Kristie Gonzales on The Power of Mentoring

There are thousands of TV stations across the country, but only 16.5% of them have female general managers, and very few of them are minorities since less than 8% of all general managers are minorities. One of these talented women is KVUE-TV President and General Manager Kristie Gonzales. Kristie is a community leader who will tell you that her success is due, in large part, to having a mentor.

“Mentors have had a huge impact in my life,” said Kristie. “Those of us who are in leadership roles in this business have had a lot of people who have opened doors for us, lifted us on their backs, and made the difference in our careers. If I hadn’t had mentors early in my career, there’s no way I’d be sitting where I am today.”

Kristie started her professional life as a college student working as a production assistant for the local PBS station in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A straight-A student in high school, her favorite pastime was painting but she soon realized that that was not going to pay the bills. “I didn’t recognize my own potential. I was following the path of least resistance,” said Kristie.

“As a student, I wasn’t worried about money because I had a full scholarship, but then I graduated and started looking for a job. I’d always been interested in journalism and television, so I took a TV 101 class. The teacher was an executive producer at KNME-TV and he said, ‘You have a real knack for video editing.’ He then hired me for my first television job when I was 19 years old, and it was a paid position, which was rare. That experience was pivotal, and it is why I am sitting in the general manager’s chair now. Early on, someone saw a talent in me and changed my path forever.”

After graduating, Kristie got hired at a local news station in Albuquerque where she became one of the best editors despite facing enormous challenges in her personal life. At 23, Kristie left an abusive marriage. A few weeks after her divorce, her younger brother died. “At that point I felt like my life was over, not just beginning,” said Kristie. “To deal with my personal struggles, I worked. It was a distraction and it filled up my time. As a result, the station made me chief editor.”

Kristie’s editing skills ultimately took her to one of the strongest TV stations in the country, WPVI in Philadelphia. She was hired for her production skills, but needed to write for the promotion department as well. “They didn’t know I couldn’t write,” laughed Kristie, “because I told them I could. I just had to figure it out on the job. I had to have some confidence to be able to do that, and I think it came from surviving some of the violence I experienced growing up. Those early struggles taught me that I could survive, and even thrive.”

It was in Philadelphia that Kristie connected with another mentor who influenced her career. “The general manager there, Rebecca Campbell, is someone I looked up to,” said Kristie. “I finally had a chance to have lunch with her and I said, ‘I want to find out how you became a general manager. How did you get to where you are in your career?’ Rebecca then took me under her wing and became my career sponsor for the next 10 years.”

As Kristie climbed the corporate ladder, Rebecca gave her a challenge. “She said, ‘You know what I did for you. Now, go and do that same thing for other women and minorities.”

It’s a challenge Kristie took to heart. Looking back at her high school years, she says she didn’t realize that she needed to maximize what she was learning in school. She didn’t know what she needed to do to succeed. It’s why she sees such value in mentoring today.

“In order to develop your own potential, you need to have conversations with people who can teach you how to get to where you want to go and who can show you new paths.”

“That’s why BBBS is so important,” Kristie continued. “BBBS exposes kids to different lifestyles and to new opportunities, and that is huge. Otherwise, kids have no idea that life can be different from what they experience every day.”

Kristie is quick to point out that mentoring is not a “taking,” but rather a reciprocal, relationship. She encourages young people in mentoring relationships to do their homework, to identify goals and to try to be specific about what they want to achieve. “When you’re younger, just being exposed to different paths that are open to you is important,” said Kristie. “For instance, it’s important to understand that you may start a media career as an editor, but that you don’t have to be an editor forever. You can become the news director or the general manager one day, because the people in those roles started out in the same place you did. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that without having someone there to show you what you are capable of and how to get where you want to go.”

Kristie also encourages kids to ask adults about their lives and careers. “If you see someone doing something interesting, ask them how they did it. Be curious and interested in the people and the larger world around you. You never know what kinds of doors your questions might open.”

Even though she is currently a general manager, Kristie is still working with mentors in the media business and still has goals to achieve. “My CEO is now mentoring me,” said Kristie, “because I’ve told him that I want to be a CEO one day.”

Being responsible for the ins and outs of a TV station is a demanding position, but Kristie says she handles it by having a good circle of friends and by giving back to the community and mentoring others, which is where her kinship with BBBS surfaces. Kristie will be speaking to BBBS’ high school graduates and incoming freshman as the keynote speaker for the agency’s 2018 Promising Futures Scholarship Ceremony on June 16th.

“I’m very excited to share my story at the Scholarship Ceremony,” said Kristie. “I feel a connection with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. I grew up in a difficult, and often violent, household. I know what it’s like to face hard circumstances and to have to figure out how to survive and thrive. That’s when mentors can make the greatest difference and offer hope.”

Kristie was able to find hope and strength despite her struggles. And, with the help of her mentors, she developed survival and work-related skills that have helped her later in life. “In this industry you have to have a strong voice,” said Kristie. “As a child, I developed a strong voice in response to the violence I saw at home. I have turned that into a gift because now I’m not afraid to be on stage, to face a room full of people, or to fight against social injustice.”

