Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala
What is your current job title and responsibilities?
Assistant Director of News & Information, which is part of the Communications and Marketing division. I help lead the News & Information team, which is responsible for media relations for the university. I pitch good stories about UCF, write press releases, respond to reporters’ requests, manage crisis situations, provide media training and consulting when needed, escort TV media crews on campus and help plan for media events that will elevate the reputation of the university. I cover the College of Sciences, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the College of Health and Public Affairs, help with the College of Business and work with senior administrators on a variety of media related projects. We have a fantastic team and we all work hard to tell UCF’s great stories.
What is your history at UCF and before UCF?
I’ve been at UCF for the past eight years. I began as a communications coordinator, solely responding to media inquiries and writing press releases. Prior to joining UCF I worked at Florida Today as a deputy metro editor after several years of working as a reporter. During my reporting years I covered everything from K-12 education to space shuttle launches. Before joining Florida Today I worked at the Marin Independent Journal in California as a reporter covering small communities and the local education board.
What is your academic background?
I have a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and another bachelor’s degree in International Relations from San Francisco State University.
What is your favorite UCF memory?
There are so many, it’s hard to choose. My favorite part about UCF and my job is getting to meet amazing students and professors who are doing things to change the world. I love to see their passion and enthusiasm. If I had to pick one moment, I would say it is watching a team of UCF engineering students deliver a 3D-printed arm to a six-year-old boy who was missing an arm. One of the first things the boy did was give his mother a real hug. Watching our students try to hide the tears of joy as they watched this exchange and knowing that they gave this family this gift was amazing.
If you could change one thing at UCF, what would it be? ($ and time no object)
I’d expand our first generation scholarship program. I’m a first-generation student and I’ve met so many here at UCF that are grateful for the scholarship. They go on to change the world. Some of the students I have met have: created an app which turns a phone into a portable microscope, which doctors can use to detect malaria, have found ways to deliver vaccines more efficiently in countries where there is no real infrastructure to those have opted to go back to their old neighborhoods to teach another generation of students. We have a great program at UCF, but I wish we could do more in that area.
What is one piece of advice you would like to share with your colleagues?
Just because it (whatever you want to do) has never been done before, doesn’t mean you can’t do it.
If UCF was going to name something in your honor, what would you like it to be and why?
A scholarship for first generation students because I know what a difference college made in my life and would want to give someone else that same opportunity.
Who at UCF would you like to thank for your success?
I’d like to thank those who first hired me, my colleagues, who I know I can rely on and who make coming to work fun and a few female mentors who have my eternal gratitude.
Name and describe a teacher or researcher from your past who truly inspired you and why.
Len Sellers. He was my Reporting 101 professor in journalism school. He was a grumpy, old-fashioned reporter who taught you by the “sink or swim mentality.” People avoided his class like the plague, but I also heard from those who had taken his course, that if you got through Sellers class you could get through any internship or newspaper job. So I took his course. He was tough and seemed to enjoy embarrassing students when they made mistakes. But you learned and you learned fast. At the end of my four years, he was one of my favorite professors because he told you how it was, which was the best thing you could do for a kid in college. It prepped you for the realities of the outside world.
What undergraduate or graduate class/program/experience inspired you the most and why?
I had the chance to do an independent study one summer. I was still trying to decide whether I wanted to pursue a career in journalism or in international relations (work at an embassy for example). One of my journalism professors helped me set up an internship in El Salvador where I worked for a Congresswoman developing the nation’s first Freedom of Information Act. I got a taste of what working at an embassy and in congress might be like. I quickly found out it wasn’t for me. I returned two years later to do a special project to complete my journalism degree with a team of students. We covered the first free elections in that country after a long, bloody war. I loved it. The two experiences outside the classroom under the guidance of these professors were invaluable to determining which profession I chose.
What is your favorite restaurant or food?
I love Dim Sum (Chinese).
What is your favorite movie, book or music?
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I’m a big Audrey Hepburn fan.
What is your favorite vacation destination?
I’m spoiled. I had the opportunity to travel a lot before I got married and had children. For pure relaxation — Lucerne, Switzerland. For fun and food – Greek Islands.