Nicole Thill, a journalism major entering her senior year at the University of Arizona, won the 2014 Student Writing Award for the Specialized Business Press. The award is presented jointly by the ASBPE Foundation and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC.)NicoleThill

Her winning article, written after a five-week study-abroad program in Costa Rica, was titled “Coffee Fungus Affects Small Farms,” and was targeted at Barista Magazine, which serves the international coffee community. In the article, Thill explored the devastating effects of coffee leaf rust, or roya, which had affected 65% of Costa Rican coffee last year, hammering one of the Latin American country’s main exports. She interviewed coffee farmers and experts there, including video of some interviews in her article.

Coffee cooperatives in Costa Rica, along with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, are working with farmers to catch the roya problem early and use fungicide properly, her article reported.

A native of Tucson, Thill was studying environmental reporting last year when the university’s program took her class to Costa Rica. She credits her professor, Lisa Button, with showing her an Associated Press news brief on coffee fungus in Central America. “I wanted to make it a local story, so I focused on coffee farmers in the town, Heredia, where we were taking classes,” says Thill. She interviewed farmers, local coops, and science organizations in Spanish. “I got to see first-hand what the fungus looked like on the crops, and hear about the toll it was taking on so many.” She adds, “I have always loved the storytelling aspect of journalism, and doing the piece reminded me of how powerful it can be to give a voice to those who deserve to have their story told.”

Thill, who also is a designer for the Tucson-based school’s newspaper, and plays trumpet in the Pride of Arizona marching band, is interested in newspaper work, but is looking more broadly for journalism positions. “I enjoy feature writing, news writing, environmental coverage, science writing, and would even like to give food/arts writing a try someday,” she says. Her award comes with $100, and a one-year membership in ASBPE, the American Society of Business Publication Editors.

The professional editor assigned to judge the category—which drew 10 entries this year—noted that Thill’s story “delves into environmental changes behind the problem, treatment options—none of which are inexpensive—and the help offered by the government and the local coffee producers’ cooperative.” A strong element of the article involved why “local farmers and agricultural officials were optimistic the problem can be prevented long-term, and are working to ensure best practices for future production.”

The educational ASBPE Foundation began cosponsoring the Specialized Business award in 2012. Previous winners were from Canada’s Ryerson University.