Meet Fernando Alfonso III, a senior supervising editor at NPR and an Adjunct Faculty Member at Morehouse College. He is a UConn Alum form the class of ’09 graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English. Fernando then went on to get his Master of Arts in Magazine, Newspaper, and Online Journalism from S.I Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and his Doctor of Philosophy in Mass Communication/ Media Studies from the University of Kentucky. The Center for Career Development sat down with Fernando to hear more about his experience as a first generation student and how that has impacted him throughout his career!
How have you gone about advancing in your career (promotions, salary-negotiations, switching careers, etc.)?
In my pursuit of advancement in the news industry, I’ve adopted a multi-faceted approach that combines honing my skills, building a robust professional network, and demonstrating a proactive attitude toward opportunities. I’m constantly learning and developing new skills. Staying updated with the latest trends in journalism, multimedia production, and emerging technologies has allowed me to contribute effectively to every organization I’ve worked for; which have included newspapers, online news companies, magazines, and two of the most influential broadcast and radio organizations in the country (CNN and NPR).
At the heart of how I’ve been able to advance my career through promotions is by constantly seeking out challenging assignments and bigger responsibilities. This proactive approach not only showcases my commitment to the field but also highlights my capacity for independent decision-making and problem-solving. I make it a point to maintain open lines of communication with supervisors and colleagues, fostering a collaborative and constructive work environment. I also make sure that my achievements and contributions are well-documented and well-communicated. I maintain a portfolio of my best work with metrics and impact assessments to showcase my value to the organization. This tangible evidence provides a strong foundation for discussions about career progression, which I have quarterly.
How was the experience of networking for you, and how have you maintained these connections?
Networking has been an integral part of my professional journey, and over the past decade, LinkedIn and various social media platforms have served as invaluable tools. Actively engaging with these platforms has allowed me to connect with a diverse range of professionals across the industry. Additionally, maintaining a database of contacts dating back to my early days in the news business in Syracuse, NY, has been crucial. This database serves as a rich resource for staying in touch with former colleagues, some of whom have become long-term collaborators and mentors.
Consistency is key to maintaining connections. I make a concerted effort to engage with my network by regularly sharing insights, congratulating achievements, and initiating conversations about industry trends. I also attend conferences and industry events to foster face-to-face relationships, further solidifying these connections. By leveraging both digital platforms and personal interactions, I’ve cultivated a robust professional network that continues to be a source of inspiration, support, and collaborative opportunities in my news career.
What challenges did you face as a first-generation professional when determining your career path?
I grappled with the weight of familial expectations rooted in a strong emphasis on academic excellence. My Colombian heritage instilled a deep sense of purpose and drive in my family. Witnessing their dedication to learning was both a source of pressure and a profound inspiration for me. It instilled a sense of purpose in every academic pursuit I undertook, especially considering the formidable challenges within the competitive news industry.
Choosing a career in journalism meant embracing an uncertain and highly competitive landscape. The industry demands adaptability, resilience, and a nuanced understanding of rapidly evolving media platforms. The pressure to succeed was not only self-imposed but woven into the very fabric of my upbringing, with an understanding that excellence was the key to transcending barriers. Navigating this uncharted territory required a heightened level of determination. It meant confronting the realities of a demanding field with a fervent dedication to honing my skills and a keen awareness of the industry’s complexities. Through unwavering effort and a profound respect for the challenges at hand, I forged my path, striving to meet and exceed the standards set by those who paved the way before me.
What First-Gen related resources do you recommend pertaining to higher-education and career development?
For first-generation individuals pursuing higher education and career development, there are several valuable resources available:
- Professional Associations and Networks: Leverage professional organizations like the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) and local journalism groups. They often have mentorship programs or events where you can connect with seasoned professionals who can offer guidance and support.
- Online Communities and Forums: Platforms like LinkedIn, Reddit, and Facebook have groups dedicated to first-generation students and professionals. These communities offer advice, share experiences, and provide a space for networking.
- Scholarship and Financial Aid Resources: Websites like Fastweb, Scholarships.com, and the College Board’s Scholarship Search can help first-gen students find financial aid opportunities to ease the burden of education costs.
- Research and Reports: Studies like the Pell Institute’s “Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States” and the Center for First-Generation Student Success’s publications provide valuable insights into the challenges and strategies for success for first-gen students.
How have you learned to create a work/life balance within your field? If any?
As of September 2021, burnout among reporters in the news industry was a well-documented concern. Long hours, tight deadlines, exposure to traumatic events, and the demands of the 24/7 news cycle contributed to high levels of stress. A survey by the Reuters Institute found that 70% of journalists reported feeling somewhat or very affected by work-related stress. The pandemic further exacerbated these challenges, with journalists facing additional pressures in covering the crisis.
As such, I make self-care a non-negotiable part of my routine. Regular exercise, proper nutrition, and sufficient sleep are vital for sustaining mental and physical well-being. Engaging in activities outside of work, such as hobbies (mine include cycling, letter writing, travel) or spending quality time with loved ones, provides a necessary reprieve from the demands of the newsroom.
Furthermore, I’ve learned to establish boundaries with technology. While staying connected is crucial, setting designated times for email and digital communication helps prevent constant accessibility, allowing for dedicated periods of rest.
Was creating personal and professional boundaries within the workplace difficult? How did you navigate doing so?
Working from home in the news industry has indeed become a prevalent mode of operation, and it comes with its unique set of rewards and challenges. According to a 2020 Gallup poll, 59% of U.S. workers were doing their jobs from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This shift inevitably blurs the lines between personal and professional life.
Creating and maintaining boundaries in a home-based work environment was initially challenging, but it became crucial for my well-being and productivity. I established a dedicated workspace separate from personal areas, which psychologically signals when it’s time to switch into work mode. This was supported by a survey conducted by Stanford University, which found that having a designated work area at home improved productivity and mental well-being.
Setting clear work hours was essential. I adhered to a structured schedule, which included regular breaks and a defined end-of-day routine. Furthermore, I communicated my availability to colleagues and supervisors, establishing clear expectations regarding response times. This ensured that I could maintain a healthy work-life balance.
What advice would you give to a student beginning an experiential learning program such as a full-time internship or job-shadowing?
When embarking on an experiential learning program like a full-time internship or job shadowing, I would strongly advise leveraging both merit and connections. Drawing from my own experience as an undergrad at UConn, where I secured internships at Hartford Magazine, Hartford Courant, and the Journal Inquirer, I found that a combination of academic excellence and networking with professors in the news industry was instrumental. Strive for excellence in your studies, as it opens doors. Additionally, foster relationships with professors who have industry ties—they can offer invaluable guidance and potentially connect you with opportunities. This dual approach of merit and connections significantly enhances your chances of securing a meaningful and rewarding experiential learning experience.
Did you ever find yourself or anyone you know going back to school for additional training or certification to advance your career opportunities? Would you recommend it?
Yes, I can certainly relate to the idea of seeking additional training to advance your career opportunities. As an English major at UConn who stumbled into journalism, I was determined to build a solid foundation in the field. Despite landing three internships at a magazine and two newspapers during my university years, I felt I needed further preparation before entering the professional world. Moreover, the industry was facing significant challenges due to the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008, making the job market highly competitive.
This led me to pursue a minority fellowship at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, which included a one-year full-time reporting position with an Advance Company newspaper. This experience provided me with invaluable skills and knowledge that I still draw upon today.
Additional training not only allows for a deeper understanding of industry trends and practices but also provides access to valuable networks and resources. Moreover, it demonstrates a commitment to professional growth and a willingness to adapt to changing demands.