Young Alumni 2011

Michael Barber
Digital marketing strategist

It’s hard to hard to pick one Daily Wildcat memory that stands out from them all. Beyond the incredible paper that we all helped churn out every school day, my fondest memories will be the laughter shared among the ad sales group, our Friday sales meetings that inevitably turned into a conversation about where we would be going for Happy Hour, and fighting for where our clients’ ads would get placed.

More than the memories, I value the friendships that were created during my three years at the paper. Many of those friendships have endured well beyond college. I count myself incredibly lucky to have been part of such an amazing group.

Michael Barber is a Solutions Architect at Defero, a digital marketing agency in Phoenix. He oversees several business analysts who work together to provide strategic solutions to client’s technology and marketing needs.

After graduating from the University of Arizona in 2006, Michael went on to work for some of Arizona’s most admired digital agencies, including Mighty Interactive/Off Madison Ave, Sitewire and Nomadic Agency. Notable clients include UBISOFT Entertainment, Pulte Homes, Kroger, Southwest Airlines, Purex, Right Guard and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

In 2009, several projects and campaigns that he helped develop won two Gold, one Silver and one Bronze Addy. Michael also helps organize numerous Phoenix community events including the annual WalklMS event, Ignite Phoenix and Social Media Club Phoenix. He speaks regularly to advertising agency owners and strategists on new media and mobile marketing.

While earning his degree at Arizona, Michael was a Senior Account Executive on the advertising sales team at the Daily Wildcat. He is engaged to be married to Tammy Trujillo, also a UA alum.

Dave Cieslak
C0-founder, Scutari and Cieslak

Dave Cieslak is the co-founder of Scutari and Cieslak Public Relations, a Phoenix-based firm that specializes in media relations, communications coaching and public affairs. Dave’s clients include Korean Air, Salt River Project, St. Luke’s Health Initiatives and the City of Tucson.

Formerly an award-winning reporter for  the Tucson Citizen and The Arizona Republic, Dave brought his journalism skills and in-depth political knowledge to the public relations field.
Dave began his PR career in 2005 as the chief spokesman and public information officer for the City of Scottsdale Fire Department. Two years later, he joined one of the state’s largest marketing agencies, Moses Anshell, as senior manager of public relations for clients including TASER International and the World Wildlife Fund. In 2008, Dave had the honor of serving as the Arizona communications director for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

Dave has a B.A. in journalism from the UA and was editor in chief of the Arizona Daily Wildcat in 1999. He is married to UA alum Jennifer Levario Cieslak, senior designer at The Arizona Republic and former Wildcat design chief.


Jennifer Duffy
PR director, Loews Golf Resorts

One very late night (and there were many) Dan Scarpinato and I were rewriting all the headlines throughout the paper after the rest of the staff had gone home. As some of you may know, Dan is a terrible speller, and after he rewrote the front page headline I wearily glanced at it and submitted the file to the printer.

The next day’s paper read in BIG, BOLD letters that something was a CHALLANGE. At our 9 a.m. features reporting class with Susan Knight, the first question on the pop quiz was how to spell “challenge.” I don’t think we’ll ever live that down, and I take full responsibility for not spell checking anything and everything that Dan touched. We still joke about it to this very day when we come across a c-h-a-l-l-e-n-g-e.

Jennifer Duffy, who earned her journalism degree at the UA, lives in Tucson and works as public relations director for Loews Hotels Golf Resorts in Tucson and Las Vegas. From 2003 to 2007 she was a general assignment features reporter at the Arizona Daily Star, where she dabbled as an arts writer and fell in love with the local arts scene, winning a 2005 Arizona Press Club award for a story about stencil graffiti popping up in Downtown Tucson. Her favorite memory working at the Arizona Daily Star was working on a story about Dumpster divers, a subculture of political activists who survived solely on food from corporate and grocery store waste. Yes, she actually got in the Dumpster. And yes, she now works at a big corporate hotel and is happy to report that Loews Ventana Canyon is the second largest provider to the Tucson Community Food Bank. No waste allowed.


