“If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.”

Those are words Reynolds School Student Suthida “Bo” Khongkhatitham lives by. Often repeated by her mother throughout her childhood, Khongkhatitham argues that it is this phrase that led her to apply for, and win, a 2014 Associated Press Television and Radio Association (APTRA) Award.

Khongkhatitham’s winning audio story, With a Pinch of Gratitude, first published on the Nevada Media Alliance website in December of 2013, was originally produced for Professor Nico Colombant’s Journalism 323: Radio News & Production course. Dubbed the “enterprise assignment,” the goal of the project was to combine all the components of audio students practiced throughout the semester into one, cohesive piece. Khongkhatitham attests to how beneficial Colombant’s direction was throughout the production of her final story.

“He is very knowledgeable and really passionate about his craft. I can totally see that when I’m in class,” Khongkhatitham said. “He gave all of the students in class advice about how to be creative in getting sound bytes for your story.”

The piece, which won “Best Feature” in the APTRA Student Radio Category, features an interview with Scott Cooksley, a once-homeless Reno resident who now manages the St. Vincent’s Food Pantry. Crowned Miss Reno in 2013, Khongkhatitham has always been involved in philanthropy, an interest that helped her find the story.

“I’ve always been big in community service, so I wanted to do something to get people to donate food during the holiday season, but from a different angle,” Khongkhatitham said.

And a different angle is exactly what she found. A former-homeless man turned Food Pantry Manager was a story that even Khongkhatitham couldn’t believe she stumbled upon.

“I didn’t know he used to be homeless at first,” Khongkhatitham said. “But once I started talking to [Scott], I knew he was my subject. I just sat there and let him talk. Recording, listening, nodding.”

Khongkhatitham debuted the final piece at the end of her Radio News & Production course, a moment Colombant remembers well.

“I remember when we played the piece initially to the class last December, other students immediately loved it,” Colombant said.  “It’s extremely inspirational.”

One semester later, when RSJ Professor Kari Barber mentioned to her Journalism 421: TV News & Production I class that students could apply for APTRA awards (Associated Press awards that recognize excellence in broadcast journalism in 13 Western states), Khongkhatitham immediately thought of the advice she’d heard her mom utter over and over again throughout her years growing up: “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.”

With that and a vote of confidence from Colombant, who helped her clean up the piece “second-by-second” prior to submission, Khongkhatitham submitted With a Pinch of Gratitude. 

Months later, Khongkhatitham, who works as a Production Assistant for KRNV Channel 4, got a notification on her phone that her boss, Channel 4 News Director Matt McConico, had tagged her in a photo on Instagram. The tag turned out to be referencing the APTRA Best Feature award her piece, With a Pinch of Gratitude, won. Khongkhatitham received the official email from APTRA the next day.

“I am really honored and thankful because I didn’t expect to win,” Khongkhatitham said. “It’s a really big contest in the West. I thought my package was good, but I didn’t expect to win. I was really surprised and I’m very thankful.”

Khongkhatitham is on track to graduate in the spring of 2015 and, heeding the advice of her parents, plans to begin working hard to pursue her lifelong goal of reporting on the country music industry in Nashville.

“My parents always told me, if you want something, you have to work for it,” Khongkhatitham said. “I think that helped me a lot. When you don’t have your parents around to tell you what to do, you’ve got to have a backbone so that you can function in life.”