Hayden Cilley

Graduate student reflects on lessons learned at Cronkite School

Wednesday, May 1, 2024


Hayden Cilley knew in high school that he wanted to attain his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the shortest time possible.

That led Cilley to enroll in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s Accelerated Master’s Program, which allowed him to receive his Master of Mass Communication and Bachelor of Arts in Sports Journalism in four years.

“I chose the Accelerated Master’s Program because of how quickly I would be able to graduate. Being able to graduate in four years with two degrees was a dream of mine … so this program provided the perfect avenue for that,” he said.

Cilley will graduate with his master’s degree at the Cronkite School’s spring 2024 convocation, where he’ll also be one of two students honored with a Cronkite Spirit Award. He received his bachelor’s degree in May 2023.

The master’s program allowed him to gain a diverse skill set, which he feels will help him in his career.

“I understand concepts about digital audiences, using data in journalism, along with creating team projects and presentations,” he said.

Cilley also credited his former instructor, Maureen West, with teaching him valuable lessons about news reporting and helping him develop his writing as a journalist. West passed away in July 2022, but Cilley never forgot the lessons he learned while sitting in her classroom and visiting her office. 

“I would show up to her office hours and just pick her brain. I went from writing one measly paragraph to a 1,500 word story within the course of the semester,” he said.

He discussed these lessons, along with how he improved his writing, during his time at the Cronkite School.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

Answer: I went to a (Cronkite) camp in 2019. It was a play-by-play camp that (Cronkite News Phoenix Sports Bureau Director and Professor of Practice) Paola Boivin hosted. It was something that I dreamed of doing for a long time, not even just a camp but getting the opportunity to be behind a microphone. It opened my eyes to not even what the school is, but what the actual industry is. I thought it was literally just broadcasting, but I could not have been more wrong. I’m so glad that it turned out that way because I went from wanting to do play-by-play and being behind a microphone to learning about the art of storytelling through any means necessary.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: Don’t be afraid of getting told no or being told that something can be improved upon. I admit humbly now that I was very emotionally immature. I think I was a little bit behind my peers in terms of emotional maturity and learning how to take things with a grain of salt. I think some of the best professors are really the ones that aren’t afraid to rip the Band-Aid off and call you out in a constructive and respectful way.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school? 

A: I know it’s hard for graduate students but try to get involved. Ask questions, ask around, ask faculty. I built a great relationship with Dean (Battinto) Batts because I sent him an email. In my head, I’m like “you’re the dean of the school and I would actually like to get to know who you are as an individual” and he’s helped me a lot. It all started by asking a simple question. 

The second piece of advice is the Arizona Diamondbacks slogan during the playoffs: Embrace the chaos. The industry as a whole is so hectic. I know people that have covered election cycles. One of my good colleagues is going to Washington D.C. with the (Cronkite News Washington Bureau) and is going to be covering the election. It’s intense, but you have to prepare yourself for that. And then finally, just have some sense of gratitude and appreciation.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: For something more chill and more low key is the Valley Coffee Company. I’m not a coffee person, but I’m that guy that will either get a water or a lemonade. But I just love the vibe of it — very cozy. You almost feel like you get a blanket when you walk in there. 

The second place is going to sound very obscure: Waffle House. I’ve had a lot of runs at Waffle House at 12 in the morning. I don’t pay for the food; I pay for the experience. Those two spots are definitely off the top of my list. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation? 

A: I’m working with USA Basketball up until January 2025. I started my first couple events when the (2024 Men’s) Final Four was here. The (USA Basketball 3×3 Men’s National Team) was here in Arizona, as well as the (USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team). That is what I’m going to be doing on the journalistic side. I’m still applying for jobs, but I definitely have USA Basketball to work with for the next year until that time is up. 

By Lauren Boykins