By Holly Pablo
The Working Press
Tara Puckey hated math. So, when she decided to get her bachelor’s degree, she chose journalism because it required the least amount of math courses.
That serendipitous move sparked Puckey’s love of storytelling and led to her current role as chapter coordinator at the Society of Professional Journalists in Indianapolis, Ind. She has had the job since May.
Puckey, 29, works closely with about 60 professional and 200 campus chapters, helping them with everything from membership drives and fundraising to creative uses of social media.
Not long ago, Puckey was in their shoes when she chartered the student SPJ chapter at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis in Region 5.
Last year, the national organization recognized Puckey’s dedication to the IUPUI campus by awarding her the Julie Galvan Outstanding Student Award during the Excellence in Journalism convention in New Orleans.
This isn’t the first time Puckey has served SPJ on a national level. She served two terms as national student representative, from 2009 to 2011, in addition to her responsibilities on campus.
“As someone who kind of fell into SPJ on the national level, I was able to meet and learn great things from these amazing people all over the nation,” Puckey said. “I call a lot of them my friends and I think it’s important for students to realize they can be involved on a national level and make those connections.”
Dana Neuts, SPJ’s Region 10 director, said she has seen Puckey grow as a leader and as a reporter. They met when Puckey was a student rep and they worked together on SPJ’s Freelance Committee.
Neuts said she was impressed by Puckey’s ability to manage a hectic schedule. Puckey has run her freelance business since 2008 and raises two daughters, Alexa, 9, and Brooklyn, 6, with her husband, Bryan Puckey.
“She is one hard-working woman,” Neuts said. “She appeals to the traditional students who are going to college right out of high school, and she appeals to us who are a little bit older because she has enthusiasm and a really helpful attitude.”
What many SPJ members may not know about the woman who works behind the scenes to strengthen their chapters is that her path to the organization began rather spontaneously.
Puckey earned an associate’s degree in business administration at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis before returning to school and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from IUPUI in spring 2008. SPJ’s convention that year was conveniently set for Indiana, just 20 minutes from her home in Pendleton.
When SPJ put out the call for national student representatives, she took a chance and ran for the office, even though she knew little about the organization.
“I came to SPJ and headquarters because I really appreciate journalism,” Puckey said. “So when you sit down at the end of the day, exhausted from figuring out how you squeezed it all in, you still can’t take anything away because it’s all worth it.”
SPJ Executive Director Joe Skeel said Puckey’s outgoing, self-starting attitude helps her develop rapport with every chapter leader in the country.
“I have to believe she uses a lot of caffeine and patience to continue to balance everything,” Skeel joked. “The one thing I’m very cognizant of and have to be very careful of is she will not say ‘no.’ She will continue to pile more on her plate. ”
Skeel said Puckey now knows SPJ inside and out.
“Tara was a perfect fit because she has been in the shoes of the people she wants to help,” he said. “She speaks their language, she has wanted to bang her head against the wall just as much as they do. That’s what drives her.”