Broadcast student surpasses obstacles and graduates early

Nicole Stone/Assistant News Director

Graduation was not just a one-day event for Yaneli Gonzalez, a dual-degree student who graduated early despite the difficult curveballs life threw her way.

Gonzalez graduated on Saturday, Dec. 16 with a Bachelor of Science in Communication and then again on Sunday, Dec. 17 for her second degree, a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations. Gonzalez additionally completed a minor in Italian language and culture as well as a certificate in European & Eurasian studies.

“It feels very surreal. I didn’t expect it to come this fast,” she said. “I didn’t spend the full four years in college and I had a lot of hiccups along the way that made me think that I was going to graduate late, even.”

During her freshman year in 2014, halfway through her first semester, Gonzalez received a phone call from her mom. Her father had been diagnosed with brain cancer and had a few weeks to live, the doctor said.

Her father lived for eight months. Throughout those eight months, Gonzalez juggled work, an internship and seven classes, on top of caring for her father.

“It was very difficult, because I went into FIU thinking it was going to be a smooth ride. My family, we are privileged in the sense that we’ve never had any big health scares or anything…” she said.

When her father passed, Gonzalez took a semester off. Coming back to her studies, she said, was difficult.

“It was hard to find that balance again, to get into that mentality of ‘I have to do this work’ because you deal with things like depression and many other things when a family member dies. Especially if it’s someone like your father and especially when you are 19,” Gonzalez said.

While her father’s passing and the surrounding circumstances made it difficult for Gonzalez to continue with the requirements for the Honors College, Lesley Northup, the Dean of the Honors College, along with a professor who had recently suffered the loss of her husband helped her get back on her feet, she said.

“A lot of people from FIU understood and were just happy to see me there, happy to see me push on and become what they said I would become,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez was thrust into the world of journalism as an eighth grader, transferring mid-year from another school and picking from what electives remained. There, in her journalism elective, she learned of Elizabeth Cochran’s story, or more widely recognized by her pen name: Nellie Bly.

Bly, an investigative journalist during the 1800’s, published an investigative piece where she posed as a mental patient to unearth the cruel treatment facing patients at Blackwell’s Island asylum who were discovered to be abused physically and neglected.

“Just hearing that story in eighth grade – in my first journalism class which I didn’t even want to be in – I was inspired and that always stayed in my head. As I grew up, I saw what was happening to newspapers. From that point on they started to decline. I started to think: what happens next?” Gonzalez said.

People, she said, are not willing to pay money for their news and many don’t even have the money to spend in the first place.

“It’s getting tough for the industry and I think we need a better business model for the entire industry, not just publication by publication,” she said.

This need for a better way to reach audiences is what drives Gonzalez forward in her career.

“I want to be part of that change while still preserving what I think is an integral part of journalism; which is telling stories that matter,” she said.

These stories, she said, aren’t always on the global scale, but can also be found in the very communities in which we live. For her, journalism is an agent of truth and information that people must look to to make important decisions in an informed manner.

Gonzalez started gaining experience as a young journalist through internships with publications such as the South Florida News Service where she acted as managing editor in August of 2017 and reported on the 2016 election through SFNS for The Miami Herald. Reporting alongside The Herald exposed Gonzalez to the experience of covering politics.

The switch from staff writer to managing editor at SFNS also provided her with invaluable perspective, she said.

“With this, I completely understand how other reporters feel, but also how other reporters feel about deadlines… I think that has made me a better journalist,” she said.

Currently, Gonzalez works with WLRN, an internship she began in late August. The opportunity has allowed her to grow as a journalist in radio, a sector she had never experienced.

“I first wanted to be a digital intern, so social media and web stories, because that’s what I know how to do like the back of my hand…” she said, “but interestingly enough, when I went to get references from professors, Professor Neil Reisner – if he could hit me upside the head, I think he would – he said: No! Why are you doing that? Do you actually want to do that? And I said, well, I know I’d be great at it. But technically I’d like to try to the radio position.”

Reisner, she said, inspired her to pursue the radio internship instead, despite her lack of experience.

“Don’t let them decide for you what you can and cannot do,” he told her, according to Gonzalez.

Two months after she submitted her application, Gonzalez received a call letting her know that WLRN was interested in interviewing her.

“I was glad I took Reisner’s advice because I wouldn’t have the experience I have now. I now know how to report and produce stories for the radio. Not only that, but it’s helped me hone my broadcast writing which is something that I didn’t get much from my classes…” said Gonzalez, whose track is broadcast journalism.

The WLRN internship has allowed her to travel to report on the conditions that continue to face Puerto Rico. She covered the coming together of several relief efforts in order to strengthen their impact in assisting the island. She said that this was the most memorable story she has covered to date because of the people she met and their own stories.

“I don’t think many people still in college have had that opportunity to cover something outside of the mainland. What really hit me was the people that were on that plane to bring aid to Puerto Rico, some of them were college students, just like me, in the middle of finals, who dropped everything to bring supplies.”

Among them, Gonzalez recounted, was an organizer who had to evacuate her mother and sister from the California wildfires just before coming to Miami to deliver supplies to Puerto Rico.

“It was not just the conditions that I heard from the doctors, it wasn’t just the evacuees and their stories, it was also the stories of the people who went to help,” she said. “It’s mind blowing.”

Gonzalez is currently applying for a reporting fellowship and a content editor position, among other positions. She hopes to work as a TV reporter and international correspondent in the future, reporting on the international relations between other regions of the world and the United States.


Photos courtesy of Yaneli Gonzalez.

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