Campus Closeup: Cate Terwilliger


As a former staff writer at The Denver Post, Cate Terwilliger (English) contributed to the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the 1999 Columbine school shootings.


“I remember being in the newsroom that day, when the local TV stations first began reporting that something was wrong at Columbine," Terwilliger recalled. "It took us a long time to understand how serious it was because the reports were very sketchy at first. Nothing was clear; it was a lot of chaos. As the story unfolded, it was evident that something big was happening. It was a terrible event for the people involved and traumatic for the larger community. But it was also a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a reporter.”


Terwilliger had cultivated an active interest in writing since childhood and received a master’s degree in journalism. 


 “I just liked to write and it seemed like it would be an interesting way to make a living,” Terwilliger said.


She found her first journalism job in Colorado as a feature writer for The Colorado Springs Gazette, then The Gazette Telegraph.


 “I had the job I wanted in a beautiful setting. It was like a dream come true,” Terwilliger said.


After working as a reporter for seven years, Terwilliger returned to academia in 1991 to seek a doctoral degree from the University of Minnesota. But the coursework was less engaging than she had hoped, and after two years she returned to journalism, this time for the Associated Press in Minneapolis. An opportunity to work again in Colorado came up about a year later, so Terwilliger returned to the Gazette. She also wrote for an alternative weekly news publication, The Colorado Springs Independent.


She continued to work as a reporter until 2001, when she left the Post and became a freelance writer. But the university setting still appealed to Terwilliger. Although her desire to obtain a doctoral degree had long since passed, she wanted to work in the academic world. 


“I had a fairly successful freelancing career, but it didn’t suit my temperament,” Terwilliger said.


She explored the job market for journalism professors at various universities, but said that NMU was her first choice. Having grown up in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, she found the Upper Peninsula’s forests, lakes and snowy winters familiar and inviting.


Now in her third year at NMU, her duties include acting as the campus newspaper adviser, a role she rotates every three years with colleague Jim McCommons. In addition, Terwilliger teaches two courses plus The North Wind practicum class. As the paper’s adviser, she is on call to assist with ethical questions and staff issues. She has one more year in her current advising term.


Terwilliger is also designing a class that explores issues related to the First Amendment. The course was recently approved by the English department’s curriculum committee as a “special topics” offering for the winter semester of 2008.


Terwilliger lives on 34 acres north of Marquette with her partner, Chele Sproull. Together, they maintain the property with such chores as splitting wood, tending animals (they have two house rabbits) and shoring up an old stable for future use as a goat barn. Terwilliger considers herself a “hobby farmer” and plans to raise hens as well as dairy goats.


“I really like the structure of chores and the feeling of being around animals,” she said. “I find it peaceful and steadying."


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Updated: February 28, 2007

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