KOKOMO, Ind. — Persistence pays off for Indiana University Kokomo senior Samantha Thieke, who recently began her first broadcast journalism job, as a reporter for WLFI-TV, the CBS affiliate in West Lafayette.
"Now I have a career I'm proud of, and it makes me grateful I came to IU Kokomo, to get a college degree in my home town," she said. "I'm able to do what I want to do with my life, on my own terms. It's pretty neat to have a job, even before I graduate."
Her official title is multiplatform journalist, which she describes as "kind of a one-man band thing." Thieke shoots and edits her own video, writes her stories, and posts them on the station's website, along with reporting on the air.
"Most of the time, it's just me working by myself," she said. "That's the way the industry is shifting."
She is grateful for the opportunities she had on campus, including participating in Cougar News and leadership courses.
"I had thought because there wasn't a broadcast degree here, that I wouldn't be able to have a career in that field, but that's not necessarily true," she said. "It is more than possible to achieve your career goals with a general studies degree, and I am a walking example of that. IU Kokomo allowed me to earn a college degree in my hometown, where I had family to help me. I owe a lot to this school."
Thieke, 25, caught the news bug in high school, taking broadcasting classes at the Kokomo Area Career School, along with dual credit classes at IU Kokomo. She planned to take prerequisite classes on campus, and then transfer to a college with a broadcast journalism program, after she graduated from Eastern High School.
Her plans changed drastically, though, when she became a mother at age 20.
"Life happened," she said. "I put what I wanted to do on the back burner. I needed to stay in Kokomo, where I had family to help me take care of my son while I worked and went to school. I do feel like people who thought I had potential wrote me off as a statistic at that point, That's what kept me motivated to keep going towards my degree."
Setting an example for her son, Gabe, who is now 5, also motivates her.
"I want him to see that no matter what obstacles you face in your life, you can overcome them," she said. "When you have a child, your life is not about you anymore, but you do have to keep improving yourself, to make a better life for your child. I want him to be proud of me."
She took a few classes at a time, as they fit around her schedule with work and family obligations. Her journalism dreams seemed out of reach, though, with no broadcasting program.
A confidence boost from a significant weight loss pushed her to see how she could use her general studies degree to become a television reporter.
"I decided it was time to enroll full time, finish my degree, and get on with my career," she said."
She pursued internship opportunities, and beat out candidates from broadcast degree programs to earn one at WRTV 6, the ABC affiliate in Indianapolis. That experience confirmed her career choice, so she looked for another internship. This time, she garnered an opportunity at WLFI.
With graduation approaching, she started to worry about having to move far away to get a job. Her husband, Brandon, was willing to move, but she hoped to stay close to family.
"I just prayed God would open a door for us," she said.
Her opportunity came five weeks into her internship, when Thieke's supervisor encouraged her to apply for a full time opening at the station. She was both surprised and thrilled when she was offered the job. One of the requirements is that she lives in Tippecanoe County, so her family will move after she graduates.
Thieke is glad to see the finish line is sight for her college education, and has no regrets about the path she took to achieve her goal.
"Because of the way things happened, I feel I was able to grow and mature," she said. "I'm really proud of what I've done. It's taken me a little longer, but I'm going to have my degree, and I've started my dream career."
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.