Mary Heisey ’14 carved out her own path at Guilford — a journey leading to the vibrant career in radio that she has today. Drawn to Guilford for its potential to make her a better person, Mary says the school sounded unlike any other college on her list.
“I was able to craft independent studies for both of my majors to study radio journalism and produce a podcast that also aired on WQFS. That podcasting project, Greensboro ON, led to a CPPS opportunity after graduation, awards from the English and SOAN departments, and eventually my first full-time job in my industry.”
During study hall in her Carlisle, Pa., high school, Mary used a whiteboard to outline the pros and cons between the two colleges she was considering.
“Ultimately, it came down to this: I wanted to be a big fish in a small pond,” she says. “I wanted to have access to opportunities instead of the constant pressure to compete against others. Although it scared me, I wanted small classes where I would have to speak and be heard, for what felt like the first time in my life.”
After stints working for an outdoors-content website and variety of radio stations (at Guilford’s WQFS, WFDD in Winston-Salem, and KUOW in Seattle), she began her current work as a freelance producer and fellow with the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism. Now accustomed to being heard, Mary works to amplify voices of people underrepresented in media, with a focus on youth.
As a Community Scholar through the Bonner Center, Mary worked as a tutor and then volunteer coordinator at Glen Haven Community Center.
“I recruited and trained volunteers to prepare them for working with immigrant and refugee youth, many of whom were English language learners,” she says. “This experience sparked my love for youth work and youth development.”
Around the same time, she joined the College radio station, WQFS. There she was introduced to broadcast radio and radio journalism. Since then she has continued to combine youth and radio in her career.
“A graduating manager trained me in audio editing. Later, I would train many Guilford students on the same software and equipment as a manager. One of my main focuses in my career is mentorship, and I can point to WQFS as the place I started my radio mentorship,” she says.
At WQFS, she had her own radio show and became a station manager. She also created her own interview-based podcast that was aired on WQFS.
“I was able to tailor my independent studies to produce that podcast. I gained awards and post-graduate opportunities because of all of this work,” she says.
Expanding to Public Radio
Next came an internship. Guilford Music Professor and WQFS Adviser Kami Rowan connected Mary with someone at WFDD, the NPR member station in Winston-Salem, N.C., where Mary started her career in public radio. She interned with the station on their youth media programs.
“I helped mentor and facilitate workshops on radio journalism for middle school and high school students. This was my first experience in youth media and public radio, and I’ve been riding that wave ever since,” she says.
Now as a freelance producer and editor, Mary primarily works with nonprofit clients. As a 2022-23 fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, she and her colleague Kelsey Tolchin-Kupferer will create a comprehensive guide that supports radio newsrooms in creating and expanding youth media programs. The purpose of the guide is to train and invest in the next generation of journalists as well as engage future listeners, leaders, and supporters of radio.
“Public radio stations face challenges including the necessity of diversifying their audiences, staff, and coverage. Informed by my years working in youth media, I believe youth media helps address all of these challenges,” Mary says. “You can’t truly serve the public if you leave out entire segments of the population.”
Advice to Grow On
Mary recommends customizing an independent study if Guilford doesn’t offer something a student wants to pursue.
“Although Guilford had institutions like WQFS and the Guilfordian, it didn't offer radio journalism or podcasting courses, and I didn't realize until I already started school that that’s what I wanted to do,” she says. “I was able to craft independent studies for both of my majors to study radio journalism and produce a podcast that also aired on WQFS. That podcasting project, Greensboro ON, led to a CPPS opportunity after graduation, awards from the English and SOAN departments, and eventually my first full-time job in my industry.”
Mary also has broader advice for Guilford students: “Make your own yeses. You’re going to face rejection. I’m still accepting this. Try to make your own opportunities, especially with allies and people who get you. Make your own spaces, especially when you’re not totally welcomed in other spaces.”
Do you love public radio and dream of being on the air? Schedule your personalized visit to Guilford College to learn more about media and broadcasting opportunities through the College's academic departments and College radio station, WQFS.