“Where Are They Now?” Former Student Media leaders look back at FIU

Former Student Media leaders

Michelle Marchante and Nicole Stone/News Director and Assistant News Director

Student Media interviewed three former leaders to see what they’ve been up to since they’ve graduated FIU:

Maydel Santana was The Beacon's managing editor.

Photo courtesy of Maydel Santana.

Maydel Santana:

It was in a library room, with the TV in the background displaying Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, when a group of students created the first edition of FIU’s student-run newspaper, The Beacon, known today as Panther Press.

Maydel Santana was one of those students.

Santana graduated FIU in December as part of the Class of ‘91, with a bachelors in journalism, was The Beacon’s managing editor and was the first in her family to graduate with a college degree. She is now Assistant Vice President for Communication and Media Relations at FIU.

The same year that The Beacon took off, Santana also had her “big break” in the Miami Herald.

Santana had been working part-time at The Miami Herald since her first day at FIU as a freshman, but in the summer of 1990, the Herald asked her to write a ten year retrospective story on the Mariel boatlift. Santana herself came during the Mariel at the age of 11, so having the chance to write about it in first-person, Santana said, meant the world to her.

“The process of that story is very special to me because it’s very personal. I learned a lot, got to work with Liz Balmaseda and then it ended up as a big feature on the cover of the feature section,” Santana said.

Santana knew she wanted to be a journalist since high school, where she was the editor of her high school newspaper, and the Herald, she said, had been her dream job.

Leaving Miami never crossed her mind and when she graduated, she went to to work for El Nuevo Herald, the Herald’s Spanish counterpart. During her time at El Nuevo Herald, she was able to cover Hurricane Andrew, the rafter crisis of ‘94, and was given the opportunity to travel. El Nuevo Herald, she said, would always have a special place in her heart.

However, even though she had graduated, Santana said she always stayed in contact with FIU and its faculty. And then one day, she saw they had a job opening for Associate Director of Media Relations, she applied and her life took a different route. It was an unexpected but rewarding journey, she said.

“I feel like what we do at FIU makes a difference in the community,” Santana said. “We tell important stories that will hopefully inspire people to pursue education and take this gateway to a better life as a college graduate.”

Santana was promoted to Director of Media Relations in 2007 before becoming a VP in September 2017. She also returned to FIU as a student to earn her Masters in Science in Marketing and graduated with the master’s inaugural Class of 2016.

When Santana looks back at her memories of FIU, she remembers studying abroad in Spain, relaxing by the bay at the Biscayne Bay campus and her two favorite professors Bill Wright and Kevin Hall, but as an employee, working at FIU has become her “dream job.”

“There are so many individual opportunities and interactions with people who come to visit in addition to interacting with people already here, from amazing faculty to students you meet along the way,” Santana said.

Joel Marino, former Student Media Editor-in-Chief

Photo courtesy of Joel Marino.

Joel Marino:

For journalism alumnus Joel Marino, becoming a part of Student Media in the spring of his freshman year was the beginning of the journalism career he holds today.

“I owe everything that has ever happened to me in the journalism world to my time at Student Media at FIU,” he said.

His attraction to the field began after a trip to his home country, Argentina, during high school, where he witnessed the state of economic hardship befalling the country at the time, according to Marino.

“When I was in high school, I went one summer to Buenos Aires. My grandma was on her deathbed, so I went to see her. Argentina at the time was under a very, very terrible economic depression and I saw so many of my countrymen suffering, so many people who had been my own family suffering,” Marino said. “When I got back to the States, nobody was covering it, nobody was talking about it and I thought: ‘Wow. I live in the States and I don’t know what’s going on in my own home country?’”

Marino explained that he was inspired to foster discussion and bring light to the realities of people outside the U.S. through journalism.

“What other stories are out there that people aren’t talking about? That’s how I decided to go into journalism,” he said.

Marino began his journey in Student Media as a writer for sports, which he says is ironic since he isn’t a fan of sports.

“At the time, The Beacon, as the newspaper was called, was looking for sports writers and I just wanted to write so badly…”

He primarily covered women’s soccer. After a few months, he was able to switch to news, where he stayed for the remainder of his time with Student Media, soon becoming Assistant News Editor and later, News Editor – until he was fired.

At the time, his writing skills exceeded his editing skills. However, since editing is so important to news, he was removed from that position and was hired as Recruitment Editor, according to Marino.

From there, he became Content Editor, where his job was to teach younger writers how to write new stories.

“I learned a lot from that position and that eventually helped complement by my writing experience, by my teaching experience, I became a better writer,” he said.

