Woman holding microphone in front of camera

Cronkite School student's false start turns into strong ending


Marshall Terrill

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates.

Cronkite School senior Charlene Santiago had her eye on a film career when she entered college, but that all changed once she got a taste of journalism.

“I grew up watching my aunt who was a producer of entertainment news, not hard news,” said Santiago, a Puerto Rican native. “So I went into film. I had no news background whatsoever.”

When she arrived at Arizona State University four and a half years ago, she did some research on the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and found out they offered a broadcast news component. So she switched majors.

The transition and the basic coursework was tough for Santiago, who noted that English is her second language. But she stuck with it and got better. She took every job opportunity thrown her way, including stints with Cronkite News, Cronkite Noticias, Catalyst and the State Press.

It was while serving as a borderlands news reporter at Cronkite News her sophomore year that everything clicked for her.

“Coming from Puerto Rico, I wasn’t aware of all of the immigration issues in the United States and it was a real eye-opener,” Santiago said. “For me personally, it’s a way to stay connected to who I am.”

Santiago interned with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and La Estrella through the Dow Jones News Fund. She spent this past semester in Washington, D.C., as a broadcast reporter covering immigration issues for Cronkite News.

“News is exciting because every day brings something new and every story is important,” Santiago said. “No day is ever the same in journalism. It’s the best decision I ever made.”

Her hope is to become a producer for a Spanish news station and produce news-style documentaries. She’s off to a good start — Santiago recently landed a job with Telemundo Atlanta as a reporter. She starts Jan. 1.

Santiago, who is receiving the Cronkite Outstanding Undergraduate Award as she graduates in December, answered some questions about her experience at ASU.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study journalism?

Answer: I was always interested in production but never with a “news” angle. I can say, though, that I had an “aha” moment when I realized that I made the right decision to switch my major from film to journalism. It was during a protest of a mother who was going to be deported. That day I saw fear in her family's eyes as they hoped for their mom to come out of her ICE routine checkup. This touched me personally. The thought of uncertainty and putting myself in their shoes and thinking, “My mom could be deported,” was just unbearable. If there's something I can do to help, it's telling the story of people like them, who have their loved ones taken away.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU?

A: Immigration and diversity. My transborder classes were always my favorite ones. The professors I've had have many years in the field and know immigration both personally and academically. I enjoyed getting the chance to learn about other students' immigration stories and how and where their families came from. As a Puerto Rican I was naive of immigration and now thanks to ASU, I have better knowledge of this topic, both academically and personally as a Hispanic living in the U.S.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because I had family in Phoenix and I knew that would help with the adapting process as I came straight out from high school in Puerto Rico. Also ASU gave me financial aid to help me pay for school, which, as an out-of-state student, my dad and I knew it was going to be a big challenge and we are really grateful for the financial aid ASU gave us. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Take time to do what you enjoy. School can be overwhelming and can lead to a very unhealthy lifestyle, and it's important to always take the time to do something you enjoy at least once a week. Also, I would say, give yourself time. Things are not going to always work out in your favor, and college is about learning how to manage those situations where you think there's not an exit, where you think that you've messed everything up, but life goes on and although school might be a top priority for many of us, it doesn’t define us and there’s much more to life than just the academia. Self-love and self-care should be your top priority, and sometimes we tend to forget about this and over-prioritize school over our own well-being. So I would say, take care of yourself, while also allowing yourself to get out of your comfort zone. It's about finding a healthy balance of challenging ourselves while also recognizing our limits. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus?

A: The Cronkite News studio. Although I spent a lot of stressful moments there, I loved every time I would produce a show and learn from my experience. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Work as a television reporter at a Spanish newscast, and in the long run I want to produce documentaries. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: $40 million is not enough to solve any given problem in our planet, but if I had to target one problem that I could help relieve it would be health care, specifically for immigrants. Health care can be very expensive especially for families that lack a legal status. I think that health care, unfortunately, is very often (overlooked) and taken lightly, especially by Congress. 

Top photo: Charlene Santiago reports for Cronkite News in front of Capitol Hill. Photo courtesy of William McKnight