Fall 2014 Scholarship Winner: Mirna Kheir

 Mirna Kheir is the Fall 2014 News Literacy Scholarship winner.

Professor Anne Machalinski, left, and her student, Mirna Kheir.

Professor Anne Machalinski, left, and scholarship winner, Mirna Kheir, right.

Mirna Kheir, a biology major who just completed her freshman year at Stony Brook University, is the Fall 2014 News Literacy Scholarship winner.

To be eligible for the scholarship, which comes with full tuition for the Fall 2015 semester, every News Literacy student submitted an essay responding to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll, which suggested that the more news on Ebola respondents consumed, the more likely they were to mistakenly believe the deadly fever was easily spread. To explain why this might be the case using News Literacy concepts, many students were straightforward in their approach. Kheir, however, took a more creative and personal approach, starting the essay with mention of a picture book she’d recently read, called “Zoom.”

In “Zoom,” the context for each picture changes, Kheir said. One photo, for instance, is a close-up illustration of a rooster’s face. The next photo is of a child looking out a window at the rooster standing on a fence. Subsequent photos zoom farther and farther away until a final photo shows that a young girl is actually playing with tiny toys on a tabletop, among them a rooster and children figurines. “The more you see in the picture, the farther you are from the details. Eventually, it becomes too far, making it impossible to conclude anything,” Kheir wrote in her essay. “This also applies to poorly communicated news stories. The greater the extent of the information, the farther you are from the important details and the accuracy of it,” she continued.

Even though this book was totally unrelated to the essay’s prompt, Kheir said she saw the connection — and was inspired — immediately. “It was a good representation of what I wanted to say.”

Although Kheir took to News Literacy immediately, she wasn’t a news consumer coming into the class. She moved with her family from Cairo, Egypt to Commack three years ago, and now continues to live at home with her parents and two younger brothers and commute by train to classes. Before the start of her freshman year, she said that she didn’t consume news outside of her Facebook feed. But once she started taking News Literacy as an elective, she immediately downloaded The New York Times and CNN mobile apps, which she continues to check on a regular basis today.

“When I read a story, I now try to look at the sources and decide whether they might be biased or reliable,” Kheir said. This approach has led to some interesting conversations and debates with friends, particularly on hot button topics. “News Literacy was my favorite class,” she said. “I learned a lot from it.”

So where does a bio major, who hopes to one day become a pediatrician, go from here? Kheir said she’s looked into the journalism major, and while she hasn’t made any decisions yet, thinks there might be some way to both pursue medicine and also write stories on the side as a complement to her work.

This summer, though, she’ll continue her work in the sciences, doing research in synthetic biology and participating in an international biology competition with other Stony Brook students.

Since she didn’t previously have any financial aid, this scholarship will make a huge difference in the fall, Kheir said. “I just can’t believe it,” she continued. “I put a lot of effort into this essay and tried to make it good. It makes me proud of myself.”