KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Last month, a high school in Pittsburg, Kan., announced they'd hired a new principal. Amy Robertson would start the next school year. Then the school newspaper, The Booster Redux, got an interview with the new principal. But there were a few inconsistencies, like that Corllins University, where Robertson claimed to have earned a master's and a Ph.D., isn't actually accredited. The high school reporters dug further and found a few articles that classified Corllins University as a diploma mill, a place where people can buy degrees.
On Friday, the school paper published their weeks-long investigation of the credentials of their new principal. And yesterday, the principal resigned. With us now is one of the six Pittsburg high school reporters who led this investigation. Her name is Gina Mathew, and she is a junior. Welcome to the show.
GINA MATHEW: Hello. Thanks for having me.
MCEVERS: So I just want to start from the beginning here. When did you learn about this new principal?
GINA: We had been announced that there was going to be a new principal earlier in March. Our paper typically does an introduction story to welcome any new administrator to our building. From there, we had begun to investigate her background because we really didn't know much about her. We had discovered that there were discrepancies between what she claimed she had in terms of educational background and what we could find.
MCEVERS: At what point did you start to understand that maybe her credentials weren't, you know, what she said they were?
GINA: The extensive amount of research that we had done really didn't line up with what she said was true on her end, the biggest being Corllins University and the lack of accreditation. So it came into question whether it was a diploma mill in general and whether that education was simply bought.
We had investigated as well background into her attendance at the University of Tulsa, where she claimed to have gotten her Bachelor's of Fine Arts degree, which we could not verify was offered at that time. And those inconsistencies were what needed to be presented within our own newspaper and to highlight to the community what we had found.
MCEVERS: Was anyone trying to discourage you from doing this work?
GINA: Along the way, there were some individuals who felt that we may be digging a little too much or that there was no information to be seen here. And so it wasn't necessarily discouragement as it was a dismissal of our concerns.
MCEVERS: What did you make of her resignation?
GINA: Whether it was the outcome that we had preferred or not, we understood that it was an action that had to be taken by the board. And that action was basically what spurred multiple news outlets from reaching out and understanding that we had affected change within our own high school through the power of journalism. And that was very powerful to me and my staff writers to know that we were able to do something as large as that.
MCEVERS: Any advice you would give to other journalists?
GINA: When someone tells you there's nothing to be seen, it's OK to keep finding new information for yourself to verify, to fact check. And for student journalists especially, I think it's an important message to know that it's OK to question authorities in terms of finding out the truth.
MCEVERS: That is Gina Mathew, a student journalist for The Booster Redux. That's the school newspaper at Pittsburg High School in Kansas. Thank you so much.
GINA: Thank you.
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