CEO Maricielo Solis Found Her Voice, and Now BLENDtw is Helping College Students Do the Same
Media and journalism have long been male-dominated industries where aspiring female journalists and reporters are constrained by gender rather than uplifted by it. Each year, women make up more than two thirds of journalism or mass communication degree graduates, while only one third of the media industry is female. This statistic is further diminished for women of color. Now CEO Maricielo Solis, too, was no stranger to the boundaries set by gender as she began her career in the media industry.
Fresh out of attaining college degrees in international relations, journalism and Chinese, Cielo knew the dream was to work in television. She had worked for several publications in college, and began applying to journalism internships in New York City. As a young hopeful in the industry, she applied to the extremely competitive entry-level Page Program at NBC. Cielo had landed a spot in the incoming class of media-savvy NBC interns who had also beat the odds of a 1.5% acceptance rate.
One of the biggest things Cielo attributes to being able to work her way up the NBC food chain was trying to go “beyond her degree.” She went in without any specific experience working for a national newscast, and hadn’t gone to a formal journalism school for college. Cielo also discussed how, in her first newsroom environment, the competition was intense amongst her peers. Nonetheless, what set her apart from other aspiring correspondents in the program was her tenacity for learning and unrelenting determination.
“I was extremely entry level, but was handed better positions because I made the most out of each position I was given. I was the kid that just wanted to learn, learn, learn.”
Cielo quickly gained more responsibility as she took initiative in the program and was able to pitch stories to producers, become a Production Assistant for the Today Show and MSNBC, as well as contribute to shows like the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers. With the mantra that “whatever is meant to be for you, no one is going to take that away from you”, Cielo was armed with the positivity and perseverance to find success in her time at NBC.
Though Cielo thrived in her first newsroom program, she was no stranger to the obstacles and sexism that plagues the media and journalism industries even today. She noted how it is a notoriously “old fashioned industry” that creates environments where it can be hard, at times, for women to flourish in a corporate environment. One problem Cielo noticed early on was that it was rare to see women making any executive decisions. In fact, she recalled how, if someone thinks you are “too smart”, you’ll be seen as “competition” and sometimes are told to “back off.” Cielo found this “toxic” mentality to be similar to accounts she’d heard from successful female friends in other male-dominated industries like software development or biotech startups.
Cielo quickly came to realize that roles of men and women on national newscasts were extremely unequal, and that the few women in executive roles had to “make a good fight to get there.” Though one of the most promising and hardworking interns in her program, Cielo was reminded that “having an accent, being female, and specifically being a woman of color” was not typical of a national newscaster or executive producer at places like NBC or CNN.
“It’s a very male dominated world and people don’t realize that. You may see a lot of young, pretty anchors on TV, but the person making the decisions right behind the cameras are ultimately white men. Unfortunately, I don’t think that has changed a lot in the past 30 years.”
It was at this point that Cielo realized, “You need to ask yourself, what do you want? If you want it with all of your heart, it will happen.”. She was at a point in her career of being on the way to becoming a producer, but decided she was sick of covering the same topics and not getting to do what she was passionate about. Instead of giving up, Cielo decided to take matters into her own hands and be part of something bigger. Along with the help of other coworkers in the industry, Cielo decided to start investigating what issues were really at the forefront of today’s college students.
A self-proclaimed “storyteller” and “lover of human stories”, Cielo first heard the struggles of journalism students during a media conference at Columbia University. She realized then the diversity and genuinity that was lacking in news coverage. This passion to help other voices be heard led Cielo to start BLENDtw, a media platform designed to inclusively tell “human stories” from every background and perspective.
One aspect of this vision that has been the backbone of BLENDtw is the My Voice, Our Story (MYVOS) initiative. This initiative compiles individual stories of under-represented topics such as mental health and suicide prevention to represent an array of perspectivs through storytelling.
In fact, the success of the series inspired Cielo to create the MYVOS Talks, a new interview podcast where she interviews incredible guests from notable leaders, influencers to everyday folks about the obstacles they’ve encountered in their lives, and how they rise above them.
“I love human stories. I love talking about people and I love giving them a platform to talk about real issues that we all as humans struggle with every day.”
Today, BLENDtw has seen thousands of contributors from college campuses all over the country, and current employees and interns have found opportunities to build their careers while also re-discovering what makes them passionate about their work in media and journalism. One former intern and now full-time contributor attributes hearing stories from others at BLENDtw to giving her “new perspectives on how different each of our experiences are and how they affect us.”. She has also learned to value her own perspective and not judge or compare it to the hardships of others. “Though we can learn from others’ pasts, we can also separate comparisons from learning when hearing and sharing stories.”
Similarly, another team contributor has said that Blend has taught him “a deeper concept that can be applied everywhere, which is the meaning of community and diversity.”. While expanding his ability to “think critically about events that have been going on in the world”, he has also been able to expand his thinking about people who “come from all walks of life” including the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, and mental health issues. Through BLENDtw, many students have come to recognize the importance of “doing good deeds for all communities.”
The road to creating this inclusive platform has not been perfect nor easy by any stretch of the imagination, and Cielo always teaches her interns and mentees that she heard “thirty something ‘No’s’ before hearing that one ‘Yes’.” At BLENDtw, the goal is to help young people speak their truth, ask questions, and fight for what they believe in no matter what barriers arise.