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In late 2005, Mary Calvert (B.A., '89), a photographer at The Washington Times, was trolling the Internet for story ideas when she stumbled on something so shocking it was almost unbelievable. Each year, 100,000 women are afflicted with obstetric fistula, a devastating childbirth injury that renders them incontinent. Sufferers are abandoned by their husbands and shunned by their communities. The condition is rampant in Ethiopia, where Calvert would soon be headed on an unrelated assignment for her newspaper.

Portrait of Mary Calvert

Mary Calvert says Professor Ken Kobre "really prepared us to go out into the world as a photojournalists."

The Washington Times would go on to publish Calvert's series of black-and-white photos, attracting much-needed public attention to a problem that plagues sub-Saharan Africa yet is little known in the West. Titled "Trail of Tears," the series was part of a portfolio that earlier this year won Calvert "Photojournalist of the Year" for small markets from the National Press Photographers Association.

The project marked a professional turning point for Calvert, who for many years covered the Bush administration for The Washington Times. "I had never before done a story that actually mattered so much. It's very exciting to cover the White House, but that's not really going to save anybody's life. Covering these ladies who are suffering so terribly from obstetric fistula, and realizing that it could actually help them, started me on a whole advocacy-journalism track."

Calvert got her first taste of advocacy journalism at SF State in a class taught by Professor Ken Kobre, who encouraged students to pursue stories with a strong social-justice angle. A yearlong class project called "Helpers in the War on AIDS" would win Calvert and her classmates first place in the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial's annual RFK Journalism Awards.

Kobre, Calvert recalled, "gave us realistic assignments—the kind you would get if you worked at a real newspaper."

Calvert has had a remarkable year. Her photo of two monkeys jumping along a battered wall in India took first place in the pictorial category in the annual Eyes of History contest run by the White House News Photographers Association. She has won several other awards this year, including another first place from the White House News Photographers.

To view some of Mary Calvert's award-winning photography, click here.

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