Two student journalists from Troy University gained the opportunity of a lifetime when President Joe Biden visited Lockheed Martin on May 3.
Lockheed Martin is a manufacturing, final assembly, test and storage operation for missile programs supported by Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. The Troy, Ala. based facility made headlines for producing the javelin anti-tank missiles the United States provided to Ukraine in defense against Russia, prompting the visit from the president.
The day before the press conference, TROY TrojanVision News student reporter Claudia Peppenhorst, a senior broadcast journalism major from Linden, Ala., learned the event was going to be open press.
After reaching out to contacts in the area, she was able to apply for a press pass. White House personnel responded quickly, and, following a security screening, the pass was issued.
“I did everything in my power to get a press pass so I would be able to go and have this experience as a college journalist,” Peppenhorst said.
Editor-in-Chief of the Tropolitan and a reporter on the TrojanVision News staff, senior broadcast journalism major Cailey Wright of Samson, Ala., said the moment didn’t sink in until they arrived at the facility.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening until I looked around and saw Secret Service agents everywhere and snipers in the woods,” she said. “It hit me like a freight train that I was covering something important.”
Preparation for the conference began early. At 7:30 that morning, Peppenhorst, Wright and other journalists from around the state and nation were shuttled to the venue to set up their equipment. After setting up, they were shuttled away from the site for Secret Service to perform a sweep of the building. Once the all-clear was given, the journalists were brought back to wait on Biden’s arrival.
Peppenhorst and Wright used the stints of downtime to network and socialize with the veteran journalists around them.
“It was very interesting to see how all of the other journalists functioned. It was like they were thriving off the nervous energy,” Peppenhorst said. “Even many of the older journalists had never done something like that before. I mean how many presidents come to Troy, you know?”
Wright added, “I felt like that time went by so fast because everyone was so excited to be there. Even seasoned veterans from national stations were excited to cover the president. The stories they told me about their previous huge stories and humble beginnings gave me hope.”
Biden spoke to the media and approximately 300 Lockheed Martin employees for about 17 minutes before departing. Peppenhorst described the atmosphere as “electric.”
“I’ve never been in a situation like where there’s been that much media, it was crazy,” she said. “The feeling of being part of a story that is so big for the City of Troy, Troy University, Lockheed Martin… It was incredible. I’m really thankful for this experience, and I’m so glad I got to go on behalf of the University and be able to use it for our student-media outlets.”
Not only were the pair the youngest in attendance, they also made waves for being college journalists. Peppenhorst and Wright said they both made numerous professional contacts.
“I received advice and business cards from journalists from local and national organizations,” Wright said. “It was so much fun meeting these people since I look up to them and want to be in their shoes one day.”
“It’s comforting to know that the work I’ve done here at TROY has paid off because I fit right in with the older journalists from the other stations,” Peppenhorst said. “That day has already impacted my confidence so much. So many people were interested in me being a college student and being able to go to something like this, and all of these stations were asking my name and if I wanted to apply for jobs. I got a ton of business cards and was told to send in my reel when I graduate.”
Since 1971, the Hall School has been preparing journalists to enter the workforce by way of the classroom and with the introduction of a student-run news segment in 1975. The studio continued to grow and expand, attracting thousands of students to TROY over the years.
“TrojanVision is the reason I came to TROY because I knew I wanted to be a journalist, and TROY is renowned for their journalism program,” Peppenhorst said. “I jumped in head first once I got here. It’s been nonstop ever since, but this story is going to go at the top of my reel.”