Nola Valente Spotlight - University of Houston
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Valenti student Nola Valente posing in front of a dynamic blue mural, smiling wide, with her arms crossed.

Nola Valente, Print Journalism

Nola Valente is no ordinary student, having switched from pre-nursing to journalism her senior year of college and still graduating on time. As a journalist and student, she knows all about hard-work and deadlines. 

These past two years have been a busy time for Nola: from interning in Israel with The Media Line to graduating and landing a job straight out of college at Community Impact. Nola made the most out of her time at the Valenti School, showing that a willingness to work for what you love truly does pay off. 

Valenti took a closer look at the behind-the-scenes of Valente (which is hilariously close to our own namesake), how Nola found opportunities to write articles both abroad and locally, and how her mentality has shifted after gaining even more experience in the workplace.

Nola Valente graduated with a degree in print journalism and is currently working at Community Impact here in the Houston area. 

You can follow Nola on Instagram (@nzvalente).

Interview Q&A

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

First, I have to mention this, your last name is so close to our college’s namesake—is this why you felt a calling to Valenti?

I’d actually never seen the name of the communication school until after I enrolled. I struggled with the decision of switching my major in my last year, so I took it as a sign that it was exactly where I was supposed to be to make me feel better about it. 

You changed your major from pre-nursing to journalism, what was it about journalism that attracted you to it?

When I started college I thought I wanted to pursue nursing, engineering and even international relations. I ended up doing pre-nursing because it was a noble career, but after two semesters of pre-nursing courses I was miserable. I decided to take some time off to think, and after five months of being at a crossroads, decided I’d pursue journalism my senior year.

You still graduated on time despite switching majors in your senior year? 

I had to take 18 hours every semester, but  yes, I still graduated on time.

That’s pretty amazing. And what are some experiences that have shaped your character?

Living in Paris definitely helped shape my character; that’s when I stumbled upon the idea of journalism. I knew I wanted to study abroad and keep learning French, so I enrolled in a program independent from the university. I did this right before senior year, when I took a break from UH.

Once I was there, I was surrounded by so much inspiration. People are in Paris because they’re pursuing their dreams—they’re pursuing careers as artists, writers, sculptors, etc. Being in that environment, I knew that I wanted to be as joyful as these people were.

A friend of mine asked me what I would do if I could do anything without worrying about money, and I told her I would tell stories. Journalism was the closest thing I could pursue to achieve my goal of connecting people through writing.  In Paris, I learned how to let go of certain stressors that are more prevalent in the U.S. so that I could pursue what I loved.

What has been an experience that has shaped you professionally? 

Making mistakes has shaped my professional character; you learn how to be more open and communicative. At my job, everyone is very growth-oriented. Every month we have meetings where we get feedback, and learning to listen and learn from the feedback is a priceless skill. Other things that have been pretty crucial in the past few years are learning how to give other people feedback, as well as stand up and speak up for myself.

And what has been some of the feedback you’ve most learned from?

The biggest one is communication, ironically. I am a writer, so I express myself better through writing. Especially because I’m a bit of an introvert—it was always just me with my writing when I was a student, but in the professional world you have to communicate with other people and let them know what, how, and why you’re doing what you’re doing.  I have had to sharpen my verbal communication skills and I still continue to do so every day.

What are some experiences at Valenti that have most influenced your decision to pursue journalism?

Once I decided I wanted to pursue journalism, I came back and thought to myself, ‘How am I going to do this?’ It was my senior year, classes were all booked and I had to graduate on time. Once I was here, the professors made the biggest difference. They genuinely wanted to help me, and wanted to see me succeed. 

The first one that impacted me was Charles Crixell— I’d never met someone so passionate about grammar! It was amazing to see that you could really get into the weeds of an article. To be completely honest, I had never been a good writer—so Crixell’s class was intimidating, but he just made it so much easier.

I also had a professor who was a reporter for the New York Times , Michelle O’Donnell. The one thing that stayed in my mind was her saying something along the lines of, “I would rather be poor and living in [New York City] and seeing my byline in the New York Times , than being relatively comfortable reporting in a medium-sized city.” It really spoke about her passion and willingness to pursue what makes her happy. As an aspiring journalist, I also needed to hear that because I constantly heard that journalists didn’t make any money and there weren’t many jobs for us out there. It gave me reassurance.