Ryan Gabrielson
Winner, 2009 Pulitzer Prize

Ryan Gabrielson, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting, now covers public safety for California Watch, a nonprofit, in-depth reporting service launched by the Center for Investigative Reporting. Ryan was also a 2009-2010 investigative reporting fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.

His reporting (with fellow Wildcat alum Paul Giblin) for the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Ariz, exposed that immigration enforcement by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office undermined criminal investigations and emergency response. This in-depth series earned both reporters a Pulitzer Prize, George Polk Award and other recognition.  While at the Tribune Ryan also covered scholarship charities that were committing tax fraud, and widespread academic and financial malfeasance at the nation’s largest community college district. He began his career at The Monitor in McAllen, Texas and studied journalism at the University of Arizona, where he was a reporter and news editor for the Arizona Daily Wildcat.  He is married to Rachel Williamson Gabrielson, also a former Wildcat reporter.

Djamila Grossman
Photographer, Salt Lake Tribune

As the newsrooms get bigger and the budgets get bigger and you and your co-workers become more weathered in their newsgathering and storytelling abilities, it’s fun to remember how we got into this business.

At the Wildcat, I learned the basics. It was the most important foundation to becoming a journalist.  Because no matter how big the paper, meeting deadlines, accuracy and a willingness to drop everything for a story still defines our work today.

Sometimes there would be homework assignments I couldn’t get in on time or classes I couldn’t make. But not finishing a story or knowing I did a bad job on a photo assignment kept me sleepless at night – and it still does.

After being a reporter for two years , I started eyeing the photo desk and I remember the day photo editor Evan Caravelli handed me a camera and told me to go shoot something.  After a quick intro on how to use it, I was out the door. It took another year until I switched to photography but the chance to try out anything we wanted and turn it into serious work was invaluable.

Whenever I’m invited to talk to high school students now and they ask how to break into journalism the only answer I have is to work off their butts at a college newspaper. I remember Mark (Woodhams) once told me the Wildcat “eats you alive,” and he was right. But looking back, I never would’ve had it any other way.

Djamila Grossman is an award-winning  photographer and multimedia producer at The Salt Lake Tribune.  Before joining that paper last August, she spent two years with the Standard-Examiner in Ogden and six months with the New Britain Herald in Connecticut.

Her work has been recognized by the National Press Photographers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Utah News Photographers Association, the Associated Press Managing Editors, the Arizona Press Club, the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar, the Southern Short Course and more.

Djamila grew up in Berlin, Germany, and moved to the United States in 2004. She graduated from the UA with a degree in Journalism in 2007.  While at the UA she served as a Don Bolles fellow, an intern with the Daily Star, and a photographer and reporter with the Daily Wildcat.

Check out her website at

Luke Larson
Author, The Senator’s Son

Over a three year period between 2005 and 2008, Luke Larson served two tours as an infantry officer with the U.S. Marines in Iraq, first as platoon commander and later as executive officer.  He was second in command of a task force that included 850 Iraqi police, an Iraqi army company of 100 soldiers, and a Marine company of 200 marines and sailors. He was awarded a Bronze Star for valor and multiple other military honors.

Luke turned his war experiences into a novel, Senator’s Son: An Iraq War Novel published in 2009.

Born in Washington State and raised in the town of Forks on the Olympic Peninsula – before the Twilight series made it famous – Luke attended the UA on a NROTC scholarship and graduated with a journalism degree. He was an advertising account executive and sales manager at the Daily Wildcat.

Luke lives in Phoenix and has worked for Taser International since 2008 where he is Product Manager for Axon Systems.  He has an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management.

Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Reporter, Los Angeles Times

My experiences at the Arizona Daily Wildcat gave me more than I can authentically sum up in a few graphs, but it should be said that just about every day I spend as a working journalist, I’m reminded of something I learned at the Wildcat. Memories from the newsroom there are plentiful but there are two things that stick out to me the most.

