Oben wins JEA Rising Star Award


Nancy “Joanie” Oben works with Skylar Hurley (’20) on the Robinson newspaper

Alanna Felton, Editor-in-Chief

Many Robinson students recognize Nancy “Joanie” Oben, as the teacher in charge of Robinson’s journalism program in room 112, but few realize how much she actually juggles. Oben is responsible for teaching and guiding the Morning Show class, the TV Production I class, two Journalism I classes, the Newspaper class, and the Yearbook class.

In addition to supervising all of these classes, Oben is available to students before, after, and all throughout the school day. “People come in starting at eight o’clock, asking to borrow a camera, they come in afterschool, they ask to stay late, they come in during lunch, and I’m never one to say no because I think you want them to be passionate about what they are doing,” She said.

Now, Oben is receiving recognition for her hard work as one of just 10 journalism advisers around the country to be honored with the Journalism Education Association’s 2018 Rising Star Award, a distinction for teachers with five or less years of experience in the field.

Oben describes winning the Rising Star Award as a complete surprise, recounting how she was sitting at home, watching Bachelor in Paradise, when she received a voicemail from a member of the JEA awards committee. “I thought that meant that they were just letting me know that I lost before they published it,” Oben said. Instead, when Oben called the number back, she found out that she was being honored with the award. “I was very shocked because I didn’t think that I was actually going to win,” She said.

Oben’s career as a journalism adviser was another surprise, brought about when she decided that she wanted to move back home to Florida from her then-residence in Atlanta, where she was working in marketing. Her sister, Alice Oben, who teaches AP European History at Robinson, suggested Oben apply for Robinson’s vacant journalism adviser position.

“It happened very, very fast.” Oben said. She wasn’t sure if teaching was for her but decided to give the job a try. By January of her first year at Robinson, Oben found herself staying after school until 7:00pm to work the with the yearbook’s editor-in-chief. “I just knew that this was something that I really liked and I really enjoyed and it wasn’t always easy, but I think I really make a difference here,” Oben said.

After four years at Robinson, Oben now feels at home in the school, and has no plans to leave any time soon. She sees her primary role as a journalism adviser as helping students to help themselves. She provides support and assistance when they need it but believes that is also important for them to learn from trial and error. “I think that the best learning is always learning on the job… [students] need to have their own growth, and if you’re always doing something for them, then that growth won’t happen,” Oben said.

This emphasis on students’ self-sufficiency is echoed by Robinson’s principal, Robert Bhoolai, who wrote Oben a recommendation for the award. “She really works on building relationships with her students and ensuring that they feel empowered to go and seek the information that they need to write a great story,” Bhoolai said.

“I think she’s grown the program immensely… She’s worked tirelessly to get grants to be able to put new technology, new furniture in the room, to make the students feel like they’re in a professional newsroom.” He said.

Oben was nominated for the award by her JEA Mentor, Vicki McCash Brennan, and her Walsworth yearbook representative, Adam Livesay. Brennan was Oben’s mentor for the past two years, where she has seen the Robinson journalism program grow and evolve under Oben’s supervision. “Her first step was like okay let’s at least get the newspaper and website working as a team, because they naturally work together,” Brennan said.

Brennan believes that one of Oben’s most important contributions to journalism at Robinson is the combination of the print and online newspaper staffs. “As journalists in the twenty first century, you have to learn a lot of different skills,” Brennan said. She praises Oben for making sure her students are proficient in a reporting across a variety of journalistic mediums.

Most of all, Brennan is impressed with Oben’s ability to juggle advising the newspaper, yearbook, and TV broadcast programs at Robinson all at once. “She does everything… it is a lot, what she does, and she does it so well and so easily, like it’s not even a big job for her,” Brennan said.

While managing all of her responsibilities, Oben also has a big impact on her students who come to rely upon her for advice, support, and guidance.

Anna Thomas graduated Robinson in 2018 and was the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper. She credits Oben with teaching her to be better a leader and journalist, often by letting Thomas learn from her own mistakes. “Ms. Oben has, without a doubt, changed my whole life,” Thomas said.

She believes that Oben goes above and beyond as both a teacher and a mentor. “Her willingness to always help and put others before her is what sets her apart from almost every other teacher I’ve ever come in contact with,” Thomas said.

From students to journalists to administrators, Oben makes an impact on everyone around her. The students and teachers that have seen the Robinson journalism program expand and improve under her guidance are happy to see her recognized for her hard work, and excited to see what she will do next.

“She deserves it and should absolutely be recognized for being such a great journalism teacher at a very young age,” Brennan said “She can only get better from here.”