Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Alexandra Whittaker: Going for It

You can tell a lot about a person from her gelato order. Alexandra Whittaker looks wide-eyed at the frozen confections behind the glass counter at Grom. With a smile, she asks for a medium nocciola gelato with whipped cream on top. She can’t pronounce it but ignores the English translation (hazelnut) and just goes for it, laughing off her butchered Italian. She later explains that she is more proficient in Japanese… well, sort of.

This past May, Whittaker, along with eight other student-journalists from around the country, embarked on an all-expense paid study trip to the Kansai region of Japan, the prize for winning the prestigious Roy W. Howard National Collegiate Reporting Competition.

In just 10 days, Whittaker received a serious crash course in international media and took advantage of her time abroad. While she describes the cultural nuances that intrigued her during her time in Japan, it is abundantly clear why this Naperville native has chosen to pursue journalism—She’s curious.

“Japan is the cleanest country I’ve ever seen, yet there are no trash cans anywhere. There are probably these secret garbage chutes that no one knows about. The streets are spotless. It made absolutely no sense!”

Another oddity that fascinated her? A sushi conveyor belt.  

“There were these tiny little plates moving past us with all different things. I grabbed a few that I thought I’d like and some just to try. Everyone tried to warn me to stay away from tentacles or eyeballs but I just went for it.”

Whittaker’s adventurous spirit led to this life philosophy: "As clich√© as it sounds, I'm not afraid to try anything. That's how you learn."

With that attitude in tow, Whittaker seems to be on the right track. She already has four internships under her belt as she approaches her senior year at Marquette University: Woman’s Day, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones, and Elle, five if you include her ASME internship at InStyle where she wraps up Aug. 8.  Whittaker is also a USA Today College Contributor and spent a semester as a visiting student at Columbia University.

A lot of things about Whittaker are pleasantly contradictory. While her impressive resume is certainly brag-worthy, she is strikingly down-to-earth: accomplished yet humble. Even though she is a meticulous planner, she’s OK going with the flow and walking aimlessly downtown: structured yet flexible.  In the same breath that she teases about her cat nacho pitch for the “What’s Right Meow” section of, she also throws in some stats about the upward trend in InStyle ad pages: fun-loving yet means business.

Complexities aside, Whittaker is the kind of person you’d want to sit in the cubicle next to you or to bump into at the coffee machine. She fondly remembers one such coffee encounter with Elle Editor in Chief, Robbie Meyers.

During her semester at Columbia, Whittaker scored an interview at Elle.

“I was in the waiting area for my interview and I called the extension of the editor. I must have looked really nervous when all of a sudden this super chic woman asked me if I needed help. I knew who she was, but it didn’t fully register that the editor in chief of Elle was walking me to my interview—at Elle.”

Weeks into the internship (that she landed) Whittaker had another run in with Elle’s leading lady at the coffee machine.

“I said, ‘I don’t know if you remember me, but you walked me to my interview.’ And I officially introduced myself. She replied that of course she remembered and that they were happy to have me.”

No big deal.

Take one glance at this aspiring editor and you’ll assume that her topknot is full of secrets—secrets to success, that is. Alexandra Whittaker knows what she wants. And she’s going to go for it. 

-- Written by Lauren Masur, Cornell University, Food Network Magazine
-- Edited by Jordan Smith, South Dakota State University, Inc.

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