By Emily Leayman
Around this time last year, KU professional writing graduate Marianella Orlando did not get a letter in the mail from her dream graduate school, Columbia University. Instead, the school sent a brief email telling her to check her acceptance status online. She was already shaking as she logged in and was redirected by a second link.
There was her acceptance letter to Columbia Journalism School. Shedding tears and rereading it a few times, she realized it was true. When she told her parents, however, they did not act surprised, saying they knew she would get in.
“It’s such a competitive program,” Orlando said.
A year later, Orlando is in New York City finishing up her Master’s in Journalism and will graduate in May. She is completing her degree in one year rather than two. She said, “it’s really intense,” compared to a traditional two-year degree track.
Orlando remembers first wanting to go to Columbia when some of her fellow high school newspaper editors visited the school. Her teachers noticed that she showed an enthusiasm for Columbia and encouraged her to apply for graduate school.
Already having committed to KU, Orlando decided to get involved as much as possible while studying for her undergraduate in order to boost her resume.
She participated in several writing clubs at KU including being editor-in-chief of the The Keystone student newspaper, copy editing for Shoofly Literary Magazine, contributing to the Keystonia Magazine and being a mentor for professional writing majors.
“I really wanted to prove [to] myself that I had what it took to be an Ivy Leaguer,” she said.
She completed two internships before graduating from KU. In summer 2013, she interned at a New Jersey lifestyle magazine, HudsonMOD, and at Philadelphia Magazine in the fall.
Before heading off to New York, she received professional job experience too. In Feb. 2014, she was hired to work on websites with Hibu, a marketing company. However, she learned to cope with her first job loss when the company outsourced her whole department to India in April.
“I have never been so angry in my life. It was a wakeup call,” she said.
By then, Columbia had already accepted her, and she stayed at Hibu until late June, a month before heading to New York.
Originally a print journalism enthusiast, Orlando has grown to enjoy broadcast journalism after taking related classes. She regrets not participating in KU-TV or KU Radio during her time at KU, where she could have learned different media skills sooner. For her, learning technical radio skills was not as difficult as writing tight, concise radio pieces.
“In this field, you have to keep your options open,” Orlando said.
One of her favorite things about Columbia is the variety of international students. Orlando has friends in India, France and Australia. She soon recognized that there are students from countries she had never even heard of before; she realized her passion for learning about new cultures and other country’s style of journalism. One of her beats for classes at Columbia is the Indian community in Jackson Heights, Queens, N.Y.
“It shows that there are amazing writers all over the world,” she said.
She is the community life chair for Columbia’s Society of Professional Journalists and a chapter liaison for the school’s National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
Classes with topics such as deadline reporting, feature and magazine writing, audience and engagement have taught her the importance of social media and having skills in different types of media like photography and video. She has published a few of her articles for class, and a Wall Street Journal blog used a few of her photos of a Bollywood dance class.
Her reporting experience at Columbia differs from KU in regards to stepping out of her comfort zone. At KU, she often limited herself to talking with people on campus, such as students. Now instead of students, she may have to ask questions to people on the street.
She had learned from her job at Hibu, “I’d rather be out and talking to people than staring at a computer.” She prefers in-person interviews, something she is able to do a lot in New York with its plethora of available sources.
Orlando wrote mostly in the news section in high school and at KU. Now her interests have shifted to more feature writing, some of her recent beats being psychology and health.
Her ideal job is writing long-form journalism for a magazine, with beats such as lifestyle, entertainment, nutrition or health. At a job fair on Saturday, she had an interview with Health Magazine and may possibly pitch her current story assignment to the magazine.
Orlando said, “I loved my experience at Kutztown. I miss it so much.” Yet she enjoys reporting in New York, the “news capital of the world.”
“New York City just opens a lot of doors for journalists,” she said.
When she first applied to Columbia, she worried that going to KU might jeopardize her chances of getting into an Ivy League school. Now, however, she’s realized how valuable her experiences at KU were. When people talk about the big-name schools, she never hesitates to make sure KU is added to their list.