Ashleigh Panoo’s journey to The New York Times Student Journalism Institute not only involved facing her fears by boarding a five-hour flight to New York City, it also took years of overcoming obstacles in her pursuit of becoming a writer.
“I couldn't imagine all those years ago doing this right now,” Ashleigh said. “I couldn't even imagine it.”
Ashleigh, who was born and raised in Fresno, Calif., had to take a break from school after getting pregnant when she was 16. She focused on raising her son, but she said she fell victim to an abusive relationship with her then-partner. Ashleigh built up the courage she needed and left him in 2013.
“I was like, I can’t waste any more time,” she said. “I wasted too much time already.”
Ashleigh, now 28, decided to go back to school and enrolled at Fresno City College. While she originally thought about studying English, she soon came to realize that her heart was in journalism after working for The Rampage, her college newspaper.
“I've always loved to write,” Ashleigh said. “I like observing things and then just writing about it.”
Ashleigh started as a reporter and worked her way up to editor in chief of The Rampage. She works part-time as a student writer for The Fresno Bee, her hometown newspaper. Her 10-year-old son, Alfredo, and her husband, Jesus, have motivated her to dream big. She graduated recently from Fresno City College and plans to continue her education at California State University, Fresno.
Ashleigh is one of the three copy editors participating in the institute and is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She said she hoped to see the diverse voices of New York City reflected in the stories covered by institute reporters.
“We want to represent ourselves,” she said. “I mean like people of color, I mean women. We just want to get all of their stories, stories that haven't been heard.”