The environment has always been of concern to Jenna McKnight, but when she came to Northern Arizona University, surrounded by the peaks, the pines, and an "impressive collection" of professors, it ignited a passion that has led her to a career combining the two loves she discovered as a student: journalism and environmental communications.
"My interest in the environment was amplified being at NAU and in northern Arizona," McKnight says. "It is a hub of environmental activity."
McKnight, a journalism major, anthropology minor, and honors student, worked her fair share of late-night deadlines at the Lumberjack, but she also was inspired in 1998 to create the university's Society of Environmental Communicators—an organization that continues to thrive today, sponsoring such activities as the Earth Day festival, a student task force for NAU Recycles, and an anti-mining campaign. While working for the NAU Ecological Restoration Institute and interning at the Grand Canyon Trust, McKnight also contributed to forestry research and community outreach efforts.
Now the news editor at Architectural Record, a monthly magazine based in New York, McKnight says she was fortunate that NAU fostered the kind of education that allowed a journalism student to also gain valuable experience at the Ecological Restoration Institute. That kind of background is propelling McKnight to realize her professional dreams, she says.
"NAU offered great career-building opportunities, and I took advantage of them. I had a very strong portfolio by the time I graduated," she says. "I credit this strong foundation to helping me succeed in my career."
As an editor and writer, McKnight focuses much of her attention on green issues in architecture and also contributes to GreenSource, a sister publication that covers sustainable design and construction. And her job takes her beyond the United States—McKnight just returned from earthquake-ravaged Haiti, where she spent a week reporting on the early stages of the rebuilding effort. "It was an exceptionally challenging assignment," she says. "I'm grateful I had the chance to see the situation firsthand. You don't truly understand an event until you're on the ground, witnessing it with your own eyes."
McKnight's work hasn't gone unnoticed, earning awards and recognition from a plethora of organizations since her college days. A year ago, she traveled back to Flagstaff to be honored at the School of Communication's 2009 Associated Press/Robert R. Eunson award ceremony—an award for which a former journalism professor, Lea Parker, nominated her. It's Parker who McKnight credits for helping her follow her passion.
"She was especially influential, as she inspired me to pursue environmental communication and the founding of the Society of Environmental Communicators," McKnight says. "She got me excited about using my communication skills to help the environment."