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From VCU InSight to CNN Politics: Alumna Chandelis Duster has made it to the top of TV news

Sep 24, 2019

Posted in: News

By Taylor Burress, Communications Intern

Headshot of Chandelis Duster
Robertson School alumna Chandelis Duster is a breaking news reporter for CNN Politics.

Robertson School Alumna Chandelis Duster has worked hard since her days at the anchor desk of of the student-run newscast VCU InSight. After graduating from VCU, she became a reporter for NBC News and is now with CNN Politics in Washington.

Duster graduated from the Robertson School of Media and Culture (then the School of Mass Communications) in 2010 with a bachelor in broadcast journalism. She was very active during her time at VCU as president of the Association of Black Communicators and as a representative of the School's Student Advisory Board. 

"I remember her being a leader, very dynamic and charismatic," said Duster's academic advisor Natasha Long. "You got this energy from her that she was going to do very big things."

Besides her extracurricular activities, she was also completing internships with Radio One and her capstone course MASC 465 Newscasting, better known as VCU InSight. This course is a 30-minute student-produced TV news show that airs on the Richmond PBS station. Viewers can also find videos of the newscast on the VCU InSight YouTube channel. The students are responsible for producing the show's content, like pitching, shooting, and writing the content. They also edit and voice stories and complete live interviews. 

"VCU InSight was really where I got my start in terms of going out in front of the camera," said Duster. "Doing interviews and just just breaking out of that shell. When you first start, you're a little shy to talk to people. VCU InSight really, really helped with that."

Her former VCU InSight professor Dr. Tim Bajkiewicz remembers Duster very well as a student. 

"It's always wonderful to welcome back VCU InSight alumni, and especially someone like Chandelis. She's done amazing things since leaving the School and I couldn't be happier for her," Bajkiewicz said. "I beam with pride thinking we had a role in helping Chandelis achieve her goals as a broadcast journalist."

After graduating from VCU, Duster went on to work for Cox Media Group as a promotions assistant, producer and board operator and then enrolled in the Studio Center Voice Over Academy to enhance her skills. Duster likes to be well-rounded and versed in regards to her profession.

"Voiceover work is fun … it's a great skill to have," Duster said. "It really helped me sharpen my speaking skills as well."

She then decided to pursue a master's in journalism and public affairs at American University. She wanted to pursue those fields, because she had always had an interest in politics. After graduating, she went on to NBC News where she started working as a news assistant and finishing her time as a reporter. Now Duster is at CNN Politics as a breaking news reporter.

"I look at it as every experience that I've had in my career so far has been a stepping stone that has guided me and prepared me for the next thing," Duster said.

Besides her job, Duster also has a passion for raising awareness about endometriosis and reproductive health for women, because she has personally been affected by endometriosis. Duster is chapter president of Worldwide EndoMarch, volunteers with the Endometriosis Foundation of America and co-founded Virginia Hope. She even shared her story on the Today Show.

"It's a big passion that's close and dear to my heart," Duster said. She also expressed the need for awareness for the well-being of women in minority communities.

"A lot of women, especially in the black community, don't really discuss issues like that, in terms of reproductive health," she said. Duster felt that she could inform and help others through her own experience.

"I feel that as journalists, not only do we inform and impact the world by telling other people's stories, but sometimes you inform and impact the world through sharing your own story," she said.  

When Duster was enrolled at the Robertson School, she met alumnus, author and television director Jeffrey Blount. She took the opportunity and connected with him by handing him her demo reel. Later when she was attending American University, Blount became her mentor and taught her many key lessons.

"He's excellent, he's honest, he's knowledgeable, he's compassionate and he just pays it forward," Duster said. "Me being a journalist as well, I kind of modeled him on how I want to be able to give back to younger journalists."

Her advice to current students studying journalism is to pursue it with passion. She said that every experience is a learning opportunity no matter how big or seemingly small.

"Whether it's an internship at a local station, or internship at CNN, or another big, major news organization, it is crucial to your development as a journalist," she said. "Whether you are running scripts for someone or doing research on articles, that is a skill that you're getting."

She advised students to be open to everything and not to be afraid of making mistakes. Branching out and learning other skills will help students become well-rounded journalists.  

"You're going to make plenty of mistakes, just get ready for it. Learn from those mistakes, and then keep growing, and continue to pursue whatever that is that you have in mind," Duster said. "I will absolutely say, make sure you always aim high."

Chandelis Duster will speak at the Robertson School Speaker Series event on January 21, 2020 at 6 p.m. in room 303 of the James Branch Cabell Library. The event is free and open to the public.