Not very many high school journalists had the chance to cover then-candidate Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. Shira Poliak ’13 managed that impressive feat when she was writing as an intern for South Florida Parenting largely because she seized the chance.
“The editor asked if someone wanted to cover it, and I said yes,” explains Poliak, who grew up in Hollywood, Florida. That eagerness to take advantage of possibilities has characterized Poliak’s approach to academics and extracurricular activities at Barnard. During her first semester, Poliak tutored elementary school students at a homeless shelter on the Upper West Side. “I try not to let fear get in the way,” admits Poliak.
An introductory political science course sparked an interest in political theory, particularly exploring “government’s responsibility to its citizens and citizens’ responsibility to government.” So, it’s no surprise that Poliak is currently an intern for The Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress, where she delights in her 24-hour press pass and access to both law- and newsmakers. She recently covered Sir Paul McCartney’s visit to the Capitol and interviewed the chief curator of the House of Representatives. The enterprising Poliak persuaded her editor to let her pursue feature stories about the art in the Capitol. “It’s interesting to consider the role of art in Congress,” she says. “These pieces witness history every day.”
Poliak, who was selected as a Barnard Writing Fellow this past spring, has been writing seriously since the seventh grade. During high school, she contributed regularly to her local paper, The Sun-Sentinel. She also wrote for Fresh Ink, the teen supplement to The Jewish Week. When Poliak arrived at Barnard, she immediately began writing for the Columbia Daily Spectator, covering such stories as the mayor of Karachi’s visit to campus and exploring Sunni-Shiite tensions on campus. Recently, she took on the religion beat for the Spec in addition to writing for an undergraduate religion journal.
Although Poliak hasn’t decided on her major, she’s leaning towards history and religion, and is considering a future career in journalism or academic Jewish studies. “It’s not about seeing my by-line,” she insists. What she enjoys about journalism is “the reporting and investigative process. It’s finding interesting stories that people don’t notice and bringing attention to that.”
—Merri Rosenberg ’78