Five Questions

Illustration of Cristina Azocar

Cristina Azocar (B.A., ’93; M.A. ’96) is a member of the Upper Mattaponi tribe and faculty coordinator of the Presidential Scholars program, which covers tuition and other costs for a select group of students committed to community service.

Shaping Tomorrow’s Top Stories (and Today’s Top Students)

Last year, Cristina Azocar decided her second term as chair of SF State’s Department of Journalism would be her last. The commitment had taken a big bite out of time she could spend researching her next monograph: a look at how the media covers American Indian tribes as they go through the federal recognition process. Though she’ll continue to nurture young journalists by teaching the department’s newswriting lab, she wanted to do more. That’s why she became the faculty coordinator of the Presidential Scholars Program.

How are we preparing students for reporting in the 21st century?

Part of the journalism department’s strategic plan is to look at how we can transform ourselves to make sure we’re reflecting the new landscape of journalism and the demographics of our students. So Assistant Professor Ana Lourdes Cárdenas and I are creating a bilingual Spanish journalism major. Because of demographic shifts, that’s one of the areas that’s growing in journalism. We’re creating the new degree now, and we’re teaching the first class: “Newswriting for Spanish-Language Media.” We believe it will be the only undergraduate bilingual Spanish journalism undergraduate degree in the country.

The media landscape has changed a lot in the last 20 years. How is the journalism department keeping pace?

We have a new faculty member, Josh Davis, who worked for “VICE News Tonight” and produced some really well-known documentaries, including a video about the Charlottesville white supremacist rally that went viral. So he’s a great person to talk to about digital journalism. But we don’t want to just teach technology, because it’s going to change. Instead of focusing on what’s hot right now, we make sure our students are technologically savvy and ready to learn whatever the next thing is. We teach video, audio recording, good interviewing techniques, news judgment, clear writing — all the basics of good reporting.

You’re a product of SF State’s journalism program yourself. How did your experience as a student shape your career?

When I first got here I did not see myself represented in the pages of the student newspaper or magazine. But I had faculty who really cared about the experience I was having. Jon Funabiki introduced me to the Native American Journalists Association and hired me to work on a project looking at representation across the country. Without that I would never have thought of going to graduate school. SF State transformed me into the person I am today. 

And now you’re transforming lives as the Presidential Scholars coordinator. How did that come about?

As chair I could help people who were frustrated and distraught navigate the bureaucracy of a college education. I was going to miss that. So when I saw that the Presidential Scholars position was open, I jumped at the chance.

How’s it going? 

It’s really fun because the students are all so different, with different majors, so I’m learning about all these departments that I didn’t know anything about and meeting people across campus. In the fall we’re going to put out the application for the next group of scholars, and we’ll be reaching out particularly to high schools in the Bay Area. I can’t wait to see who we’re going to bring to SF State.
Learn more about SF State’s Presidential Scholars Program at