Tonya Smith, Freelance Journalist

Hometown:  Actual, Luther, OK; Current, Somers Point, NJ

Graduation year:1995

Major: English

Sorority: Delta Delta Delta

Current position: Freelance Journalist, Local Journalism Beat

Future Goals:

I live for the day and work toward tomorrow.

On leadership and Westminster:

I’ve never been one to “lead” except by example.

Westminster guided me to my home and heart in writing. I was fortunate to be a part of an amazing group of English majors that were lightning in a bottle. As a collective, we created a literary hive like no other. Guided by one of the most amazing English departments in the country, we have all branched out and made the world a better place … all with the guidance of Westminster College.

Prof. Wayne Zade, Dr. Caroline Perry, Prof. Bobbie Jo Allen and Prof. Jay Karr inspired me to discover my writer’s voice. They were the guiding force behind my successes on and off the Hill. They gave me the courage to find my own internships, write for other magazines and be confident in my journey in general. This core group of educators became my surrogate family.

I stumbled into journalism all on my own. The Columns needed an entertainment section, and I wanted to talk to rock stars. Matt Kuhl was a fellow student that just happened to take photos for the paper but blossomed into quite the live music photographer. Together, we did a pretty decent job of introducing the campus to new, local and touring artists. We were a great team! I loved that. Our editor granted us freedom and encouraged us to chase the story. I owe Jim Bennett a debt of gratitude.

I have never considered myself a leader. However, I have been told that I am a leader. I really see myself as a survivor, a friend, a confidant and a helper. I listen. I understand. I do not judge. I think that these qualities are far more important to me than leading. Maybe leading with this collective is where I reside? I’m not really sure.

What does success mean to you?

Success is measured by the individual. I have navigated life’s ups and downs. I have managed to have and keep a child alive as a single parent. I have survived two hurricanes. And most importantly, I survived defending my senior thesis at Westminster. Have I been successful? Yes.

Westminster gave me the tools to go out into the Journalism world and do what I needed to do to survive. I came to the school to get a history degree and continue on to law school. Prof. Zade suggested that I move on over to English, and I never looked back. The creative writing process became my lifeblood. I can’t imagine not writing on a daily basis. It has become a part of me … a third eye. It is the air that I breathe, and it keeps me alive.

My time at Westminster was the most important time of my life. The friends that I made, the education that I was rewarded with and the memories that I have are immeasurable. I carry all of it with me, daily. The staff, the campus, your fellow students … they will all help you find YOU. It is the beginning of great beginnings, and you have to be open and excited to experience it all.

Favorite professor?

Wayne Zade. No question.

Favorite spot on campus?

The backside of the Hill. Great sledding!

Last book you read?

More Fun in the New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of L.A. Punk by John Doe

Favorite Movie?

Star Wars: A New Hope (Original not CGI). I’m an absolute nerd.

Fave App?


Favorite way to spend Sunday?

They are deadline days, so I write. Sometimes I get to cover a show and write! Sometimes we hang out at an animal rescue and help out. Sometimes we do all of it.

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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is a Media and Content Strategist at Westminster College in Fulton, MO. A 1992 graduate of the College, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communication in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.