love photography then, the way it made me love where I was from and want to keep it with me in photographs. This photo is of my grandfather, Pop, taken for a project in picture stories class. I credit so much of my creativity to him and to the farm he has kept alive for all of us. Without it, I may never have found my passion for photography and I certainly would not have done so well on my intro to photojournalism class egg picture.



Defying All Odds

Defying All Odds

A mother’s determination to make a change for herself and family

By Kathryn Ziesig

Work hard, go to college, get a good job, meet your mate, settle down, have kids, and retire comfortably. The American dream, an idealized version of how one’s life is supposed to playout.

As defined by Merriam-Webster, “a happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans as something that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S. especially by working hard and becoming successful.” It is a goal people have been chasing for decades, but what happens when someone’s life doesn’t quite match up to the perfect outline?

The complete story can be viewed here

Embody – by Srijita Chattopadhyay

She had the life others could only dream of, a career as a musician in the music city – Nashville, Tennessee. She was talented, and she was beautiful. There was nothing that could stop her rise to stardom. Although, at the end of the day in the solitude of her dressing room she would weep because she was born a ‘she.’

2018 Capstone Projects

We are excited to present an exhibition of the 2018 PJ436 Projects class, WKUPJ’s capstone course.


Arms to Embrace

A short documentary about protecting the ones you love in the face of a school shooting


Two women in Western Kentucky embark on a journey to spark a change in the mindset of their community, in the face of recent school shootings. Their motive – to protect the ones they love.


Journey to Pascha: Cultivating a Love for Christ


At Holy Apostles Orthodox Church, three community members make their way through the seasons of Great Lent and Holy Week, pursuing their goal of cultivating love for Christ in their hearts and their homes. Jackson struggles to create a new framework of belief for his family. Jeanette faces her inability to control the faith of her children. Father Jason struggles to balance his spiritual fatherhood with the demands of being a husband and a dad. This short documentary explores what it means to lose and gain faith and family.

Great Lent is the 40 days leading up to the annual ritual reenactment of Jesus’s last days called Holy Week.

Pascha is the Eastern Orthodox name for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, called Easter in western Christianity.



Unexpected Strength

Stories of adversity, inspiration and second chances through the eyes of athletes


What do a college student, stay-at-home mom, swim coach, visually impaired high schooler and mentor for underserved children have in common?  This project explores the stories of five different athletes beyond the court. It dives into their individual motivations, challenges, and the role athletics plays in their respective lives.



Searching for Hope

America’s most beautiful small town has some secrets.


Over the past few years, Bardstown Kentucky has had several unsolved crimes, including the disappearance of Crystal Rogers. After the sensational news stories slowed down, America quickly forgot about the mystery of this small town. However, the pain of Crystal’s disappearance is no less real for the people still searching for hope.



Love as steady as a rock

A father’s love powers him to care for his son


Larry Cushenberry, 74, is a retired Health teacher who has Parkinson’s Disease. Larry’s case of Parkinson’s affects his posture, walk, balance, and hand movement. Cushenberry was diagnosed six years ago and Parkinson’s has been detrimental to his health. Despite Cushenberry’s diagnosis, he is the main caregiver and legal guardian to Greg Phillips, 48, his nephew, who he refers to as his son. Larry’s health hinders him and soon he won’t be able to care for Greg.


Surviving in Hell

How diabetes affects people’s lives.


Have you ever seen someone out at a restaurant stick a needle in their finger or give themselves a shot? Do you know someone who carries an insulin pump with them everywhere they go? Diabetes has become more prominent in recent years, yet no one seems to realize how deeply it affects those diagnosed. It is something they live with and think about daily.




Cada día por Dios (Every day for God)

Inside La Luz del Mundo and the expansion of Hispanic evangelicalism


On the corner of Clay Street and West 12th Avenue in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the Light of the World church (Iglesia La Luz del Mundo) towers above the surrounding neighborhood buildings. The church has become a cultural hub for the local Hispanic community through festivals and activities. Through their work at the church and a nearby taquería, tortilleria and tienda – all of which are owned and operated by the church – members of La Luz del Mundo hope to serve the community through faith and spread the word of God.



Families tell their story of loss to Louisville’s Gun Violence

Michael Blackshire started his journey to document victims of gun violence last semester in Louisville, Ky. What started as a series of portraits evolved over time as he came closer with the family’s of homicide victims and began recording their stories with audio then transitioning to video. As the project became bigger he brought together a team of WKUPJ students to help him bring his vision for the story together. Michael along with Fahad Alotaibi, Gabriel Scarlett, and Shaban Athuman attempt to tell the stories of people that often feel their stories aren’t being told.

To view the entire piece, visit https://michaeldblackshire.atavist.com/broken-branches



Rochelle Turner wraps her body around her only son’s Ricky Jones High School jacket. Ricky Jones was murdered April 2017 from gun violence at the age of 29-years-old. “At first I would look at other mothers who lost their sons and thing their sons were into something and mine wasn’t. I would think that maybe if my son was doing something wrong or died from a disease or committed suicide I would be able to find closure, but in any way I can’t bring my son back. Hew was murdered but his life wasn’t his own. He had five children who now have to live without a father in their life,” said Smith.

Judy Wilkins, Jasmine Wilkins, and Sherry Simmons, left to right, hold the graduation picture of Gregory Wilkins who was murdered at his home on November 26, 1996 at 1737 South 22nd Street, Louisville, KY. “I visit his grave once a week. I have been once a week for 21 years,” said his mother Judy Wilkins. “I once dreamed that he was reaching out to my hand and I almost reached his. I said baby why did they take you so soon. He told me my time had come.The last thing I heard him say is take care of Jasmine, and let Sherry know that I love her, and that I love you, my mother and my dad. Then he was gone.”