“I refuse to be limited by my past. And that keeps me pushing forward and sharing my story.”

And, as Kristie continues to move forward in her own life and career, she is committed to making it possible for others to do the same.

Promising Futures: New Opportunities

As the school year comes to a close for most students, many high school seniors are making plans for the next chapter in their educational journeys.  Whether attending trade school or college, securing scholarships and resources to achieve their goals is key for most students. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas’ Promising Futures Scholarship Program is an important resource for Littles who want to further their educations.

BBBS’ scholarship program was founded in 1986 when the agency received a donation from an anonymous Central Texas donor to establish a program to encourage Littles to complete high school and pursue post-secondary education. The program was the first of its kind throughout the nearly 350 BBBS chapters.

Jacelyn Calderon, a health care student at Texas A&M University, is a recent scholarship recipient. “BBBS opened a window for me to continue my education,” said Jacelyn. “I appreciate that so much. The scholarship the agency provided helped me get the books I needed and enabled me to be successful in my classes.”

Jacelyn is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in health. After that, she plans to apply to nursing school to get her nursing degree. “Ten years down the road I plan to be working in my field and I hope to own a home,” said Jacelyn. “That would give me a sense of stability.”

Scholarships can fuel such life-changing goals. Since 1986, Big Brothers Big Sisters has promised nearly $5 million in college scholarships to 2,500 Little Brothers and Sisters in Central Texas.

This year, the agency has established two new scholarship opportunities for BBBS Littles: one that is being offered through a partnership with the Cagle Law Firm, and another that is being offered in association with the College of Health Care Professions (CHCP).

“We love presenting our kids with scholarship opportunities,” said Joe Strychalski, Vice President of Programs at BBBS. “Anything we can do to encourage our young people to pursue higher education, and to make it more accessible to them, is a good use of our time, energy, and resources.  We’ve made scholarships that range from $500 to $5,000 available to our youth, and we love helping them apply and seeing them awarded!”

The Cagle Law Firm of Austin reached out to BBBS to initiate a new scholarship opportunity last year. As a business dedicated to helping others, the firm was drawn to the lasting impact BBBS has on the lives of young people. Mr. Cagle, in particular, thinks very highly of BBBS, so when the company elected to offer a scholarship, partnering with BBBS was a natural fit. In 2018 the firm will grant two scholarships worth $1,000 each to two students who are part of the BBBS program. Each check will be made payable to the recipients’ schools to help cover tuition costs and related expenses.

Another new BBBS scholarship opportunity is being offered by the College of Health Care Professions in Austin. It is a matching scholarship for students interested in studying one of CHCP’s many clinical and administrative health care programs. BBBS Littles are eligible to receive up to $4,000 in scholarship funds through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas’ existing scholarship program. To support the agency’s mission, CHCP Austin will match this BBBS scholarship, in the amount of $2,000, which combined with the BBBS scholarship, could significantly decrease the cost to BBBS Littles attending CHCP.

“CHCP believes in helping students change their trajectories in life,” said Sara Rambikur, CHCP Austin Campus President. “There are many BBBS Littles who might benefit from a smaller college setting that has additional support services and career guidance in focused areas of study. We hope this scholarship eases the financial burden on BBBS students and helps them pursue careers in health care.”

“Big Brothers Big Sisters exists to help kids succeed in life,” said Brent Fields, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas, “and we’re always looking to establish connections within the community that facilitate that goal. Partnering with The College of Health Care Professions opens a door for BBBS kids to enter the health care field that we haven’t had before. We are also grateful for our new relationship with the Cagle Law Firm. We appreciate their generosity in supporting the academic aspirations of our students.”

BBBS has established scholarship matching opportunities with a number of institutions of higher education in Texas as well, thereby helping Littles’ BBBS scholarship dollars go twice as far. For a complete list of matching opportunities and application details, visit www.BigMentoring.org or call 512-807-3642.

BBBS’ scholarship program provides significant support for Littles who are entering their college years and taking steps toward academic and career success. We are proud to partner with our Littles, Bigs, families, community partners, businesses, and academic institutions to help BBBS Littles develop their talents and pursue their dreams in the world.

BBBS’ 2017 Promising Futures Scholarship Ceremony

“You can never have too much education.” That was one of the central themes at Big Brothers Big Sisters’ 2017 Promising Futures Scholarship Ceremony. Held June 17 at Austin Community College’s Eastview campus, the event featured Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, president of Huston-Tillotson University, as the keynote speaker.

Those in attendance included Littles graduating from high school and receiving their scholarships, and fourteen-year-old Littles receiving the promise of a scholarship if they, in turn, promise to finish high school. The audience was also made up of Big Brothers and Sisters, family members, board members, community partners and members of BBBS’ staff.

