Five alumni join 2023 class of Student Media Hall of Fame

An influential film and television editor, a politics reporter at The New York Times, an award-winning production executive, a leader in public service and a trailblazing community builder are the latest inductees to the Vanderbilt Student Media Hall of Fame.

Selected for the 2023 class are Stacy Goldate, BS’94; Neil Vigdor, BA’99; Justin S. Smith, BA’03; Meredith Berger, BA’04; and Imani Ellis, BA’12.

The Hall of Fame was established in 2009 by Vanderbilt Student Communications to honor Vanderbilt University alumni who have achieved outstanding personal or professional accomplishments and/or made distinguished and lasting contributions to their field and/or to society in general.

The new inductees will be honored at an alumni celebration hosted by VSC at 2 p.m. on Nov. 3 during the university’s Reunion weekend. Their names will be added to a permanent Hall of Fame display in Sarratt Student Center.

Imani Ellis, BA’12

Imani Ellis (photo by Mark Clennon)
Imani Ellis (photo by Mark Clennon)

Ellis majored in communication at Vanderbilt, and her involvement in student media demonstrated her early passion for creativity and culture. She served as a fashion writer for The Vanderbilt Hustler and hosted It’s Imani, a show she produced at Vanderbilt Television.

During her first Vanderbilt Television meeting, Ellis seized the opportunity to pitch her show idea for on-air consideration.

“They gave me the greenlight to host it,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it—I had my own TV show. My experience with Vanderbilt student media really showed me to always go for it. If I had never pitched my show idea, it would have stayed as an idea in my mind. Instead, I was able to become the architect of my own show and learned so much during the process.”

This experience informed some of her future career moves, empowering her to create, innovate and take charge of her journey.

Today, Ellis is the CEO and founder of CultureCon and The Creative Collective, an organization dedicated to providing community and resources to more than 100,000 diverse creatives. The Creative Collective’s marquee event is CultureCon, a conference dedicated to creatives of color. Past speakers include Tracee Ellis Ross, Will Smith, Michael B. Jordan, Naomi Campbell, Billy Porter, Regina King, Lena Waithe, Spike Lee, John Legend and others.

Prior to founding CultureCon, Ellis was vice president of communications at NBCUniversal, where she started as an NBC page and went on to hold communications leadership positions for Bravo, E! and Oxygen. Ellis was named a Breakthrough Creative by Ebony and a Diversity Champion by Adweek. She also has been recognized by Forbes as a Visionary, and as One to Watch by Black Enterprise.

Reflecting on her career so far, Ellis said she’s proudest of the community she and her team have built at CultureCon.

“We’re connecting and providing resources for over 100,000 diverse creatives. The economic and community impact we’ve made is what inspires me to keep going,” she said.

Ellis continues to engage with Vanderbilt and is a source of inspiration and encouragement to students. She hosted Vanderbilt students at NBC for informational meetings, served as a panelist speaker, and spoke at VSC’s Media Intensive Workshop for students in 2022.

Meredith Berger, BA’04

Meredith Berger (photo courtesy of U.S. Navy)
Meredith Berger (photo courtesy of U.S. Navy)

Berger’s enthusiasm for the art of storytelling and effective communication was apparent in her immersive work in student media at Vanderbilt. While majoring in American studies and Spanish, she held various positions at The Hustler: reporter, assistant news editor, arts editor, managing editor and editor-in-chief. She also served as a radio co-host on WRVU.

She remembers fondly the camaraderie of working with The Hustler staff, even when the hours were long.

“We spent so much time in the basement of Sarratt, chasing information and sources, making sure the content and copy edits were just right, squeezing in all our time before, between and after class to make sure we produced a quality product,” Berger said.

After graduating from Vanderbilt in 2004, she went on to earn a master’s in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School and a law degree from Nova Southeastern University. She is a member in good standing of the Florida Bar.

Berger currently serves as assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment. She was nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the U.S. Senate for the job in July 2021. She is also the chief sustainability officer for the Department of the Navy. She is responsible for providing oversight and policy for Navy and Marine Corps energy, climate resilience, critical infrastructure and facilities and their sustainment, restoration and modernization, as well as environmental stewardship, among other duties.

She has held a variety of policy and senior leadership positions in both federal and state government and the private sector. Berger was a senior manager for the Defending Democracy Project at Microsoft Corp., and she was a fellow with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Berger served as deputy chief of staff to the secretary of the Navy and as a Department of Defense Fellow. Prior to her work with the Navy, she held policy positions with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of the State of Florida Chief Financial Officer.

“Looking forward, I would never have expected the incredible experiences that I have had the opportunity to pursue,” Berger said. “Looking back, it all makes sense and lines up so well.”

Berger said her college media experience at Vanderbilt furthered her appreciation for the value of “a good story told well.”

“I make sure I am always prioritizing good, clear, timely communication,” she said.

Justin S. Smith, BA’03

Justin S. Smith (photo by Barbara Norambuena)
Justin S. Smith (photo by Barbara Norambuena)

Smith graduated from Vanderbilt in 2003 with a major in communication studies and a minor in business administration. This year marks his 20-year college Reunion.

Smith said he remembers fondly his time at Vanderbilt Television, where he “loved a good late-night ‘man on the street’ interview at Branscomb” and enjoyed attending student media conferences. Smith and fellow Class of 2003 alumnus Matthew Saul shared the title of station manager at Vanderbilt Television, and then shared one roof while living in Beverly Hills, California, for 12 years while they pursued careers in entertainment.

Smith said VTV was the launch pad for his professional career, describing it as the closest to a vocational practice he received at Vanderbilt. As a student, he networked into his first internship at Nashville Public Television. Fast-forward 20 years later: Smith recently completed production of an acclaimed series for PBS he helped relocate to Nashville. He describes it as “a nice bookend to a 20-year journey.”

