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Journalism student wins prestigious award despite challenges

Maria Mendoza has worked her way up to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Award. | Photo Courtesy of Maria Mendoza

Broadcast journalism junior Maria Mendoza has dealt with Dyslexia her entire life, but through journalism, she propelled herself to success and earned the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Award.

The award itself is given to honor the best student journalists across the nation in several categories, including print, radio, television and online journalism. Mendoza writes, films, and edits reports, which has helped her earn the award as well as become an inspiration to her colleagues and professors.

“I always wanted to do journalism, (but it didn’t happen) until I got accepted to (the) University. That’s when I actually said this is what I want to do,” Mendoza said. “I was not even in the communication school. I was actually a Spanish major.”

Early introduction

Mendoza’s interest in journalism began on a childhood trip to Spain, where she witnessed a newscaster give a report. She told her mom, “That’s what I want to do when I grow up.”

“I grew up with news, seeing news, watching TV like Univision (and) Telemundo,” Mendoza said. “Even in the car, my dad put the radio on the News Radio. We always heard PBS. I can tell you one thing: going from school to home, walking in the front door there was some news channels on, and you’re like okay, what’s going on?”

This natural inquisition was nurtured by her parents, but not the school she attended. She spent many years in “resource classes,” also known as special education, which hindered her ambitions after high school.

“I was diagnosed [with dyslexia] when I was in elementary, but throughout elementary and high school, I kind of didn’t know what it was,” Mendoza said. “I think I could have gone to university after high school if I was put into academic classes, but I couldn’t because they said that I wasn’t on the same level as other students.”

Mendoza eventually made it to Lonestar Community College, where she said she worked twice as hard due to feeling like she was on her own. She went on to transfer to UH, where she found the direction she was seeking.

“I thought she was someone who was hardworking and dedicated to her studies, who would put in the extra time it took to try to get things right, and I find that impressive in a student,” said University of Houston lecturer and Houston Chronicle News Editor Charles Crixell. “Knowing that she also struggles with dyslexia, I now can see why some things are more difficult for her to master, and I am even more impressed by her work ethic.”

Current Endeavors

For the past semester, Mendoza has been working at El Gato Media Network, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to developing college students into communication professionals,” according to their website.

She has written a variety of stories on topics ranging from politics — including coverage of the March for Our Lives Rally in Houston — to profiles, such as an essay on Brazilian actor, host, producer and filmmaker Michele Capri’s dream of visiting the Louvre Museum.

“She was promoting her work. I thought, wow, that’s really impressive as a young, aspiring journalist who’s promoting not only their work with an outlet, which you do not see young journalists do at all,” said founder of EGMN Raymond Ruiz. “She was one of the very few that I collectively reached out to and said, ‘Hey, I would love to work with you.’”

Mendoza has recently won the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Award for Region 8, which encompasses Texas and Oklahoma, for her videography work on the Michele Capri profile.

“When I first met her, she didn’t know how to use a camera or how to edit a video. I still get messages with multiple errors,” said digital media senior Jamaal Jones. “But she has been fiercely motivated to work on her skills and constantly improve.” 

Many of Mendoza’s colleagues find her ability to talk to others without fear as her greatest asset.

These experiences and skills have empowered Mendoza to shed a light on her dyslexia and to help people with learning disabilities. She is in the process of making a series chronicling how her passion in broadcast has helped her deal with her condition.

“For those who have the same difficulties as me, keep pushing. There’s people out there who are willing to help you,” Mendoza said. “Especially if you want to talk about anything. It’s like, sit down, have a conversation, that’s how everything starts.”

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