“BBBS’ mission totally parallels my own personal mission and passion,” said Dr. Burnette. “The agency is committed to providing children with professionally supported mentoring relationships that change their lives for the better, forever. The key word is ‘forever,’ because once someone invests in you, that investment stays with you.”

Dr. Burnette provided ten ‘Rules of Life’ to help students as they pursue their respective paths. She encouraged students to be life-long learners; to be true to themselves; to read, read, read; to travel at every opportunity; to be well spoken; to dress for success; to make wise choices regarding the people they spend their time with; to take care of themselves physically; to have fun; to remember that they can never have too much education; and to nurture their individual spirits.

“I want you to be you, and to recognize that your education is an investment in yourself,” Dr. Burnette added. “I encourage you to continue the pursuit of your dreams. Your gifts are inside you, and they will propel you anywhere you want to go. Your involvement with BBBS and with your mentors has started something big. Now it’s up to you to take it to a whole new level.”

It was a day of celebration for BBBS’ Littles who have worked so hard to reach this important moment and milestone in life.

“I enjoyed meeting the families and talking with our matches, some of whom have been matched for 9 years,” said Candace Bunkley, BBBS’ scholarship program coordinator. “I love hearing where these students are going to go to school and what they want to study, and knowing that BBBS is, and has been, a part of their journeys.”

The scholarships students received will be applied to a variety of institutions and vocations. This year’s high school graduates are attending schools from Texas A&M, to Blinn College and Angelo State University, among others. Some of the career paths they plan to pursue include medicine, bio-medical engineering, architecture, interior design, and film production.

BBBS awarded and promised over $930,000 in scholarship funds to Little Brothers and Sisters this year. Students who are at least 14 years old and who have remained matched for one year or longer are promised scholarships upon high school graduation. Graduating seniors who have met these requirements and who have chosen to enroll in a two or four-year college, university, or accredited trade or technical school, are eligible to receive scholarship awards of $2,000 – $4,000.

“This is one of my favorite events of the year,” said Brent Fields, CEO of Big Brother Big Sisters of Central Texas. “It is powerful to see the impact BBBS’ scholarship program has on the lives of these young people. The program provides opportunities that many thought they’d never have.”

Littles crossed the stage to receive their promise medals and scholarship certificates from BBBS’ Foundation Board Chair Loraine Brown. Lauren Petrowski of Fox 7 Austin was the emcee for the event. BBBS of Central Texas CEO Brent Fields provided opening remarks, and Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, president of Huston-Tillotson University, gave the inspirational keynote address.

Congratulations to this year’s scholarship recipients and promisees, and to their families and Big Brothers and Sisters.

For more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters’ scholarship program, contact Candace Bunkley at 512-807-3642.

See our 2017 Promising Futures Scholarship Ceremony video here

See photos from the scholarship ceremony here

 

About the Scholarship Program: In 1986, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas received a contribution from an anonymous Central Texas donor to establish a program encouraging Little Brothers and Sisters to complete high school and pursue post-secondary education. The program was the first of its kind throughout the nearly 350 BBBS chapters.

Spotlight on Candace Bunkley: BBBS’ Scholarship Program Coordinator

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Big Brothers Big Sisters is mission-focused. It’s no wonder that many of the agency’s staff members are as well. Candace Bunkley, BBBS’ Scholarship Program Coordinator, wanted to work for an organization that “had a mission and was doing a good job.”

Candace previously worked for a healthcare law office as an office administrator. After an internet search, however, she found the organization she wanted to be part of: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. She began with a part-time position in customer relations before moving into her current role overseeing BBBS’ Scholarship Program.

“My primary role is to receive and process scholarship applications from Littles,” Candace explained. “I process their paperwork and help them understand the requirements for BBBS’ Scholarship Program.”

And that’s just the beginning. Candace also oversees the program’s daily operations which include sending scholarship payments to various colleges, tracking program spending, and coordinating BBBS’ annual scholarship awards ceremony.

In addition, she provides general scholarship and college information to students. “I love hearing what our Littles are majoring in and what schools they’re going to,” Candace continued. “And the fact that they understand the requirements of the different universities and of our program, and that they are keeping up with those responsibilities, is a testament to how well they’re succeeding in school.”

Helping Bigs, Littles and families understand the requirements for enrolling in college can be challenging. “If students can’t get enrolled in time because they don’t have everything completed, I can hear the disappointment in their voices,” Candace admitted. “But I remind them that their BBBS scholarship will be available whenever they are set to enroll. Overall, I’m really impressed with how well our students stay on top of things. They are really doing a great job.”

Candace’s goals for the Scholarship Program include increasing the number of Littles who access their scholarships each semester, and helping them connect with other educational resources in the community.

Candace doesn’t work all the time. She enjoys being involved in her church, Austin Stone, and taking classes through Austin Community College. She also spends a lot of time with her dog, Dolly, a miniature Maltipoo.

“Our Bigs work so hard at getting their Littles to dream big and to think about their goals for the future,” Candace continued. “I think my favorite part of the Scholarship Program is helping Littles achieve those goals and supporting the work our Bigs are doing.”