Anyone who knows me or has looked at the bumper stickers on my Jeep knows that I’m an NPR nerd and an avid listener of our own college radio station, KAWC.
It was some years ago now that I first heard an uncommon, three-part name on that station – Maya Springhawk Robnett. The voice belonging to that name was that of a serious-sounding young woman, her words clear, concise and direct with a great vocabulary and wonderful diction.
As I remember it, I had turned the radio on at the end of a story and at the time was preoccupied with something I was working on. Later, I tried to remember what show I had heard her on – National Native News, perhaps, given that unusual middle name.
The next time I heard her, she signed off as a reporter for the statewide journalism collaborative known as the Arizona Science Desk, so I assumed that she must be from Phoenix or Tucson or Flagstaff. I soon realized that she really was in Yuma, and for several years now I have enjoyed her stories on KAWC.
Against the grain
When I was hired on to KAWC as the host of Morning Edition last year, I found it interesting to meet all the voices that I have been listening to for years. Late one morning, as I glanced out of the FM master control room, a spot of blue passing in the hallway caught my eye.
The blue was the color of the short-cropped hair of a young woman wearing an eclectic mix of cool-funky jewelry, brightly colored shoes, a David Bowie t-shirt and glasses with those black Buddy Holly rims.
I was pleased to find that my mental image (mid-30s, conservative business attire) did not fit her appearance at all and our short conversation only furthered my curiosity. Here and there, I have had opportunities to get to know Maya, and I find her story to be even more interesting than I had anticipated.
Robnett, now 22, was home-schooled by her mother and came to Arizona Western College at the tender age of 14. She graduated with an A.A. in Studio Art and then went on to earn a B.A. in Mass Communication and Media Studies from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.
As for her uncommon middle name: her father claimed his heritage to be Mescalero Apache, and he insisted on reflecting this in the middle names of his children. Her siblings bear the middle names Redhawk and Whitehawk, based on their skin colors at birth. Due to a complication during birth, Maya’s own skin had looked blue, but her mother took issue with calling her Bluehawk, and Springhawk was the compromise.
Maya considers the most difficult aspects of her work to be two-fold. From a technical standpoint, she has had stories that resulted in as much as 12 hours of audio that then had to be synthesized down into three minutes.
“There are always going to be times when you’ve interviewed someone, and you thought, ‘This is the most important thing, I need to include this,’” she said, “and then you can’t include any of it because you don’t have the time, and to me it feels like a tragedy.”
On an emotional level, she says the most difficult part of her work is on occasion interviewing people about something traumatic that she wishes she could help with.
As an example, she told the story of a local woman who had married a Muslim and ended up owning a zoo with camels. When she couldn’t have children, he abandoned her, her husband went back to Saudi Arabia. Technically, she can’t serve him with divorce papers because he’s in another country, and she can’t legally sell the animals because they own them jointly. By now, she’s been running the zoo for 20 years and has learned to love it.
Among experiences she’s had in which she might have acted differently, she talked about when, as a 17-year-old station volunteer, she was working on a story about teen pregnancy but met only resistance. An administrator at an alternative high school had yelled at her over the phone claiming that there wasn’t any issue with teen pregnancy, that only one girl was pregnant out of 30 students. Maya had three pregnant friends at the time, so she knew it was an issue but couldn’t get anyone to talk to her about it so ended up having to drop it.
What is the most common misconception about her profession? “Fake news,” she laughed. Once she had called a small local police department that didn’t have a public relations officer. The deputy who answered the phone unilaterally decided that he wouldn’t let her speak to the chief or anyone else in the department simply because he believed that news organizations simply made up stories.
Heroes and dreams
Chief among her heroes in life is her mother.
“My mother might be a saint,” she said. “She home-schooled me and saved my life on more than one occasion.”
She also cited Oscar Wilde for his fearlessness at being himself. She also named KAWC’s news director Lou Gum because he got her into journalism, and also David Bowie.
Besides the profession she loves, though, she does have other interests. She has recently interviewed for law school at Georgetown University though she isn’t sure she wants to leave journalism behind. I am pleased to announce that Maya has been accepted to Georgetown with a full ride scholarship.
I mentioned a poster I had seen for a performance by two singer/songwriters consisting of a certain Jorge Paz and herself. She told me that she had been playing the violin since she was 4 and had later taken up the guitar.
“I play the guitar much worse than the violin, but I’ve been writing songs since I was 14,” she said – something else her mother had taught her.
Maya even has a copywrite on an album but hasn’t released it. She doesn’t really see music as something she would do for an income but more as a form of catharsis, like her other interests such as ceramic sculpture and drawing comics.
It turns out that the name Springhawk is only the tip of an uncommon iceberg.
Photo courtesy of Scott M. Gamble