After graduation, Smith spent five years in the entertainment industry’s freelance marketplace. There were many stops, including retrofitting Wrigley Field and Fenway Park for the NHL’s Winter Classic, but the most exciting, he said, was producing with Al Gore during his 2007 worldwide event Live Earth.

In 2008, Smith was recruited to the international production company All3Media America. Currently, he serves as senior vice president of production. His responsibilities include operational oversight of a dynamic non-scripted production slate.

He describes each day as an adventure, splitting time between the production of quiz, cooking, documentary, factual, travel and challenge competition shows. His hallmark productions include United Shades of America (CNN) and Undercover Boss (CBS); both have two Emmy wins for Outstanding Program under his management. Smith points to Boss with great pride.

“It is typically the best conversation-starter about my career, and the show’s core value of empathy has shaped my personal managerial style,” he said.

Smith remains engaged in youth and student development through Young Life, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Vandy-in-Hollywood and VSC.

Neil Vigdor, BA’99

Neil Vigdor (submitted photo)
Neil Vigdor (submitted photo)

When people ask Vigdor, politics reporter for The New York Times, where he went to journalism school, he says his “nearly four years as a writer and editor at The Vanderbilt Hustler amounted to my de facto j-school.”

Vigdor majored in English and communication studies at Vanderbilt, where he contributed to The Vanderbilt Review literary and arts journal and worked as assistant sports editor, opinion editor, managing editor and editor-in-chief at The Hustler.

He said production nights at The Hustler, “in the catacombs of Sarratt Student Center, are at the top of the list” of his favorite memories from working in student media at Vanderbilt.

“They represented a master class in news gathering, storytelling and meeting deadlines,” he said. “Those all-nighters, spent obsessing over ledes, headlines and what we were going to order for breakfast at the Pancake Pantry, forged treasured friendships. Our diplomas, we would often say, were made from newsprint.”

Vigdor said he gained a great deal from his collegiate journalism experiences, including “lessons in accuracy, journalistic integrity, cultivating sources, my zest for being in the middle of a big story and, yes, dealing with an occasional aggrieved reader.”

After graduating in 1999, Vigdor worked as a reporter at The Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Hearst Connecticut Media Group and The Hartford Courant. He is an award-winning journalist who has covered politics throughout his career, interviewing, among others, Donald Trump, Michelle Obama, Mitt Romney and Jesse Jackson.

Vigdor said he can remember vividly the day in 2019 when his first editor at The New York Times called to offer him a job as a breaking news reporter.

“He told me that the role was temporary and involved working mostly nights and weekends to start, but it could yield a staff position,” Vigdor said. “It was a blessing and validated the years of hard work that I had put in, from my early days as an editorial assistant writing obituaries and covering night meetings to my more recent accomplishments as a political reporter in Connecticut. About six months later, I had earned a staff position.”

Today, readers of the Times can follow Vigdor’s coverage of U.S. politics almost daily. He previously was part of the newspaper’s Democracy Project, and his reporting focuses on voting, election laws and disinformation. In his spare time, he is a yogi and an avid amateur photographer who captures stunning images from nature, urban life and travel.

Stacy Goldate, BS’94

Stacy Goldate (photo by Chris Chew)
Stacy Goldate (photo by Chris Chew)

Goldate majored in human and organizational development at Vanderbilt. For WRVU, she ran a weekly newsmagazine program and served as a music DJ. She also was a guest columnist for The Vanderbilt Hustler.

“Sometimes, when I had insomnia, I’d ride my bike over to WRVU in the middle of the night if there wasn’t already someone on the air, and I would turn on the transmitter and play whatever music I felt like hearing,” she said.

“I might get calls at the station from other kindred insomniac spirits who just happened to turn on their radios right when I started my set. My favorite comment was by a 2 a.m. listener when I played Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3. The anonymous caller simply said, ‘Thank you,’” she said.

Goldate said it was “a tremendous luxury and privilege” to have access to the equipment as well as supportive faculty and staff when she was a student.

“There was no pressure to succeed, only the joy of experimenting with ways to tell stories,” she said. “I try to maintain that passion even now, 30 years later, and I still approach my documentary editing with the tools I learned in radio, such as prioritizing audio as I initially build the story.”

Today Goldate is an award-winning editor, producer and director of documentaries and series. She has edited more than 50 nonfiction projects, including Our Father (Netflix), the award-winning documentary InHospitable, acclaimed series for CNN (The Nineties, The 2000s, 1968), the Emmy-winning Out of Iraq and Hillbilly (Hulu), the GLAAD Media Award-winning and Peabody-nominated documentary Disclosure (Netflix), and the award-winning Push Girls.

Goldate said she takes great pride in knowing that some of the films she has edited have had a real and positive impact on people’s lives.

Disclosure is a groundbreaking film that has been used by cultural and educational institutions to facilitate dialogue, understanding and compassion for transgender and nonbinary people,” she said.

InHospitable was a key resource for the bipartisan Stop Anticompetitive Healthcare Act, and Our Father inspired the bipartisan introduction of H.R. 451, the Protecting Families from Fertility Fraud Act.

“And it’s not just cultural and legislative impact that I’m proud of—it’s knowing that I’ve helped create films and TV series that have simply given people joyful ways to unwind, like with CNN’s The Nineties: The One About TV. I still hear from people when they catch the re-run nearly six years after it originally aired,” she said.

Goldate currently is editing a documentary series for Paramount+ and Funmeter about Lollapalooza. She is committed to mentoring and serves as a Karen Schmeer Fellowship Mentor. She has remained connected to Vanderbilt, speaking on campus and serving as a mentor for the Vandy-in-Hollywood program.