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Monica Cortez: Right Place, Right Time, Right Determination Beginning at EPCC

BY ABIGAIL BELL


Monica Cortez doing weather at KTSM.


Monica Cortez, a former EPCC student, has been the face of KTSM weather for over five years, bringing the weather forecast with a heart for her community. Now, Cortez is changing roles at KTSM and will start the new year as a lead news anchor for the station, maintaining her passion for true journalism and community involvement, and she said it all started when she was a student at EPCC.


Cortez was born and raised in El Paso, TX, graduated from New Mexico State University with a degree in broadcast journalism after going to El Paso Community College and later graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in meteorology. She is a foodie who loves her fur babies, Snoopy and Belle, and is currently planning her April wedding.


Monica Cortez and her dogs Snoopy and Belle.


Cortez’s journey from determined high school graduate to established news professional was far from straight forward and simple, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. Throughout her career, Cortez’s determination and passion for journalism has helped her persevere through rejections and obstacles to ultimately arrive to where she is today.


Cortez began to be interested in journalism while working on her high school yearbook.


“I remember the first story I ever did in high school. I was in newspaper, in yearbook, and for

newspaper in high school, I did this story where I had to speak to the principal. It was my very

first interview and, as small of a role as that played for me, it was really cool because I was able to ask serious questions,” she said.


In high school, Cortez remembers a guest speaker coming to her school and encouraging the

students to get involved activities related to their future career, and to stay involved no matter

what.


“The speaker basically said, ‘Hey, listen, you need to always be involved in whatever it is that

you're going to do. So, if journalism is your passion, make sure you're always involved in your newspaper and yearbook, and whatever you can get your hands on because experience is what's going to get you through the door. So, once I graduated high school, I started looking,” she said.


Cortez said her passion for journalism truly came to life at EPCC while working with Steve

Escajeda on her first real hard news story.


“I think it was like the hardest story I've ever had, and that was the baseball coach at the time, when I was there, was being accused of embezzling money. And again, this was my first story, so I relied a lot on Mr. Steve, and he guided me and was like, ‘Look, we need to get the truth. And, you know, you need to make sure that you have all your facts accurate, because if it's not true, then you could ruin this man's life.’ And when he said that I was just like, oh my gosh, I have the power of ruining people's lives and that's not good,” she said.


“It's one of those things where you have a lot of responsibility, but you also owe it to the

students, hey, did he really embezzle money? You know, only because, well, it's important for students to know what their coach is doing, and what the school is doing about it,” she said.


After working on the story, Cortez knew that she wanted to be a reporter, specifically an

investigative reporter.


“After that big story, I realized this is my passion, this is what I want to do. I do want to hold

people accountable, but I also want to help protect my community,” she said.


Cortez continued to be involved in the Tejano Tribune during her time at EPCC and is thankful

to Mr. Steve for his encouragement and guidance.


“Eventually I became the layout editor, while also doing stories, and so he really helped me

propel my career in the right direction,” she said.

Cortez’s career path, however, looked very different from how she would have imagined it.

When she transferred to NMSU, Cortez tried to continue to be involved in journalism by

applying to be a part of NMSU’s newspaper, called the Round Up.


“I really wanted to be a part of the Round Up, the newspaper at News 22, and they said no, I

don't think you have the skills yet. Just give us another year and maybe you'll have a chance here,” she said.


Even though that door closed, Cortez would not be dissuaded. She found a different way to be involved in the news, which was through the school’s news station, News 22. Here she found a new love: broadcast journalism.


“I think it was when I was first sent out to do a news story at News 22. I remember I had to

interview the mayor in Las Cruces, and I realized, I mean, when I was in college, I had like this

idea that broadcast wasn't as intense as newspaper, but then once I did it, I was like, no, this is actually really cool. And once I started doing it, I saw the hustle and bustle of it all and how hard it is to really get, you know, your foot in the door and to just start doing those new stories. So, at that point I was just like, okay, this is really cool and I like it,” she said





After Cortez graduated from NMSU with her degree in broadcast journalism, she applied for a

job at KTSM as an investigative reporter. In 2019, Cortez was hired at 24 years old by KTSM as

a reporter and has been at the station for the past ten years.


She began at KTSM as a part time reporter, but one day a new opportunity arose.


“An opportunity popped up for weekend meteorologist. The person who was doing it at the time just left, you know, quite quickly without notice, and so they needed someone to fill in. I had a little bit of weather experience from college, from News 22, so they gave me a shot. I really did like it. I still loved reporting, but I liked doing weather,” she said.


Even though Cortez had not gone to school for meteorology, she was excited to have a new role at the news station in addition to reporting. After about a year, the job for the weekday

meteorologist opened up and she jumped in to fill the role when they needed her.


“For like three months I worked seven days straight, no time off. And while it was crazy hard, it

was also, I guess, cool because I was able to learn a lot during that time,” she said.


After the short stint of doing the weather seven days a week, the station offered her the weekday morning job on a permanent basis.


“I eventually stayed with the morning position. But they did say, ‘Hey, if you want it, you're going to have to go to school for it. And so, I did. I went to school studying meteorology,” she

said.


Cortez then attended Mississippi State University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in

meteorology. She then went on to become the chief meteorologist at KTSM.



Cortez has now been the chief meteorologist at KTSM for five years. Her love of journalism and news stems from her knowledge of the importance of serving her community. Cortez strongly believes that journalism is essential to the community, and she takes this responsibility very seriously.


