Where are you from originally? 

I was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. I come from a very fantastic family of five children. When I was about eight years old, we moved out of the capital to a city in the province called Barquisimeto. After I finished high school there, I moved back to Caracas to do my studies in advertising and marketing.

How long have you been in this country?

I moved to the United States in January of 2000 to improve my academic resume and also to learn English. I didn't speak English at that point in my career. I realized early on, working for international networks, that my professional growth was in jeopardy because I wasn’t able to communicate in English, besides the fact that I only had a technical degree in advertising and marketing. That was when I decided to move to the United States and achieve these two goals. 

I was able to accomplish much more than what I originally dreamed for. I learned English, did a bachelor's and a master's degree at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications, and got an amazing job in New York City right after graduation. 

Next January will mark 20 years since I moved to this wonderful country. It wasn't always an easy road, but I can't believe how fast the time has passed and how much I accomplished in that time.   

Can you talk about your jobs in Caracas?

I was one of the few people in my high school lucky enough to know very early in the game that I wanted to work with storytelling and visual media. I was always running around the house, producing my own homemade movies and TV commercials. So as soon as I got the chance, I started working. My first job was at an international advertising agency, making coffee and doing straightforward tasks. But I loved being there at that precious moment when the director said, "lights, camera, action.” That was priceless to me. I was working at this advertising agency at the same time I was going to school. One of my professors was the vice president/marketing for HBO (Latin America Group). I did a school presentation for him, and he was so impressed, he asked me: "Do you want to come work with me?" Of course, I said, yes. He has been my mentor for so many years -- great guy. What I learned during my time at HBO was the business of cable TV, consumers' research and behavior, and the development and production of new shows' cost-efficiency. 

How did you master English? 

At SU, they have what they call the English Language Institute. A lot of international students go there to learn it. I went there for six months to a year. I ate, drank and slept English every day. I forced myself to be in an environment where I was forced to use the language. It's the only way you can learn it. 

As part of my learning process, I got a job in one of the cafeterias of the university, making sandwiches to go. Now, work forced me to have to speak and listen in English. At first, it was difficult, but over time, my ability to understand and speak the language improved significantly. I always joke that luckily the sandwiches were to go; I can’t imagine how many customers went back to their house with a totally different sandwich than what they originally asked for. 

The beauty of the story is that I was actually the Honors speaker for my master's program graduation. My classmates voted for me, which was very sweet. They said, "We are voting for you because you are the representation of what the American dream is." I loved it! Only five years after my arrival to the United States, I delivered a full speech in English!

Where did you work after your master's degree?

I interned at MTV Latin America for my undergraduate program. Right after I finished my graduate degree, I moved to NYC to intern at Atlas Media Corp, where I was then offered a job as a production assistant. With Atlas Media, I had the incredible opportunity to work in projects associated with History Channel and National Geographic. 

Then, I worked for Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers, one of the largest non-profit organizations in the U.S., for almost seven years. I was responsible for producing and hosting a weekly Spanish syndicated radio show called "Voces de Nuestro Mundo," which was transmitted on 75 different Spanish radio stations nationwide. I also produced short documentary films on their incredible mission work in 32 different countries around the world. This opportunity was fascinating to me because I was able to travel to so many countries while I was working on something that I truly loved. 

However, producing these short documentaries wasn't always an easy task. My job was to capture on camera situations that generally we would reject because of the emotional effect those situations would have on us. I will never forget one time when we arrived in Lima, Peru, and our first assignment was to go directly from the airport to a landfill. Here, small children were looking for food in mountains of trash. I understood that my job eventually would improve the lives of these kids, but to be there and feel like you are not doing anything wasn't easy. 

These trips and the people I met have had a profound impact on my life. My perception of what is and isn't essential to reach the right level of happiness changed a lot. I have never met anyone who, despite their difficulties, can face life with so much optimism, joy and generosity towards their neighbors as those people in need. They taught me that happiness is, in fact, a state of mind.

