Lakeland University Blog

Lakeland faculty helped alumna discover her direction

Lakeland faculty helped alumna discover her direction


Lakeland faculty helped alumna discover her direction

Lakeland University senior Leah Heckel wrote the following story as part of her advanced composition class this spring. Henckel is majoring in creative writing.

The excited screams and stomping feet of children running across a coffee shop floor are not the background noises one may expect to accompany a weekly newspaper editorial department meeting, but they are the sounds that echoed into Open Door Coffeehouse’s exposed ceilings and the ears of four Multi Media Channels employees on a morning in Mayville, Wis. A quiet, composed force of calm among the chaos, Dodge County Pionier, Campbellsport News and Kewaskum Statesman editor Clarice Case grounded her trio of journalists within the four corners of the square, wooden table where they sat, navigating her team beyond the noisy environment.

Case graduated magna cum laude from Lakeland University in the fall of 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in writing before becoming a journalist with the Dodge County Pionier newspaper. After serving as a journalist for a little more than two years, Case was promoted to editor of the Pionier, Campbellsport News, and Kewaskum Statesman in 2024.

On average, it takes seven to nine years for someone to become a newspaper editor, according to Indeed, a job recruitment website. Case did it in four years.

Case’s quick advancement up the newspaper ladder may make it appear that her career choice came easily and that her spot at the head of the editorial table was already engrained into its wood. That wasn’t the case. Case faced the same dilemma that plagues many first-year undergraduate students: uncertainty.

“Going into college, I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had so many ‘dreams’ that I had considered in high school but decided weren’t right for me,” said Case. “I was open to many majors, with writing being one of them.”

Case’s interest in writing initially began as an alternate form of communication over speaking, something that appealed to her introverted nature. Along with using writing as a form of communication, in middle school Case started writing poems and stories.

“I was undecided for the whole first year (of college),” she said. “Then, I thought I wanted to do the B.F.A. program, but … I wanted it to be more general, and I felt like that was for people who wanted to write their own stories, but that wasn’t necessarily me.”

Case explained that she realized over time that editing others’ pieces was more enjoyable than writing her own and that she has “an eye for catching mistakes.”

A requirement of Lakeland’s bachelor of fine arts in creative writing program is to compose a manuscript, such as a poetry collection or novel, as a senior project. But that didn’t fit Case’s interests.

“I knew that I enjoyed editing a lot, and I thought maybe editing books would be something I would be interested in,” she said. “I really didn’t want to write a book. I just knew I wanted it to be creative in some sense.”

When Case discovered that the creative writing program was not for her, she turned to exploring another one of her interests and hobbies: sports.

“I’ve always enjoyed watching baseball, and I still think it would be cool to be around it all the time as part of work,” said Case, who played softball and ran cross country in high school and also played basketball and volleyball in her youth.

Because of her love of sports, she took a few sports management and leadership classes, declaring it her major with a writing minor, but the realm of writing never stopped calling out to her. After only those few classes, she changed her major again, this time to writing, overcoming what was holding her back.

“I think I was discouraged like so many others when we get told writing or a similar degree is useless,” Case stated. “Regardless of what I chose, I wanted to be passionate about it, and I cared less about the money I might make.”

Fabulous Faculty

Case credits Lakeland faculty and staff for helping her discover writing passion and career direction and for providing encouragement, specifically Jodie Mortag, assistant professor of creative writing.

“Clarice was always a quiet student in the classroom, but as she took more and more writing courses, I witnessed her finding her voice—first on the page, especially in creative nonfiction and then amongst her peers in workshop, offering them professional critiques,” Mortag said. “It is no surprise that Clarice has found her place in the writing world as an editor. Her personality was always meant for the page.”

Another influence on Case’s decision to pursue writing was Karl Elder, Lakeland’s former Fessler Professor of Creative Writing and Poet in Residence.

“He was maybe the first one to think I had a chance in writing and editing,” Case mentioned.

Elder taught at Lakeland from 1979 until 2021. Even with the hundreds of students Elder taught during his tenure, upon seeing a photo of Case, he was able to remember her as a student and writer.

“I fondly recall having had Clarice grace the classroom in more than one of the courses I facilitated,” Elder said. “Part of what made her such a fine student was her natural reserve. She reminded me of what I had read about persons with a serious grasp upon emotional intelligence.”

This same reserve and emotional intelligence she continues to exhibit in the chaos of child-ridden coffeehouses, managing stressful schedules of editorial duties and event coverage for numerous municipalities, and expressing her personality on the page through her weekly column.

The Wisconsin Newspaper Association concurred with Elder’s belief that Case has a solid future in the writing and editing industry when it awarded Case the second-place prize for Rookie Reporter of the Year in Division DE in 2023. The award is given to entry-level reporters who have been employed by the newspaper for 18 months or less with no prior employment in the newspaper industry and who have shown “outstanding” capabilities.

Finding Her Focus

Though Case decided on a writing major and has received acclaim for her reporting abilities, journalism wasn’t her intended career trajectory.

“It wasn’t something I wanted to do when I was at Lakeland, and then I had to be part of the Mirror as one of the requirements,” she said. “Once I got into it, I realized that it was kind of a natural fit for me, and it seemed my writing style was complementary to the journalism style.”

Case fueled her passions for writing and sports with a sports writing internship with Best Version Media (BVM) Sports her last semester at LU. For a short time after graduating, Case continued to work with BVM Sports as a freelance sportswriter. With the Dodge County Pionier, Campbellsport News, and Kewaskum Statesman, Case implements the sports writing skills she learned reporting on collegiate- and high school-level sporting events with BVM Sports, splitting the sports coverage duties of five high schools with two other reporters.

Case’s freelance writing with BVM Sports didn’t last. Finding a writing job proved difficult for Case, and she wondered if the critics who discounted the value of a writing degree might be correct.

“I had been working other jobs for several months because I just couldn’t find anything related to writing, and then a job came up with the Pionier, and I was hesitant to take it.” Case explained. “I wasn’t sure if it was what I wanted to do, but a friend … convinced me to apply for it. And that’s how I got here.”

After working for the Pionier for two years, Case was promoted to editor of all three of the Multi Media Channels’ southern Wisconsin papers after the former editor took a different position. According to not only Lakeland faculty, like Mortag, but also her editorial team, Case found where she fits in the writing world.

“Clarice is a journalist who cares about the local communities she covers as a reporter, and she wants to tell the local communit[ies’] stories to her readers,” said Dodge County Pionier journalist Ben Priesgen.

Advancing from being an undecided undergraduate to the editor of three newspapers four years after graduating is a feat conquered by few and far between, but Case hasn’t reached the end of her career path. Her love of sports still tingles in the back of her mind.

“I still am very interested in sports,” she said, “and maybe one day there will be a job for me in the industry.”

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