Kealia Ohai’s love of reading and writing propelled her into the journalism and mass communication program at North Carolina. The love of writing in particular drove Ohai to the program that both challenged her and allowed her to use her experiences within her education.
When the 2012 fall semester began, Ohai was half a world away—in Hiroshima, Japan—as a member of the 2012 United States U-20 Women’s World Cup team. In a program that is very hands on with its courses, it created a challenge more than the typical student-athlete being on the road.
“It was tough. My teachers helped me a lot and worked with me a lot. [They let] me communicate over the Internet a lot and things like that,” Ohai said. “It was a challenge, especially being in Japan for the World Cup [in 2012] and missing the first two weeks of school. I just remember with the time change and trying to calculate everything it was really tough. My academic adviser [and] my teachers really, really helped me and communicated with me really well.”
The UNC JMC department divides into nine specializations. Ohai, who took the spring semester off, chose to specialize in the public relations field.
Like any student-athlete, Ohai had the balancing act of juggling her athletic career with her academic demands. She did so while taking on a different major than the typical majors selected by many Carolina athletes, such as exercise science, sports or business administration, and communications.
Being on the road was not the only challenge.
Two core courses within the program, Media Law and Writing and Reporting challenged Ohai in the classroom. Media Law is a basic law course where her class discussed legal issues that included libel, freedom of information and prior restraint.
“JOMC 340 is the law class. It was basic law in media,” Ohai said. “That was definitely the hardest just because it was all legal issues and terms. It was the hardest, but it was also one of my favorites because I love to learn about how things work.”
Perhaps the most challenging course for Ohai came in one of the introductory courses, JOMC 153 Writing and Reporting. It was focused on the details of reporting and helped to separate the students who truly wanted to have careers within the journalism field from those who did not.
“JOMC 153 is actually one of the first courses you have to take in the journalism school,” Ohai said. “Since it’s one of the first classes, you don’t really know the style, the rules of reporting and news writing. Students will get negative 50s on papers for fact errors or name errors [and] things like that you don’t really think about when you’re not news writing.”
Ohai brings a unique perspective into the classroom as a student athlete within the program. While learning the basics of writing, reporting and editing, the Houston Dash forward was also able to use her own experiences as an athlete to complement her writing endeavors.
“I did a story on my experience at the World Cup but I actually did it through one of my teammates’ [perspectives] when we were in Japan,” Ohai said. “It was really fun to use our experiences to tell stories about what was going on.”
One of the courses that stood out for Ohai was a course titled “Sports and the Media.” Taught by UNC alum Tim Crothers, the course gives students an opportunity to learn about the relationship between sports and the media. The course afforded her an opportunity to not only learn within the confines of the course, but also to see what one of the reporters for The Daily TarHeel did on a regular basis while covering the North Carolina women’s soccer team.
“It’s helped me a lot. I’ve learned a lot through being interviewed and reading the stories that are written about UNC or my team,” Ohai said. “I took a Sports in the Media class this last semester. One of the students in the class was actually the main reporter for our soccer team. It was really cool to talk to him and get his perspective on writing about us and writing about me and what questions he asks.”
The U.S. Youth national team forward says that she can see herself involved in public relations, crisis communications or broadcasting after her soccer career is over. She will be able to take her own experience and apply them to a potential future in sports broadcasting if she takes that path.
“I think that being interviewed so much, [I know] different questions [to ask] and what I like from someone when I’m talking to someone face to face,” Ohai said. “It’s helped me to understand athletes a little bit better so if I was ever to go into broadcasting for sports I feel like I have a better understanding through learning from my experiences.”