Craig Bland holds middle school and elementary school photos of his son Craig Bland Jr. and Toreze Bland who were both murdered in 2012 and 2015 from gun violence in Louisville. “After my first son was murdered the situation made me worried about loosing my youngest son. I thought it was only a matter of time until they shot my youngest one. The streets killed my sons. My son’s were good people they just were around the wrong people. I watched my wife Diana die from cancer in front of my eyes, my brother was murdered, my two nephews were murdered, and now I have no more sons, no more children. There used to be a lot of live in this house. That love is gone now.” said Bland.


Projects from our students

Srijita Chattopadhyay

During her internship, WKUPJ student Srijita Chattopadhyay followed a Rohingya refugee family as they observed 40-days of mourning after the accidental death of their son.

The original story can be seen in the  San Antonio Express-News


Sitting on the floor of her affordable housing in San Antonio, Zahidah Begum Binti Ali Miah raises her hands in prayer. To Allah she requests, “take care of my son,” and then slowly exhales, “help me find peace.”
August 12, 2017, marked the end of a 40-day mourning period for Mohamad Sharib’s family. Ordinarily, Islam calls for three days of mourning. But, for the family, a 40-day observance is a cultural variation in their Muslim faith.


On July 7, 2017, Zahidah requested to see her son one more time after the customary ritual of gusal (bathing and cleaning of the deceased) to say her last goodbye. “My son. My good son,” Zahidah kept chanting, as her younger son, Mohamad Emran, along with relatives, escorted her out of the morgue.


Laying her head on her husband’s lap, Zahidah takes a moment to look over at her grandson to make sure he is asleep. As days pass by and Mohamad Sharib becomes a memory, Zahidah feels his absence in the family. “Sharib would always take care of me,” she said with tears in her eyes. “He would cook food, make tea, give me medicines on time and massage my shoulders when I would feel pain. Now I have no one.”

Zahidah endures the pain of the loss by herself. She feels that her husband does not understand her. “He tells me to get over it and live for my other son and my grandchildren,” she said. “But how can I do that?”



Gabriel Scarlett

While interning for The Denver Post in the summer of 2017, WKUPJ student Gabriel Scarlett began traveling to Pueblo, Colorado, a rust belt town known for its gang culture. His ongoing essay focuses on the community’s resilience.

A full essay can be viewed on his website


Julian Rodriguez plays with his son Christopher at their home on Pueblo’s East Side. Julian’s decades-long struggle with addiction brought him intimately close to the gang operations as he often bought from and sold for the gangs in order to support his own addiction. With his son, Christopher on the way, he reached sobriety and had his facial skeleton tattooed to remember his commitment to his son and to commemorate his brother “Bone Head” who was killed in a shootout with the police. “Everything that I desire and want in this life is for that boy.” Christopher will grow up on the East Side, in Duke territory, but Julian hopes that a loving relationship with his father can keep him from that lifestyle.


Felix Rubio praises at New Hope Ministries, a front lines church in Pueblo that openly accepts addicts, alcoholics, gang members, and anyone else seeking God. As a gang member in Denver, Felix recalls his life as a warrior, a “beast,” owning machine guns and moving kilos of product from his apartment. His drug use kept him up for days and even weeks at a time, until he checked himself into a faith-based rehabilitation program. When people look at him now, Felix wants them to see “Jesus, bro. Jesus. When I was in the hood, I wanted them to see me. When they see me now, I want them to see Jesus’ likeness.”


On a scorching summer day, Catholic parishioners of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart pass the Pueblo Sheriff’s Department building during a procession to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, which honors the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.

Through Our Eyes – 11/29/17

Best of the best:

Public Information Officer Timothy Gray of the WKU Police Department grew up in the south side of Nashville, TN. Gray has lived in Bowling Green since 2004, and after previously working on a joint terrorism task force with the FBI, described his current position as unexpected. WKUPD needed someone who was connected and aimed to move in a new community-based direction. Gray’s passions lie in race relations and breaking down the barriers of race. “People fear what they don’t understand,” Gray said. “We wanted to create an atmosphere that was transparent and honest.” Gray values the power of respecting people, and getting to know the community he serves. He acknowledges that there is a level of distrust with the Police Department and certain minority groups in the community. “There are some folks wearing this uniform that shouldn’t be, but those are the few,” Gray said. “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” He is passionate about asking tough questions and seeing what the Police Department can be doing better. “We are servants. That’s who we are, that’s what we do.”|Lydia Schweickart

Honorable mention:

Kicker Ryan Nuss #37 of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers celebrates after scoring the game-winning field goal against Middle Tennessee at L.T. Smith Stadium on November 17, 2017, in Bowling Green, Kentucky.|Shaban Athuman

Jerry Ayers, 75, relaxes outside of Teresa’s Restaurant in Bowling Green, KY on the back of his 1987 Ford Wrangler. “My first car I bought was a 1957 Ford. I kept that car until her wheels fell off. After three engines and thirteen thousand dollars later I had to let her go. I’ve had this sweetie Wrangler here for fifteen years and she still has her original engine. She breaks down, but this Ford Wrangler is a easy fix.” Ayers said.|Michael Blackshire

WKU volleyball team beats North Texas to win the C-USA Volleyball Championship in E.A. Diddle Arena on Sunday, Nov 19, 2017.|Silas Walker

Undocumented, Unafraid

Undocumented, Unafraid

Video produced by Nick Wagner

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.