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Introducing the Class of 2020: Brandon Ruiz-Peña

The National Press Club Journalism Institute is spotlighting the next generation of journalists, students graduating from college or Master’s programs this spring into a challenging job market, in hopes they’ll meet future bosses and colleagues here, who will reach out and support them in building journalism’s future together. 

Name: Brandon Ruiz-Peña

School: University of Houston-Clear Lake

Location: Houston, Texas

Resume: Editor-in-Chief, The Signal

Awards: Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Crown Winner 2020

What have you learned from your involvement with student media on your campus?

Ruiz-Peña: Over the four and a half years I’ve spent working for UHCL’s student-run newspaper, I have learned more than I expected. Not just in how to hone my journalism reporting, but also about working with and leading others. Before working in student media, I was shy and reluctant about being a leader. As I prepare to graduate with my master’s in digital media, I am more confident as a person and in my ability to lead.

What have you learned from your internship experience(s)?

Ruiz-Peña: By taking on internships, I have been able to see how other aspects of the communication field operate. When seeking out internships, I wanted to not just focus on journalism but to build off of what knowledge I already had. That’s why I took internships in the public relations and book publishing fields. Since I was working already in student media as an editor, I wanted to get the most out of my degrees by expanding my understanding of how other industries operated and connected with journalism.

What’s been your best moment in journalism?

Ruiz-Peña: One of my favorite projects has been an annual 10 Most Fascinating People list which features members of the university community. I pitched the idea three years ago and we have done it ever since. After spending all year putting out stories that can range from good to bad news, or even critiques via editorials, this list allows us to end the year on some good news. It spotlights persons and teams who have put in the work and achieved something – big or small – that’s inspiring. I’ve also been able to interview those spotlighted to further tell their story beyond the achievements. 

What’s the wackiest story you’ve worked on? 

Ruiz-Peña: One of the oddest stories I’ve worked on was a satire piece revolving around the 2016 election year. Our university has the hawk as the official mascot, but previously an unofficial one was named Blockie – a block-shaped person with sunglasses. Additionally, that year, a chicken was residing at the apartment complex next to campus. No one was sure how it ended up there beyond it possibly belonging to someone. Long story short, I was tasked with writing the piece using the hawk, block and chicken as candidates running to become the official UHCL mascot. It was fun to write and be creative, and the headline got me an award from the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association. 

What do you want to accomplish in your journalism career?

Ruiz-Peña: Something I want to accomplish in my career is being able to tell stories that matter and can impact someone’s life. Awards are great and recognition for hard work is appreciated, but my time in student media has taught me that what matters most is having the ability to spark change. I’ve seen it happen at the university level with changes to processes and procedures. Yet, I also feel that good journalism can cause an impact and open minds, leading to productive conversations. I may not always be aware of this impact, but it’s what keeps me motivated to do the work.

If you could meet any journalist and ask for her/his advice, who would it be and why?

Ruiz-Peña: Barbara Walters would be someone I’d love to ask for advice from. For years, I’ve followed her career and would tune in to her televised interviews of an array of people. Watching her helped me to learn more about how to conduct an interview, how to ask tough but fair questions, and how journalism can still spotlight the good.

What do you want potential employers to know about you?

Ruiz-Peña: Over the last couple of years, I have gained skills and experiences that were unexpected. At the time, these were challenges that I had to figure out how to overcome. Whether it was my fear of public speaking or my lack of initial knowledge on a subject matter, I always strived to push forward to do the best work possible. Beyond that, I’m a very easygoing person who works hard and seeks help/guidance when needed.

When you aren’t practicing journalism, how do you spend your time?

Ruiz-Peña: In my downtime, I enjoy reading, catching up on drama shows and reality TV, writing, and just overall being a homebody. Which, at the moment, is kind of getting exhausting!

If you’re a senior studying journalism, or know one, we’re accepting information here for students to feature in the future. If you’re a supporter, you can contribute here to scholarships for journalism students.