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Mark of Excellence: Smith wins national SPJ award

A feature story written for the Chattanooga Times Free Press by a student in the School of Journalism and Electronic Media has won a national journalism award.

“A Home and Hope,” written by JEM graduate student Millicent Smith, won first place in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Awards for Feature Writing, Large School Division for newspapers. She advanced to the national competition after placing first in Region 12.

“We are so very proud of Millie. With years of journalistic experience behind her and a goal of pursuing international issues, Millie embodies the best of the best qualities that we look for in a graduate student,” says JEM Director Peter Gross.

In the story, originally published July 2013, Smith documented the challenges refugees face when transitioning and assimilating to life in the United States. She focused much of her story on the life of Baja Dalla, a South Sudanese refugee who lives in Chattanooga. Smith first met Dalla when she was the director of outreach for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area.

“The moment he had tears in his eyes and I had tears in my eyes, I knew I wanted to be a journalist,” said Smith, who graduated from Bryan College with a degree in communications. 

Dalla’s story inspired Smith to pursue full-time graduate work in international journalism, focusing on refugee issues.

“[Winning the award] is a confirmation that this is my calling; to share these sorts of stories and give voice to the voiceless,” says Smith.

Smith will graduate in December from the College of Communication and Information. She is an international news desk editor for CNN in Atlanta.

Read the award-winning story at

Editor’s note: The video interview was conducted before the national Mark of Excellence winner was announced.