Original story published by By Kiara Ealy
Columbia, Mo. (April 26, 2016) — In her years since arriving in the U.S. in 2001, Missouri School of Journalism student Neeta Satam has completed a master’s degree in environmental sciences, worked as an environmental scientist and become a photojournalist who has visually documented rural America, Eastern Europe and Asia.
Now, she’s about to conquer her latest endeavor – earning a third master’s degree in photojournalism: “My photography explores the themes of cultural assimilation, human identity and the environment.”
Along the way, Satam has been awarded the School’s Duffy Grant to complete a project on the Sikh community in the Midwest.
“During a trip to St. Louis, I saw a turbaned Sikh in a supermarket,” Satam said. “As an immigrant, I empathize with the pressure some immigrants face to culturally assimilate in the mainstream society. As the man walked past me, I realized this is a story worth telling.”
With the image of the man in the market stuck in her mind, Satam pitched the story idea and won the grant in summer 2014.
Later, she and classmate Ryan Schuessler were published in The Guardian for their work covering the Sikh community in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, which had faced a violent hate crime in August 2012.
“The project made me realize that Sikh men not only face the pressure to culturally assimilate in the American society, but also hate crimes in the post 9/11 world,” Satam said.
She credits receiving the Duffy Grant to wanting to further question and broaden her research.
“The advantage of a grant is not only the financial ability it provides to pursue a project but also a sense of personal accountability it creates to complete the project,” Satam said. “Applying to the grant was a great learning experience because it pushed me to research the issue, draft the proposal, carve out time to gain access, finish the project and get it published.”
Satam recently returned from Asia to shoot her master’s project on the “resilience and adaptation” of some of the first Himalayan climate refugees in the Zanskar Region. She was embedded in a community that is losing its sole source of water to climate change.
“The issue of climate change in the Indian Himalayas is under-reported in international media because it is a sensitive international border region,” she said.
Executing the project in the field was challenging, Satam said. The Zanskar region, formerly a part of western Tibet, is a remote mountainous area in India-administered Kashmir that remains isolated from the world for almost seven months in a year. The area is one of the most militarized parts of the world where journalists are under tremendous scrutiny. Shooting in Zanskar was also challenging, Satam said, because it is an unforgiving terrain as far as the weather and altitude is concerned.
Satam’s project committee, photojournalism faculty Jackie Bell and Rick Shaw, helped her plan the logistics of the field component of her master’s project.
“Their encouragement and support helped me overcome numerous challenges associated with shooting the project,” Satam said.
She was awarded the Correspondents’ Grant and the Richard Oliver Scholarship to complete the project. In just a short amount of time, Satam has found a passion in storytelling and giving a voice to those who cannot be heard.
After growing up in India and pursuing other dreams, Satam chose the Missouri School of Journalism and its hands-on method in photojournalism. She received a Jack and Dorothy Fields Scholarship to attend the Missouri Photo Workshop. Participants shoot a story and attend photo critiques and lectures. The rest of her time at the School is history.
“David Rees encouraged me to visit the J-School and sit on a couple of graduate classes,” Satam said. “After doing so, I had no second thoughts on applying to the program. I was drawn towards the intellectual rigor of the curriculum. I saw there was a tremendous potential to learn from J-School initiatives such as the Pictures of the Year International, Missouri Photo Workshop and College Photographer of the Year.”
Satam’s latest accolade has been the O.O. McIntyre Writing Fellowship, which is the School of Journalism’s highest postgraduate award. The $12,000, one-year award will help cover the continuation of her master’s work on the Himalayas, the third largest body of ice and snow (after the Arctic and Antarctic), and hence is often referred to as the “third pole.”
Satam is currently editing her master’s project and plans to defend it in the fall.