MILFORD - Samara Thacker has turned in her sport’s uniforms and picked up a microphone.

Thacker, who starred in soccer and basketball at Jonathan Law, is now a member of the University of Connecticut’s UCTV team, the official student-run television station on campus.

“My freshman year I covered women’s field hockey, women’s basketball and men’s basketball,” said Thacker, a sophomore majoring in journalism with a minor in communications. “It was hectic, I came in not knowing too many skills.

“At Law, I did broadcast journalism and student news, but it is way more advanced at UConn. I had to learn camera work, writing scripts for shows, and putting together a clip package.”

Noam Watt is sports director for the student-run UCTV.

“Samara wasn’t confident at first, but became friends with people in the department, covered a few games and is very comfortable now,” he said. “I’m happy to have her on staff, and honestly happy to know her.”

First impressions carry a lot of weight.

Watt said: “My first thoughts on Samara was what a kind person she is. She is always happy to be present, to be in the moment. We now work together and we bounce ideas off each other.”

Thacker was nervous on her first few assignments.

“Being a student reporter with so many experienced journalists in the room is nerve-wracking,” she said. “The daily papers have beat reporters that go to all the games and coaches know who they are. I felt out of place, but also felt that I was meant to be there. I told myself I was prepared. To this day, even my parents, ask me: ‘What question did you ask?’ I don’t remember, I was just so nervous.”

Watt said: “UCTV is a comfortable place to learn because everybody (25-30 in the sports division) started at the same place of not knowing that much. We train them on technical things, camera, running a board. Then we will have them shadow games, typically with a reporter and a videographer.

“Post-game, they will sit in on a press conference, watch a live interview with a player to get a feel for it. Once they have done a couple shadows, they are good to go and be a reporter or videographer. The next day we sit down and go through the editing process, view footage and see which clips you might want to use.”

Thacker enjoys the process.

“I had to create a package for the women’s and men’s basketball teams all by myself,” she said. “I had those jitters reporting, just like I would get before playing a big game. They were nerves I hadn’t had for quite a while, but they came back quickly. The upside is that the satisfaction of a job well done is similar.”

Watt has seen her growth on and off camera.

“She is totally comfortable in front of the camera, as well as editing,” he said. “We can give her any task or assign her to any game and know that she is going to tell a good story, produce high quality content. She can do it all on her own. And she can mentor our next group of students coming in.”

TAKING NEXT STEP

Mentoring is part of Thacker’s way to transition from playing sports.

“The clubs I do are now my sports,” said Thacker, who as a member of UConn’s branch of Pi Beta Phi is on the Junior Panhellenic Council which oversees how all campus sororities handle indoctrination to prospective pledges adapting to Greek life culture.

“Many of my friends went through the sorority rush process and convinced me to do it. You rush and then see if you want to join. It is a way to meet more people. I know a lot of people from home but wanted to branch out and meet other people.” Thacker said.

“Rush is meeting older girls who can give you advice about school, the sororities, and the social life on campus. It really helped me stay organized with my schoolwork as a freshman.”

Thacker takes six classes (2 journalism classes, African American history, Geo-Science Lab, communications, women’s gender). After living in the Towers on campus her first year, she now shares an off-campus apartment.

“I feel like I upgraded but I have to cook for myself rather than going to the dining hall,” she said. “That is different. I knew I’d have to cook for myself at some point.”

Thacker had to think outside the box to find work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I researched the University Tees custom apparel company,” said Thacker, who became the company’s campus manager in July, where employees set up their own accounts and take orders for their specific line of apparel.

“It is separate from UConn. The company hires students on each campus. Typically, I work with a lot of the Greek organizations, our biggest customers on campus. I’m my own manager. Plus, because it is remote, I can do it from my own laptop and market through social media.

“I also came up with the design (for sweatshirts, t-shirts) and market it in Milford with people I know,” she said. “I send my designs to University Tees’ graphic designers in Ohio. I get it back, approve it, then handle pricing, sizing and marketing.”

THE NEW NORMAL

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected life at UConn.

“In my sorority, 140 girls, all events are now virtual,” Thacker said. “Sorority rush was virtual. Sisterhood events that were held last year are now virtual. It is not possible for us all to be in one place.

“Rush is 4 days usually. It would be in person and each girl would go to each sorority for a certain amount of time each day and get to meet the girls (speak with 2/3 girls). This year, everything was Zoom. At the end, sororities send out bids and it is up to each girl whether they accept or not.”

Campus life has changed as well.

“UConn does a good job with everyone wearing a mask,” Thacker said. “Students are being safe. We have had cases, but not like a lot of school down South. I believe we will be able to take classes through the end of semester. Everyone is being more cautious on campus, with so many people in such a small area. You have to limit how many people you see.”

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com Twitter: @blox354