One is simply going and bugging Woodhams dozens and dozens of times as a reporter, as an editorial cartoonist, as a photo editor and then as an alum. I looked to him as a mentor and bouncing ideas off of him, disagreeing with him, learning from him, using him as a compass for appropriate tone and context — it was all invaluable to me and my growth there as a journalist.

The other major take away for me is the friends I made at the Wildcat, many whom I still keep in touch with. One of them, Nicole Santa Cruz, is among my best friends. Nicole works with me at the Los Angeles Times and someone I talk to and am inspired by nearly every day. Our careers have run a parallel of success and we were both given an earnest start as reporters at the Wildcat.

The first time I met Nicole, I was actually interviewing her. After barely getting hired, despite spelling the name of President Likins wrong in my writing test, I ended up being the last reporter hired at the paper for the semester. As the newest guy on the news desk, I was given the assignment of writing a story about the next editor in chief. Nicole, who was also at that time in her first semester at the Wildcat, was that new EIC.

We had spent months as news reporters at the Wildcat and had never met before then. We sat outside the Park Student Union and as I was still learning to put the inverted pyramid into practice, I don’t think Nicole or I at that time could have seriously thought we’d end up such great friends, much less working together in Los Angeles doing something we both care so deeply about. But here we are, both in LA, at one of the finest newspapers in the country, working hard to honor the opportunity we’ve been given and those who believed in us — our friends, our family, our teachers, our readers, and Woodhams too.

Nathan Olivarez-Giles is a technology reporter and videographer at the Los Angeles Times. Before being assigned to cover the tech industry, he was a general assignment business reporter, writing about consumer electronics, small business, biotechnology, white-collar crime and a swath of other subjects.

Nate graduated from the University of Arizona in 2008 with a degree in Journalism and Mexican American Studies. Before being hired at the L.A. Times, he spent a summer producing video at The New York Times as a James Reston Fellow and covered crime, education and South Tucson in internships at the Arizona Daily Star. At the Arizona Daily Wildcat, he was a news reporter, editorial cartoonist and photo editor.

Nicole Santa Cruz
Reporter, Los Angeles Times

The Arizona Daily Wildcat gave me my first taste of journalism. It was where I felt the first adrenaline rush as a reporter covering the school’s transition from Peter Likins to Robert Shelton. It was where I learned how to make ethical news decisions and ultimately, where I realized my passion for writing the first draft of history.

I remember constantly arguing with the sports desk in budget meetings, tedious ASUA student government interviews, Allison Hornick asking if Josh Pastner wrote for us at one point, the leadership card with Lori Foley, the gigantic summer campus guide and the infamous green couch, which I’m positive each editor has slept on at some point.

During my year as editor in chief, I made a contribution to the newsroom that I know lasted at least a couple years: the big fluffy teddy bear. I’m not sure if it’s still there or not. Simply put, the Wildcat is one of the best experiences on the UA campus. Like many of my predecessors have said, there’s no group on campus that works harder.

Nicole Santa Cruz is a general assignment reporter for the metro and national desks at the Los Angeles Times, where she’s been since June 2009. She has covered Michael Jackson’s death, the BP oil spill, the New York mosque controversy and the recent Tucson shooting rampage for the Times.

Prior to joining the LA Times, Nicole served as a general assignment reporter for the Bulletin in Bend, Ore., and held internships with the Oregonian in Portland and the Daily Star in Tucson.  She was a reporter with the New York Times Student Journalism Institute. Nicole holds a journalism degree from the UA, was a Don Bolles Fellow and served as editor in chief of the Arizona Daily Wildcat for the entire 2006-7 school year.

Daniel Scarpinato
Political communications director

There are literally dozens of wonderful memories from the Wildcat, but what stands out the strongest is a day that wasn’t wonderful: Sept. 11, 2001.

It was a painful and emotional day for all of us, and being a student journalist — getting to help tell the story — was my own way of getting through that difficult period for America. I know many others felt the same way. The newspaper had an energy like I’d never seen, as everyone felt compelled to be there and be a part of something. The result — on Sept. 12, 2001 — was one of the best issues of the Wildcat ever produced.

