Spotlight on NU Alums and Journalists Joshua Maloni, ’01, Deandra Modica, ’10, and Jessica Garfinkel, ’10
March 29, 2012 by Tiffany Hyman, '12
Motivational speaker Sydney Wood once said, “An educated man is one who can entertain a new idea, entertain another person and entertain himself.” Niagara University alumni Joshua Maloni, ’01, Deandra Modica, ’10,
and Jessica Garfinkel, ’10, know just how important and essential a superior education is to one’s success. These three alums have a lot in common: they all graduated from Niagara, went on to graduate school at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, and are currently journalists.
In a recent interview, they reflected on their experiences as undergraduates at NU, graduate students at SU, and professionals in the media industry.
Josh, Deandra and Jessica came to Niagara in different ways, but all say that the university was the best fit for them.
“NU wasn’t my first choice, but it became the best choice for me,” Josh said. “I decided to study out of state, and I discovered it wasn’t the best fit for me. So I returned to Western New York so I could regroup, and when I
started at Niagara, I quickly found it was what I was looking for in a college.”
“I took a tour at NU and decided it was right for me,” Deandra said. “I went to Sacred Heart for high school and I really liked the size, so I sort of felt at home at Niagara. I looked at Canisius and UB and I knew I was going to stay local, but I’m glad I chose Niagara.”
“I chose NU firstly because it was close to home; the campus felt welcoming, and the classes were small,” Jessica said. “Personal attention in the classroom was super important to me, and I knew it was a big deal at Niagara.
Their paths to their media careers were different, as well. Josh and Deandra were English majors, and Jessica declared a communications major after participating in the university’s Academic Exploration Program.
“Niagara gave me an opportunity to gain real-world, hands-on experience in the print journalism industry,” said Josh. “At Niagara, I was able to work and grow with the Index (Niagara’s student newspaper), and in my senior year I created a magazine through the Index.”
“I declared an English major and a minor in writing studies,” said Deandra. “I created a website for the English department for my honors thesis to assist English majors with their graduate school and career planning decisions, and I feel like that project helped prepare me for Syracuse.”
“When I was a freshman, I struggled a lot with what major was right for me,” Jessica said. “I enjoyed writing, pop culture, and the creative process – so communications it was!”
The three alums spent their four years at NU working on their schoolwork, joining various clubs and, of course, spending time with friends. They each shared their fondest memories.
For Josh, it was working on the Index for two-and-a-half years.
“I was the editor-in-chief junior and senior year,” he said. “The Index allowed me the opportunity to write for a real publication under the tutelage of a real newspaper reporter and learn how to edit and create content that is appealing to an audience.”
His favorite part of the Index was creating the “20 Most Intriguing Students” magazine.
“It was a fun project for me and my staff, the faculty and administration. And it really paid tribute to the students at NU who were making the most of their time on campus,” Josh said.
Deandra joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society and enjoyed spreading the Vincentian message to those in need during a B.A.S.I.C. (Brothers and Sisters in Christ) service trip.
“One of my fondest memories was when the comedian Demitri Martin performed at Niagara. My friends and I were big fans of his stand-up, and I reviewed the show for Buffalo.com. However, the service trip I took my junior year was even better. We went to Philadelphia in February and I had the opportunity to meet people I didn’t normally have classes with. It was great, because we did all the fun, touristy things during the trip, but we also worked with a lot of people in the community. My favorite part was spending time with children at a nearby elementary school.”
“I swear I’m not brown-nosing, but, honestly, the faculty (are my fondest memory),” Jessica said. “Every class I took was that much more enjoyable because the professors enjoyed teaching. Having teachers I could talk to made all the difference, and I still stay connected with a few of my former professors.”
After completing their four years at NU, the alums wanted to continue their education and applied to the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, one of the most prestigious J-schools in the country.
“The program is one full year,” Josh explained. “They start you with boot camp. It’s a six-week program during the summer. The first half of the week, we had AP Style quizzes and articles due each night. They told us to go out and find five sources for a story and turn it in that night.”
Following boot camp and two regular semesters, Josh was chosen to serve as one of four editors on the class capstone project. The students created a full-color, glossy magazine detailing tourism in Central New York. At the conclusion of the project, “The chair of the department told (the editors) we raised the bar for future classes,” Josh said. “I’ll never forget that.”
Deandra appreciated the opportunity to focus on the arts and immerse herself in journalism classes. “It was a whirlwind experience,” she says,” but I graduated with more skills, professional contacts, and new friends than I anticipated. Everyone at Newhouse is hard working and it was a wonderful atmosphere to be in.”
Jessica decided to attend Syracuse when she narrowed her career focus to television work. “Niagara gave me a very strong background in the theoretical study of the media, but after taking the video production course, I knew I wanted to get more of a hands-on education in the technical side of the TV industry. Syracuse’s program struck me because it has a very customizable curriculum, allowing you to study as broadly or as specialized in the different areas of the industry as you want.”
“I was a television, radio, film major,” Jessica continued. “The program prepared me for a career in television by giving me a well-rounded education. I took hands-on classes that taught me technical skills.”
After graduate school, Josh and Deandra searched for jobs in the Western New York area, while, Jessica, a Lewiston native, spread her wings and landed a job with MTV in New York City.
Josh is the entertainment and Web editor for Niagara Frontier Publications, a newspaper group that serves the Lewiston, Town of Niagara, Wheatfield, Grand Island, Newfane and Niagara Falls communities. He paginates the company’s two largest newspapers, and also builds NFP’s website, www.wnypapers.com.
“We’ve gotten really good responses to our news site. Our readership grew 270 percent from 2010,” he said.
Josh is also known for is his entertainment reporting, and has interviewed about 300 celebrities, including TV stars Simon Cowell, Jimmy Fallon, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Kiefer Sutherland. He’s also worked with musicians including Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, Joan Jett, Our Lady
In addition to his full-time job with NFP, Josh teaches two journalism classes at NU: freelance writing and specialty journalism, and is the faculty advisor for the Index.
“I think the communications department now is really top-notch, and I couldn’t be more impressed with Dr. Barner, Dr. Murphy, Dr. Churcher and Dr. Tewksbury,” he said.
Deandra is currently a freelance journalist in Buffalo, but she has plans to eventually make her way to a new city.
“I’m freelancing for Buffalo.com and am working on my first piece for Buffalo Magazine. I would love to move out west at some point in my career, maybe Colorado, because I had a great PR internship in Aspen this past summer, but I also love Boston. There are a lot of opportunities in the media industry, but it can take some time and networking to get where you want to be,” she said.
After grad school, Jessica moved to one of the biggest cities in the country. She is currently the executive assistant to the vice president of talent/casting and senior development consultant at MTV Series Development.
“I got really lucky in landing this job,” she said. “I had just finished an internship in the development department three weeks prior. I knew one of the assistants had gotten a job at another network and the department was looking for someone to replace her, so I applied. But I really didn't think anything would come of it, because I was fresh out of school. But timing is everything, and they needed someone immediately. I got a call on a Wednesday asking if I could start on Friday. I packed my suitcase, and the rest is history.”
Josh, Deandra and Jessica have much to be proud of: Their hard work and commitment at Niagara and Syracuse paid off, and they now have jobs in their chosen industry.
“Wherever we go and whatever we do with our careers, we’ll always remember and appreciate the training and support we received at Niagara University,” Josh said.