Aniekan Okon ’23

A conversation with Aniekan Okon ’23 and Peter Gigliotti ’26, journalism and sports media & communication.

Aniekan Okon ’23, journalism and sports media & communication, was part of the inaugural class of graduates from the sports media program. From working as the sports editor for the Good Five Cent Cigar to being a Harrington ambassador and doing courtside broadcasting at sports games, Okon was a major contributor to the campus community during his time at URI. Today, he works as a Sports Anchor and Reporter at CBS19 News in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Why did you choose to study at URI?

In my freshman year, the Harrington School had just launched the Sports Media and Communication program. I just loved the idea of getting to be a part of something that was fresh and new. It was exciting to be able to build it up and make it something that was my own. Once I got to URI and learned about all the opportunities I had, I tried to just take advantage of every opportunity I could. That’s how I found what I really enjoyed doing was being in front of the camera, and I kind of just took it from there.

Why did you choose to study your majors?

I came to URI knowing that I wanted to end up working in sports in some capacity, but I wasn’t sure exactly what. I had played sports my whole life and had been involved in my student newspaper as a sports editor in high school, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue doing it in college, so I went in my freshmen year as an undeclared major. I decided to give it a try by joining the Cigar and ended up loving it and learning about how to write in a way I had never experienced before. And the community was amazing. It’s easy to stay somewhere when you enjoy the people that you work with.  Within the first couple weeks of my freshmen year, I decided that sports reporting was something I wanted to do long term so I declared sports media as my major. 

Once I realized the nature of the Harrington curriculum and how most people end up double majoring and sometimes triple-majoring, and my own personal desire to understand basic journalistic principles and ethics, I felt like it only made sense for me to add journalism as a second major. Now that I think about it, I’m absolutely grateful that I added journalism as a second major because I find that now, with my job at CBS 19, I’m tapping into the discussions that we had in my journalism classes and using them every day whether it is with basic ethics principles or news value when it comes to covering certain stories.

How do you use the skills you learned while at URI today?

I remember graduating college, leaving URI, and just being so lost and having no idea what was next. But [the companies I applied to] liked the fact that I had that base of experience, and honestly, I wouldn’t have gotten that base without my professors at the Harrington School. The Harrington School helped me take advantage of every opportunity that came up, and I even created my own opportunities. I knew I loved URI, and I think that’s clear to everyone. I’m not who I am without my experience at URI and experiences I had, whether it’s working with [the Good Five Cent Cigar] or with GoRhody and being able to cover a team for a full year, talk to coaches, and stuff like that. Heading to school gave me all of that. It gave me the confidence in myself to pursue and create opportunities for myself. 

What is your favorite memory from URI? 

My favorite memory was getting to cover the women’s basketball team because of the environment and the fanfare. The people who love the women’s basketball program are a big community. 

Not necessarily sports-related, one of my favorite memories was working at Welcome Days. They reminded me of why I came to URI. I got to show people all the cool things that URI has to offer and talk about my experiences there. I always tell people that URI is a hidden gem. URI is going to prepare you for whatever you want to do. 

What one piece of advice would you give students who are preparing to enter the workforce?

I would say be willing to get your hands dirty. You’re gonna have to get a taste of everything in order to figure out what you really want to do. I was in the Cigar, I did student radio, I did newscasts — but if I hadn’t tried all those things, I wouldn’t have figured out I loved being on camera doing reports and all of that. And I think that’s the biggest thing: get your hands dirty and be willing to do anything. Those little experiences will help you out in the long run. 

Another piece of advice I would say is, and this is so hard, I was definitely guilty of this over the course of my time at URI: don’t compare yourself to other people’s journeys. You don’t know what they’re going through, and also, it’s not healthy. You know, bigger picture-wise, as long as you work your way towards what your goal is, it doesn’t matter what the journey is like. I tried to make as much of it as I could, and I tried to use other people as a blueprint, but it was my journey, and that made it more special.