After his role as Content Editor, Marino went on to hold the Editor-in-Chief position for a year before graduating in December of 2007.

The summer before his appointment to the Editor-in-Chief position, Marino was accepted as a Chips Quinn scholar and interned at the Ft. Myers News Press. The Chips Quinn Scholars Program promotes diversity and supports the efforts of upcoming news journalists by offering training through internships.

“It was the first time I was working professionally for a newspaper, before that, all the work I had done was with The Beacon [Student Media].” Marino said.

Because of the recession around the time of his graduation, his professional career began in local news journalism at the Sun Sentinel, where he stayed for three years, rather than in the “war-zone,” field-type journalism he was interested in as a young journalist, according to Marino.

“A lot of newspapers started cutting back on a lot of things because they weren’t making money, and one of the things they started cutting was international correspondents, so I realized that was not going to be a valid path for me, or at least a money-making path…” Marino said.

Marino now lives in Brooklyn, NY. He moved to The Big Apple eight years ago after deciding to leave his home state.

“I was in my early to mid twenties when I realized: this is nice. I enjoy the Sun Sentinel. I enjoy the work I’m doing, but I feel like having more of an adventure.” Marino said.

However, for Marino, it was not initially the New York fairytale that many young journalism students dream of.

“For the very first year [in New York], I could not find work. I applied everywhere, but again, this was a very rough time for the industry, so everybody was cutting [news staff]. Nobody was hiring.” Marino said.

Luckily, Marino was able to support himself through freelance work during this time.

“It was tough for a while. I’m doing well now… I have my own apartment, which a lot of people in New York don’t. I feel very lucky with that. I did the whole living with four people in a Brooklyn apartment thing, eating wrong for a while [and] looking for cheap dollar-slice of pizza places, but that added to the adventure,” Marino said.

He currently works as the senior Copy Editor at a media startup called Little Things, managing a team of copy editors.

Little Things is a publication on Facebook which focuses on providing what Marino called “positive and uplifting stories.”

Marino said that after having been a crime reporter and working the TV industry, he’s okay with editing positive stories and his previous experience as Editor-in-Chief has helped him in his current job, where he manages a group of editors.

“I remember my time as an Editor-in-Chief where I had to oversee all the different sections, come up with ideas for how to better manage the paper, my time, and the types of stories we’re covering,” Marino said. “Everything I learned about managing, which I’m using now, I learned at the school newspaper.”

Photo courtesy of Pablo Penton.

Pablo Penton:

Pablo Penton graduated with a degree in liberal studies in the Class of 2010, but when he first came to FIU as a freshman, he knew he wanted to work in the radio station, even if he wasn’t sure what to study.

Penton first began as a DJ, working rotation shows, but eventually moved on to having his own speciality show Audio Fossils, which focused on underground rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s. By the end of his sophomore year, he was selected to be the General Manager of WRGP, now known as The Roar.  

During his time as General Manager, he oversaw the final implementation stages of BBC’s radio transmission tower and also oversaw the creation of the radio’s news talk show, which has developed over the years to become the current Claw & Growl News and Opinion talk show.

He fulfilled the role of GM until Fall 2009, where he then went on to become the Webmaster, managing and maintaining Student Media’s website until he graduated. Once he graduated, he became Student Media’s Business Manager until he moved to Chicago for an interview with Apple. He became a Genius in one of their stores.

Pablo Penton and Ashley Russell, bother former members of Student Media, will be getting married.

Photo courtesy of Pablo Penton.

Once in Chicago, he reunited with Ashley Russell, a friend of his who had worked in FIU’s radio station as a DJ and then Music Director. Russell, Penton said, had left FIU to pursue film school in Chicago. Russell is now Penton’s fiance and they will be getting married in two months.

Penton currently works in Groupon as a Telecommunications Analyst, where he manages a variety of different tasks from the company’s network to the computer systems of their employees.

Student Media, Penton said, was his FIU experience.

“There are a lot of memories, but they all in some way involve either the radio station or Student Media in general,” Penton said.

And for those students who are still undecided on a major, Penton believes they should try everything.

“Take as many different classes that you can, especially in your first two years when you’re fulfilling your core curriculum; just dabble in a lot of different classes and see what makes you tick,” Penton said.  

About the Author

Michelle Marchante
Michelle Marchante is the 2018-2019 Editor-in-Chief of PantherNOW. Majoring in broadcast journalism, she lives and breathes web, print, radio and TV news 24/7. You can connect with her on Twitter @TweetMichelleM

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