by Natallie Rocha
For a 13-year-old Paola Peralta, New York City was just a black and white piece of artwork that adorned her bedroom in Ontario, Canada. In high school, the city was just a tourist destination where she saw Broadway musicals on a class trip.
Now, as a graduate from the University of Central Florida, Peralta looked around her room at the monochrome painting of Times Square and other big apple decorations hanging on the wall.
“I always perceived New York as just like this movie or TV show type place and I never really thought about it as the birthplace of my career,” Peralta said.
The 21-year-old described her childhood bedroom as an homage to the, “greatest city in the world.” She smiled as she replays the phone call that led to her acceptance into the Dow Jones News Fund (DJNF) business reporting program.
Back in December, opportunity called and she answered.
Peralta was driving her dark gray Honda Civic home from work when she got the call.
She remembers a pang of annoyance as the unexpected call cut into one of her favorite podcasts. When she realized the interruption was actually the residency director of the DJNF business reporting program, Paul Glader, calling to offer her a summer internship in New York—she held back tears and tried to act casual as she thanked him.
The first person she called to share the good news was her UCF journalism professor who encouraged her to apply for the program, despite her own doubts of not being “good enough.”
“Paola can learn anything,” said Rick Brunson, associate instructor at the Nicholson School of Communication and Media (NSCm). “Paola just jumps in and is a ‘get things done kind of person.’ She has high expectations of herself and what makes her a great leader is that she has high expectations for the people around her.”
Peralta led the NSCm’s award-winning magazine, Centric, as Editor-In-Chief and credits Brunson—who advises the publication—for helping shape her career path in print journalism.
Brunson said Peralta “wears her heart on her sleeve” and he said that allowed her to overcome challenges in and outside of the newsroom.
Peralta attributes her work ethic to her parents, who immigrated from Colombia to Coral Springs, Fla. When Peralta was around the age of two, her father was deported back to Columbia, which catalyzed her family’s eventual move to Canada, where she spent her formative years.
Growing up as an American citizen in Canada, Peralta knew that she wanted to return to the United States for college. At the age of 17, she moved in with her older brother to finish her last year of high school in Jacksonville, Fla.
For most of her life, Peralta’s dream job was to be a lawyer. However, when she enrolled at the University of Central Florida to study journalism, her passion for defending vulnerable people and fighting for truth only grew.
Nevertheless, she shared how a big part of her college experience included her struggle to find balance with her mental health and her tireless work as a journalist.
At times, she worried about being too “late in the game,” but through her own determination and the support of her professors and friends Peralta landed three internships during her junior year.
“When she sets her mind on something, she is absolutely going to get it,” said Nicholson Student Media (NSM) News Editor, Marianna Wharry.
Peralta worked with Wharry as the assistant news editor for UCF’s student news website, and alongside a team of editors they would spend hours at coffee shops fine-tuning articles and keeping reporters on task.
Looking back on her DJNF internship offer, Peralta doesn’t even remember if the call interrupted an episode of The Jonathan Van Ness podcast or Pod Saves America. It didn’t take long after that phone call for her to book a one-way ticket to New York City and later declare to her friends, “I’m never leaving the city.”
In addition to her on-campus reporting experience, Peralta previously worked as a an editorial intern at Orlando Weekly newspaper, a web producer at WKMG-TV, a CBS-affiliated television in Orlando, Fla., and as an editorial intern for Absolutely London, a lifestyle magazine based in England.
Peralta graduated in May from the University of Central Florida with her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a minor in Political Science. This summer, she will be interning at Financial Planning and help with the editorial production of the magazine.
Peralta is one of four students from the University of Central Florida in the DJNF Class of 2019 and she will be living in New York City for the duration of the DJNF Business Reporting program.