On the beat
When the news came down that Rice was severing its ties with football coach David Bailiff, it was junior mechanical engineering major Andrew Grottkau who got to write the story. He’s the sports editor for the Rice Thresher, the university’s weekly student newspaper.
“Because Rice is a low-key athletic school, the Thresher and the Houston Chronicle are the main news sources that cover it,” said Grottkau. “That means we sometimes get to cover breaking news, which is cool.”
In fact, putting a more newsy focus to the Thresher’s sports page was Grottkau’s goal when he took over as sports editor in his freshman year. The paper had been covering the university’s athletics teams and their seasons, but Grottkau wanted to carry more analysis and to cover more breaking news.
“When I first started as a sports writer as a freshman, I wrote one story a week,” he said. “But I also did columns with analysis, which I thought gave some different texture to the section. I built on that when I became sports editor, which happened my second semester, after the sports editor left.”
He built his story count, authoring two stories each week, and also built up the staff. From a team of two writers and an editor, he now oversees six sports writers. Grottkau has a weekly meeting with the sports staff, which begins with his ideas of what needs to covered in the coming issues. He divides stories based on which writers are interested in which sports or who has the kind of expertise he needs for the coverage he wants. He also invites the staff to share their own ideas.
“When I started as editor, I was pretty hands-off,” he admitted. “I was a freshman, a lot of the writers were seniors, and I wasn’t comfortable telling them what to do. I had a vision, but I didn’t necessarily convey that and it led to disarray. Now, I’ve grown much more into that leadership position and I’ve been able to train writers and keep things more consistent.”
A native of Reading, Mass., just outside of Boston, Grottkau learned about Rice from his high school guidance counselor. He said he’d maybe heard about Rice’s baseball team, but after researching the school and visiting the campus, he was hooked.
“I loved the people I met here,” he said. “And the opportunities I’ve had.”
Grottkau has done research in the lab of Matthew Brake, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, analyzing beam joints. Last summer he did an internship with a biomedical company that makes heart pumps designed to keep blood flowing through the body during heart failure. He’s hoping to work one day in industry, although he hasn’t ruled out graduate school.
In the meantime, though, he’s going to continue covering Rice’s sports scene, something, he said, that requires a balancing act, between his studies and his role as an editor. His balancing act, however, pales, he thinks, in comparison to what student-athletes have to do.
“I did a story last year on the balance between being an athlete and being a student, and a lot of the athletes said that they sometimes feel like they’re treated differently by the student body. And their message was, ‘hey, we’re Rice students, too.’ At a school where the goal is to get an education, not necessarily go on to the NFL or the NBA, that’s an important concept. We’re all Rice students.”