Some students come to UT Martin for the academics, some for the athletics and some for the small-town charm. Blake Stevens came for the orange juice.
“I loved that in the food court they had unlimited Minute Maid orange juice. I didn’t know that existed. … It sounds like I’m joking, but it’s the truth. That’s one of the big factors why I came here,” Stevens explained.
Breakfast drinks aside, Stevens began his college career at UT Martin, but wasn’t always sure he would finish here.
“It’s amazing that I’m here, actually. When I started here, I lost the Hope scholarship, I dropped classes; I was borderline on academic probation,” he said. “I started my second year at the UT Martin Ripley Center to finish my (prerequisite classes). I really got a reality check.”
While attending classes at the Ripley Center, Stevens took part in a course called “Religion in the Media.”
“We discussed the hot-button topics, the big ones – 9/11, religion in this country – and I just had a burning desire to learn and to debate. …I decided then that I wanted to go to law school,” he said. Stevens returned to the UT Martin main campus for his third year and began a major in sociology, completing and presenting research on the voting habits and trends of the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
“I became very interested in what made a republican a republican and what made a democrat a democrat,” he said. Stevens intended, at this point, to become a political or legal analyst. But Dr. Richard Robinson, assistant professor of communications, pointed out a flaw in his plan.
“He said, ‘You’re skipping a step here. If you want to go into broadcasting, just go into broadcasting,’” Stevens explained. It was then that he dove headfirst into the Department of Communications and the world of radio and television broadcasting. He became the support and development director, and later the news director, at UT Martin’s campus radio station WUTM 90.3 FM “The Hawk.”
He also took on a position as weekend news director for WMUF/WLKZ radio in Paris before applying for a television internship with WPSD Channel 6 News in Paducah, Ky.
“My first day (at WPSD) … I got to go with real reporters and cover real stories and then they would have me actually write,” he said. “It’s been a great experience.” Ultimately, he would like to be a morning news anchor or talk show host.
“Growing up I watched ‘Good Morning, Memphis’ every morning and they were always smiling, even the meteorologist. If it was cold, you still woke up in a good mood. … I even wanted to listen to the traffic report, and I didn’t even drive! I was just a kid,” Stevens said. “They were so energetic; they were laughing; they were having fun. … Most people want primetime nightly news … but it’s not really about the money, it’s not about face time. It’s about having fun and loving your job.”
At the conclusion of his WPSD internship, Stevens was offered an opportunity to audition for an on-air reporter’s position. Days before graduation, he got the job. “I’m ready to get to work and learn from some of the pros!,” said Stevens. “I’m sad to leave UTM, but relieved I’ll only be an hour away.”
Stevens credits the Department of Communications faculty with helping him reach this point in his career. “Everyone in the communications department has done it (real-world work). … They were super-encouraging from day one. Even though I’m doing well and I’m at Paducah, they still push me like I’m a freshman,” he said.
Blake Stevens may have gotten off to a rough start, but he will walk the commencement stage May 2 as a cum laude graduate and a Who’s Who nominee. He was also recognized at the 2015 Intercollegiate Broadcasting Conference in New York City as the first-place student news director in the country – not a bad way to finish the race. And just think, it all started with orange juice.
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