New Kensington teen sets sights on career in television
Jatara McGee, 19, of New Kensington has made local headlines for academic achievement, philanthropy and beauty pageant coronations.
Now, the University of Maryland student is going from making headlines to creating them.
McGee is interning at WPXI-TV this summer, helping to produce and edit online and video content in the programming department.
For the aspiring journalist, the experience puts her one step closer to realizing her goal.
“I want to be an anchor and ultimately have my own show,” she said. “I thought it would be a positive experience to learn about what goes on behind the scenes and all of the hard work that goes into producing the show.”
McGee's appreciation for hard work is a trait she's possessed since her time at Shady Side Academy, according to Wendy Skinner, dean of students.
She said McGee is a natural leader and exemplifies the guiding principles on which the prestigious school was built.
“Her biggest thing was respect,” Skinner said. “She always respected herself and encouraged the other girls to be strong and respect themselves, as well.”
On her 16th birthday, McGee had no “sweet 16” party. Instead, she used her birthday money to sponsor a Strong Women, Strong Girls fundraiser on the Fox Chapel campus.
Strong Women, Strong Girls is a non-profit organization that fosters leadership skills through positive role modeling. It's designed to bolster a sense of female community and empowerment throughout the country.
McGee's commitment to that mission and leadership skills carried over to the cheerleading squad, of which she was the captain.
Skinner said McGee changed the Shady Side cheerleading culture and made the group a more cohesive and inclusive unit.
“She's such a selfless leader,” the dean said. “She was always looking out for the younger girls and getting them involved. She taught them about the obstacles that she had to overcome and how they can, too.”
In 2007, McGee was crowned Miss Black Teen at its 35th annual Pittsburgh beauty pageant. It was familiar ground for McGee, who in 2005 won the sister-program Princess Beauty Pageant.
“That experience taught me a lot about being confident and having direction,” McGee said. “You learn a lot about how to present yourself, especially etiquette and interviewing skills — things that you take for granted until you need them.”
Those skills were honed again this year when she participated in Miss College Park.
Through the University of Maryland beauty pageant, McGee volunteered at several Special Olympics events, presenting participants with awards and trophies.
It wasn't the first time she's served Prince George's County, Md.
The junior-to-be is heavily involved in America Reads America Counts in Maryland. The Clinton-era volunteer tutoring program seeks to improve math skills and literacy among elementary students.
McGee has volunteered in the program since her freshman year. When she returns to UM this fall, she'll tutor fourth grade math students as a team leader.
“It's just as much for mentoring the kids as it is for tutoring,” she said. “We try to share our college experiences and encourage them to go. We try to show them the opportunities that higher education can present.”
McGee has taken full advantage of the opportunities that UM's afforded her and made some herself.
The broadcast journalism major was one of six sophomores who started an online magazine this year called Stories Beneath the Shell, or SBS News.
Frustrated with the way major campus publications framed and omitted certain issues, the founders set out to expose lesser-known issues.
“They weren't doing anything on minority groups on campus or paying enough attention to women's sports,” she said. “We cover the hard news that everyone else does, but we also pick up the stories that fall in between the cracks.”
As the publication's executive director, McGee oversaw the publication of more than 50 stories in SBS News' first year.
Bethany Swain, a UM journalism professor and former CNN photojournalist, is the online magazine's faculty adviser. She said she's inspired to see a group of underclassmen with such a commitment to the craft.
“They're not only working to take what they've learned and applied it,” Swain said, “they're creating a tradition of journalism to pass on to future generations. That's something that you don't see a lot from college-aged people often.”
While McGee is interning at WPXI-TV this summer, she hasn't forgotten where she comes from.
The New Kensington native spends her weekends volunteering to train Miss Ebony Teenage Pageant contestants and coaching the Shady Side cheer squad.
She plans to return to Pittsburgh next summer with hopes of an on-camera internship.
Skinner said she's looking forward to watching McGee's show down the road.
“There's no doubt in my mind that if she sets her mind on something, that she's going to accomplish it,” Skinner said. “It's really exciting to see where she comes from and where she's going.”
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or firstname.lastname@example.org.