Another staff member was Dr. Temple Northup; he’s a big part of my success here at Valenti. He was always willing to help me, and even was the one who helped get me to Israel for my  internship at The Media Line . In fact, the internship was actually meant to be in Texas, writing remotely, but I wanted to go to Israel and intern in the newsroom there. It was Temple who connected me with the CEO of the newsroom and who helped me spend my summer in Israel instead. 

Can you speak about your experience working at The Media Line during your time at Valenti? 

I am interested in Middle East affairs, and I knew there were certain conflicts and war, but I never really knew why they were happening or how it all worked. All I knew was that felt for the people suffering displacements and violence, and that I was willing to learn.

When I arrived in Jerusalem, I was very excited to learn as much as I could. This was literally my dream job—I was in the Middle East reporting on the subject I was most passionate about. As soon as I walked in, someone put a cup of coffee in my hand and we were off to the morning meeting where people began pitching their story ideas. They kept throwing out terms like hamas and hezbollah , and I was so lost. There was a lot to catch up on.

It was a great learning experience. I learned a lot about the inner workings of conflicts in the Middle East. Also, the president and CEO of the Media Line, Felice Friedson, was very influential because she mentored me to be a stronger, more confident journalist. I am naturally more reserved, but she would coach me to be more assertive.

When I came back to Houston after the internship, some friends said I seemed different and I did feel different. I felt more confident as a journalist and as a woman.

How did your work in Israel influence your work and outlook?

It taught me a lot about how journalism works. You don’t really think about how difficult it is to be a journalist in the Middle East especially, reporting on topics that are so complex. Getting in touch with sources in surrounding countries is difficult due to political tensions, too. I figured out the type of lifestyle I would have going that route. As a reporter you work long hours and wake up in the middle of the night if there is breaking news, and you definitely have to make sacrifices.

Would you say this is no longer your dream job? 

Writing is my passion and I certainly want to keep honing my craft, so I would still consider an offer abroad, but I would pause to consider the type of lifestyle I would like to have a little more now that I know the less than glamorous aspects of the job. It would depend on the country, living arrangements available, company, etc.

You have also been working as a writer for the Community Impact newspaper in Katy since March; how has your experience been so far?

It’s been great. I have learned so much, and the people there are so amazing and very community-oriented. I’m basically a data journalist because every month I have to write one of the cover stories. My editor and I divide the stories to be published in the paper each month and tackle them over a few weeks. The lead story has to have a lot of data, which I didn’t like at first, but it has been so helpful in learning to work with graphics and translating numbers to words.

Do you think data journalism is especially important now compared to the past?

I think so. It makes the story a lot more relevant, especially since people don’t spend much time reading anymore. If you have graphics and data that can grab people’s attention, your audience is more likely to continue reading the story. Visuals, compelling photos and shocking statistics make the story interesting and easy to understand.

Do you think Valenti has helped you get closer to that dream? 

Oh, for sure. I owe the opportunity to work in the Middle East to Valenti.  The students I met here and the professors, again, were very influential. Everything I learned here, even if it was only one year, shaped me as a writer.

Finally, you talk about being a global citizen on your Twitter, how do you think this outlook influences the type of work you do as a journalist?

This makes me constantly challenge the status quo. I want to learn more languages such as Arabic, Mandarin, Russian to connect with as many people as possible. If I could learn every language in the world, I would. Being more open-minded, traveling and living in different countries (even if it isn’t easy to live there)—these are all things I relentlessly pursue.

For example, living in Israel for nearly three months was a little difficult for me. It was the polar opposite of the U.S. or any other country I’ve experienced. It took some getting used to, but it was a great learning experience.

Why do you think that this willingness to connect with others is so important to you?

I’ve asked myself this question a lot, too.

I think that, as humans, when we go through a tough time, it’s easy to feel isolated and misunderstood. If you think about the difficult times you and I have gone through, they’re not going to be the same difficult times that a child born in the civil war in Syria has. We all suffer in our own ways, but I’m so passionate about it because I want everyone to know they’re not alone. My goal with writing and telling stories of people who are suffering through injustices is to either reach influential people who can help these communities or for a story to reach someone in a different part of the world who can identify with it and know they are not alone.

You can find Nola’s articles at Community Impact , The Media Line , and Medium .