Why did you move from New York City back to Central New York?

I moved back to the Syracuse area in 2013 for family reasons. My daughter Fabiana, who is now 16, lives in the area. For many years, my husband and I used to come every other weekend to visit her. At some point during these weekend trips, we started contemplating the idea to move to the area to be closer to her. 

For almost a year after we moved, I was very lost. For me, my job (in New York City) was part of who I was. My area of expertise is on Hispanic media. A lot of the documentaries I worked on were developed for the Spanish market in the U.S. This market isn't necessarily the most popular in the CNY area. So, I started knocking on some doors. To make a long story short, professor Michael Riecke of SUNY Oswego told me they were looking for an adjunct. Michael said, "Why don't you meet with Dr. Mary Toale?" At that time, she was the chair (of the communication studies department). I think we clicked immediately. I was hired and I totally fell in love with my new job.

What do you like about teaching SUNY Oswego students?

Everything! If destiny has put me here, it's for a good reason. I think I found my purpose in life. I can still work on what I love, which is visual storytelling. I also teach a future generation of video producers, writers and documentarians the craftsmanship of the business. It’s very rewarding. 

I see the potential in every one of my students. It's all about treating them fairly as a group, but also recognizing what makes them different as individuals. I do have a lot of respect for students at SUNY Oswego; they work hard and with a sense of responsibility. 

I tell my students constantly that their success in my class and in their future professions is a reflection of my success as a professor. My goal as a professor is not only to be sure that my students learn the knowledge and skills in the assigned academic curriculum, but to go beyond the theory and teach those professional values that will allow them to have prosperous careers.

What do you think of your fellow professors?

My colleagues have been incredible supporters of my work since day one. I have a lot of respect for their hard work and commitment to this institution. It is very refreshing to be working in an environment where you can see how we all are working towards a single common goal: the well-being and integral education of our students. 

I only wish we would have more time to get to know each other better on a professional and personal level. We are all so busy during the semester that it isn't easy to find the time to sit down for a good talk. We are trying to organize more social activities where we have a more relaxed time.  

And you and some students are working on a holiday special for TV?

Yes, students in all SCMA (School of Communication, Media and the Arts) departments -- music, theatre, art and communication studies -- and some students from cinema and screen studies are working on the special. In total, 45 students are working on the production of the show; this includes cast members, crew and musicians.

The SUNY Oswego Holiday Television Special is a 45-minute variety show in the style of classic shows, such as "The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour," "The Carol Burnett Show," "The Johnny Carson Show" and "Saturday Night Live," but with the flavor of the holiday season and the perspective of our own SUNY Oswego students. 

On Thursday, Dec. 5, we will have a Holiday Viewing Party to present the show to the SUNY Oswego community, and everyone is welcome.

Will the students producing the special be on a tight schedule when they return?

It's going to be very tight. We're going to have to work some weekends, which I know they are very willing to do. Some students were even working during the summer break, creating and producing things that should be done before the semester starts.

When will people on campus or in the community get to see the finished show?

We will have a viewing party to show campus before Christmastime. We hope to get someone in the profession here to provide feedback. Other big surprises about the show distribution are on their way but I can’t give too much information for now about them. Just stay tuned.

What else do you participate in on campus?

I'm a proud faculty advisor to the new Transgender and Queer Organization. They want to educate all students about the transgender community. We are planning to make a five-minute documentary film to present in classrooms. I'm also working closely with Dr. Serenity Sutherland on a paper that we plan to follow up with a documentary film, on how Hispanic media is changing Anglo popular culture. We want to educate about Hispanic communities in the U.S.

What do you like to do in your own time?

Spend time with my husband Shane, my daughter Fabiana and our three awesome pets. We play in the pool, we love to be outside, especially during the summer, in winter not so much. I am also a television addict; I love being able to discover new television shows, criticize them, study them and rate them. Traveling is also one of my biggest hobbies. We love exploring new places, meeting new people and learning from new cultures.