Excellence in Action

Mary Nguyen ’99

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Mary Nguyen ’99 is an Emmy nominated and award-winning journalist and criminal defense attorney. The investigative reporter has worked at various ABC, NBC and Fox Television stations across the country. She worked in Iowa, Kansas, Arkansas, Florida, Arizona and for NBC News and The Today Show. Nguyen spent most of her seventeen-year career reporting on government, politics and legal issues. Some of the stories she covered include the O.J. Simpson trial, the Casey Anthony Case, Trayvon Martin and the Jodi Arias case in Arizona.

Interviewed by Monique Beals • May 6, 2018

Please describe your career path from UCLA to your current role.

When I started at UCLA I always knew I wanted to be a Communications major. I ended up taking an internship at KNBC in Los Angeles with a reporter covering the OJ Simpson trial, and I decided I wanted to be a broadcast journalist.

While I was at UCLA, I was accepted into the UCLA Center for American Politics and Public Policy Program (CAPPP) “Quarter in Washington DC Program”.  I got a job at Nightline at ABC NEWS, and I was able to observe, learn, and work with legends in the news business such as Ted Koppel as well as other incredible journalists. I loved being immersed in the process and shadowed White House News Correspondent Ann Compton during her reports at the White House.  It was a phenomenal experience.

In my junior year, I was elected as the President of the Society for Professional Journalists UCLA Chapter.  My advisor, Lauren Blau, who also oversaw the Daily Bruin, was instrumental in encouraging me to attend various conferences and network with people in the new business. I ended up winning a couple of Associated Press scholarships while I was at UCLA and won an award for the Society of Professional Journalists.

While at UCLA, I interned at various news organizations. Among other internships, I worked at KCAL-TV as a production assistant.  I also volunteered as a reporter for the city of Santa Monica cable news program, “City TV”.  While there, I was able to go on the air and put news stories together. This is the first time I reported on the air and put news stories together.

While still in school I took a job as an Assignment Editor with KESQ-TV in Palm Springs. I worked there on the weekends to some hands-on experience because in LA you do not get the opportunity to edit, write, copy, and conduct interviews.  As an intern in LA, you are limited in what you can do because of union rules. During my senior year, I interned at Fox News Channel in Los Angeles. I got to cover entertainment news.

After I graduated from UCLA and was looking for my first job, I contacted someone I met through UCLA. The contact leads to me getting a job. I started the following week at KCBS-TV as a Production Assistant/Assistant Assignment Editor.

What inspired you to choose this career path?

I grew up in Fullerton in  California.  I started competing in pageants. While  I originally wanted to be a psychologist, I won the title of Miss Teenage America in my junior year of high school.  The program was sponsored by Teen Magazine.  As part of my duties,  I wrote a monthly column for the magazine, became exposed to print journalism, and became a spokesperson for the magazine.  I fell in love with writing. A UCLA alumna that I worked with at Teen Magazine recognized my passion. She encouraged me to apply to  UCLA and to pursue a career in journalism.

How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?

The Center for American Politics and Public Policy program gave me an opportunity to learn how the nation’s political process works and how public policy is developed. It was interesting to see how the media, legislators, and the court system interact and how each plays a role in policy decisions.

I enjoyed being a Communication Studies major. It has a broad liberal arts curriculum. Students are required to take courses from various majors. Coursework includes content from the natural and social sciences, as well as the humanities. I loved Comm 101- Freedom of Communication. My professor was an LA Times Writer. The curriculum focused on the analysis of legal, political, and philosophical issues. We studied court decisions that affect the rights of freedom of expression and access to information. UCLA helps you think critically and analyze issues-a skill that is important in any profession.

In what ways have you utilized the UCLA alumni network?

The mentors I met through UCLA were instrumental in shaping my career. They taught me how to fine tune my skills as an investigative reporter and being a good storyteller, using sound and video to engage the viewer and performance. My mentors stressed writing and research.

What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?           

After working as a reporter for seventeen years, I did not know what my future in this industry was going to be. The media industry and my role was rapidly changing, So, I decided to become a lawyer.  This meant I had to apply to law school, get accepted to a law school, and start over.

What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in journalism or law?

It is very difficult to come out an undergraduate and be a political analyst or come out of law school and be a legal analyst. You need to learn the basics. Get an internship, get your tape together, go to seminars and learn. Reach out and find mentors. If there was a free seminar or scholarship, I would apply for it.

In Los Angeles, there are so many news channels and outlets. Look at a website for any of the TV stations and look at the bios of the people who work there. See if anyone went to UCLA. Just email them and say that you’d love to intern at their station or be in touch with them. People will help you when you tell them you’re a Bruin.

You really need to get your demo reel finished before you graduate. Don’t be afraid to move somewhere else including a small market and move your way up. I stayed in Iowa for 14 months and then moved up. It is difficult to get an on-air job in a larger market.

How do you participate and support in the UCLA community now?

I am a part of UCLA ONE and the mentorship program. I am also part of the Alumni Scholars Committee, so I go through the applicants and am a judge for that. In addition, I support the community by donating money and praise the school at every opportunity. I encourage high school students to consider UCLA as a place to attend college.  I even convinced my sister to go to UCLA. She graduated from UCLA in 2013.

What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?

I am proud to be a Bruin because of its reputation as a premier educational institution. It provides career opportunities and affords graduates a great alumni network. People who graduate from UCLA go on to do great things in our society.

And finally, what’s next?

I am a criminal defense attorney working in the public defender’s office in Florida representing indigent people. I am presently focused on being a trial attorney and representing my clients. I may go back to media, or I may stay in law. I’m not sure. For now, I am enjoying being a trial attorney.

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

Monique Beals is a Communications major and UCLA College Honors student from Memphis, Tennessee. She has previously interned at the Office of Senator Lamar Alexander, the Orange County Register, and Tegna Inc. She has also worked as an Urban Fellow for the City of Memphis. At UCLA, Monique has been involved as Marketing Director of the Community Service Commission in addition to working as a Student Recruiting Assistant for UCLA Athletics. After graduating from UCLA, Monique intends to pursue a career in journalism or law.

Interested in learning more about UCLA alumni who are creating lasting impressions and impact in their industries? Visit Excellence in Action for the full collection of interviews.