Sheba R. Wheeler, 96BA, became a Pulitzer Prize-nominated reporter before the age of 30, and she did so by demonstrating solid "shoe-leather" journalism, tenacity, and tremendous grace under pressure. Practically straight out of the UI's School of Journalism and Mass Communications, this Temple, Texas, native landed a staff reporter position at the Denver Post, a paper with a circulation of nearly half a million.
Wheeler earned this distinction by telling people's stories-including her own-with detail and integrity. As a young girl who endured a childhood of poverty, family problems, and years spent cycling on and off public assistance, Wheeler possessed personal insight into the complexities of welfare reform. So when the Denver Post asked her-while she was still an intern in 1997-to provide a firsthand account of this experience, Wheeler transformed her pain into powerful words that resulted in a Pulitzer Prize nomination and a job offer from a paper with a history of hiring few interns.
The Denver Post recognized Wheeler's outstanding determination and talent, and she has used these qualities to speak for those who traditionally have not been able to tell their own stories. Covering a northeast Denver neighborhood that contains the highest concentration of people of color, she writes riveting stories of people, race, poverty, and housing issues.
Wheeler also has covered the police beat and worked in the Boulder city bureau. However, one of her most important assignments was covering the April 1999 Columbine High School shootings, for which the Denver Post's staff collectively won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for spot news reporting. As part of this coverage, Wheeler wrote about senior Rachel Scott, one of the first Columbine victims, and got to know Scott's family and friends during the course of telling their very painful story.
One of the ways in which Wheeler helped overcome her own difficult story was by attending the University of Iowa as a journalism major. She worked hard to get to Iowa, and while on campus, she always held at least two jobs and participated in everything from singing for Voices of Soul to writing for the Daily Iowan. Wheeler made the Dean's and President's lists numerous times and now regularly returns to the UI. She has been a professional-in-residence, helping teach other Daily Iowan reporters and journalism majors, and is the youngest member of the journalism school's Professional Advisory Board.
Though Wheeler has earned many awards for her work-in addition to being nominated for and sharing in a Pulitzer Prize, she also was named Print Journalist of the Year by the Colorado Association of Black Journalists in 2000-she remains humble and gracious.
Wheeler is a UI graduate who uses her skills and talents to cover the news—however hard it may be—with humanity and compassion.
Since 1963, the University of Iowa has annually recognized accomplished alumni and friends with Distinguished Alumni Awards. Awards are presented in seven categories: Achievement, Service, Hickerson Recognition, Faculty, Staff, Recent Graduate, and Friend of the University.