I also remember my mom pushing me to apply at the Wildcat in the first place. I was an insecure 20-year-old with no idea what I wanted to do with my life. It was the best decision I ever made. To my amazement, the Wildcat hired me, and the opportunities followed. Through all the twists and turns of my career since, my mom has been there to support me fully — emotionally, and sometimes financially — to make sure I was successful. She’s pushed me to take risks and been my biggest fan — whether that meant passionally defending me against critics of my stories, or answering phones and knocking on doors for Jonathan Paton when I made the leap to politics.

I wouldn’t have made it this far without her — or for that matter, without my experiences at the Wildcat.

Daniel Scarpinato is a 2004 graduate of the UofA. While at the Wildcat, Daniel worked as a news reporter, columnist, designer, managing editor, and eventually editor in chief. Additionally, in 2003, he led the successful effort to revive the UA yearbook, The Desert. After graduating, Daniel went to work at the Arizona Daily Star, where he eventually took the reins as the paper’s political reporter, authoring the weekly “Political Notebook” column. After leaving the Star in 2009, Daniel was named editor of the Arizona Capitol Times’ Yellow Sheet Report, a legendary and influential tip sheet for insiders, politicos and lobbyists at the state Capitol. In 2010, Daniel left journalism to handle media for Jonathan Paton’s unsuccessful bid for U.S. Congress in Southern Arizona, eventually serving as deputy campaign manager. Since January, Daniel has served as director of communications and chief press secretary for Speaker of the House Kirk Adams and the Republican majority caucus in the Arizona House of Representatives.

Maxx Wolfson
Field editor, Getty Images

My favorite memory – I had a lot of favorite memories from my days at the Wildcat, but one of them I will never forget. It was just my first week on staff and I was assigned to cover the men’s rugby team for the 1999 season by former sports editor Dan Rosen. I called up the coach, Dave Sitton, and I told him I will be covering his team this year. He said, “so that means you will one day you will be the sports editor.” I was confused and he said one day, you will understand. He told me that the only way he would talk to me this year was if I spent a few hours with him before the season started. I said of course and he told me to meet him on campus the next day. When I met up with Coach Sitton the following day, he told me to get into his car as he had some errands to run. I was confused but I got in. Off we went around Tucson stopping to pick things up along the way. He would quiz me about my sports knowledge (pretty strong), my Wildcat sports knowledge (ok for a kid who grew up in Los Angeles) and then my knowledge of rugby (I knew nothing). We then pulled over in a parking lot and for an hour or so he gave me the history of the sport, the rules and why rugby was so great. Despite being an 18-year-old at the time, Coach Sitton talked to me like I was an adult and a professional journalist.  I was so excited that he took the time out of his busy schedule – he was the voice of the Arizona Wildcats for crying out loud – to explain the rules of a sport I only saw a few times on ESPN in the middle of the night. Not only did I grow to enjoy rugby thanks to Coach Sitton,  but he was right on his prediction of me becoming the sports editor of the Wildcat. At the time there was a streak of about five straight freshmen who covered rugby eventually becoming the editor.

Maxx Wolfson has been an editorial photo editor at Getty Images since graduating from the University of Arizona in 2003 with a journalism degree. His job at Getty Images has taken Maxx all over the world. He has covered two Olympics and countless other events such Super Bowls, the Oscars, NBA Finals, Grammy’s, Final 4’s, World Series, golf and tennis majors, among many others. Maxx works with some of the world’s top photographers and editors, where he is in charge of events where he and a team of editors send pictures to nearly every major newspaper, magazine, website and to Maxx spends the majority of the year on the road at major events around the United States and some internationally. Maxx currently runs the sport photo editor team in the United States.

Maxx was the sports editor at the Daily Wildcat where he also covered rugby, three years of football and two years of men’s basketball and had a regular weekly column called the Maxx Factor.

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