Monica Cortez working at KTSM.


“I feel like it's one of those things where we have a big responsibility of, you know, holding people accountable, but also, you know, telling the truth of whatever it is that the community needs to know. And I feel like that's our job; to always deliver information and keep it as unbiased as possible. So, I'm really excited to step into that role,” she said.


Now, Cortez is moving from chief meteorologist to lead news anchor at KTSM. She is so excited to be moving into this position to better serve her community.


“To me I feel like that's full circle because that's originally what I went to work to do, which was be a reporter and eventually move up to anchor. And so now I feel like I have that opportunity and I'm excited to start.” She said explaining her new position, “The anchor position is going to be delivering the news every weekday, six and ten. And it also means that I'll be doing more stories that matter most to our community.”


Cortez had never before planned to stay in El Paso. She said that it was her dream to go to a top ten market and she had the opportunity to do so not long ago.


“My dream was to go to a top ten market. You know, Dallas, L.A., you know, San Francisco,

wherever they’d have me. And so, I finally had an opportunity to leave. I actually got a job offer at Dallas last year, and it was ready to go,” she said.


But before she said yes, Cortez realized that she never wanted to leave her home.


“I will never forget this moment when they asked me, ‘All right, so we've got everything. This is what we're offering you. We'll give you moving expenses as well if you like. When can you start? When can you really come down here and start if we offered you the job?’ And at that point I kind of froze and I was like, you know, let me talk to my fiancé about this, sorry. And so we talked it over and I was like, okay, well, the opportunity is here finally, like, we don't have to daydream about it. It's here. What do we do? And I think that's the first time in my life where what I really wanted was there ready for me to take, and I realized I'm not going anywhere,” she said.


She is dedicated to her family and her community and is glad that while she let that opportunity pass, this new lead anchor position came right after it.


“I think that little itch of leaving finally left me, and I think I'm okay, like no, El Paso is my

home forever,” she said.


Cortez will be beginning her new role as lead news anchor January 8, 2024. She is excited to

begin to encourage the community to be more involved in their news station.


“I'm excited to kind of start shaping it in different directions. So, for me, I feel like I want to get the community involved more,” she said.



She is passionate about getting her community involved in the news and even helped put into

place the Weather Watcher program at KTSM while she was a meteorologist. This program encouraged community members to share their weather photos with the news station.


Monica Cortez


“I created this Weather Watcher brand which encouraged people to, you know, take classes to get educated in weather, which I would hold, and then obviously to submit their photos. And it just, it gave them a reason to be more involved with the station. And now that I hold this main anchor position, I want to do the same thing,” she said.



“I want to be able to find a way on how I can integrate our community and not just make it seem like we're another news outlet for them, but we're more of a community centric station, I guess. And so, I really want to find ways to build projects and programs where we can really get the community involved,” she said.


Although Cortez’s career path didn’t look exactly the way she had imagined it, she believes she was always at the right place in her career at the right time.


“What's really interesting is I feel that I've always been at the right place, right time in my career. I feel like that's been the underlying story,” she said.

Through all the ups and downs, her encouragement to others who are beginning their careers and looking for opportunities is to never take no for an answer.


“I had a lot of people like when I applied for the chief meteorologist position, people told me, no, you're not ready. You're too young.” She said continuing, “I didn't let that ‘no’ discourage me and I kept working hard, I got my degree, and I was able to land the job.”


“I feel like it doesn't matter if you're going for a new major, a meteorologist, a reporter, you're going to get nos. And so, it's really important to make sure that that no doesn't end your aspiration or your dreams or crush them in any way,” she said.


She is so thankful for her parents and her fiancé for always supporting her in her career and

encouraging her to push through the many professional rejections she faced.


A memory that stands out for Cortez is when she was invited to go to the office of the National

Weather Service, which helps meteorologists share the weather on their local news stations.


Expressing her initial thoughts of going, Cortez said, “Oh, great! Like, right now is my perfect

chance to kind of pick his brain and ask him questions because I have a lot of questions. I don't know anything about weather, so maybe he can help me.”


Cortez’s trip, however, took a turn she didn’t expect.


“I went down and the meteorologists there, they were really cool. They helped me, they

answered my questions. But the guy in charge, he later called me into his office and basically, he told me to quit,” she said.


Cortez said she was shocked. “I remember I left so devastated; my heart was crushed. I did feel like an imposter at that point, and it was awful. It was devastating. So, I remember calling my mom and just telling her everything. And I remember telling her that, you know what, I am, I'm going to quit.”


“I remember her saying, like, ‘Well, if you did what every single person ever told you to do,

you'd never be where you want to be.’ She's like, ‘So keep going,’” she said. That

encouragement from her mom pushed Cortez to continue going to school and pursuing her goals.


Cortez emphasized how her parents have been essential in helping her make her career a success, in addition to her fiancé and Escajeda.


“I know my fiancé has also been a big pillar in my life, and he's the one that has pushed me to accept the job and, you know, to keep motivated and just work really hard to keep whatever it is that I'm trying to do alive. So, it's those three people, Mr. Steve, my parents and my fiancé who really pushed me in the right direction,” she said.


Monica Cortez and her fiancé Daniel Hernandez.


Throughout her life’s many ups and downs, Cortez is thankful to be where she is today and

serves as an encouragement and inspiration to others just beginning in their careers. She is

excited for what the future holds and hopes to continue serving her community through her work as lead news anchor at KTSM channel 9 news.



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