Big dreams often begin as little actions. When she was a child, Irene (Rena) Thomas ’17 and her sisters would stage “pretend” newscasts just for fun. As the Syosset, New York native got older, she became obsessed with reading Seventeen magazine cover to cover.
“After that, I wanted to work for a magazine,” she said. “Then that dream kind of faded out and I entered college undecided.”
Thinking she was attending a general orientation, Rena stumbled upon the orientation for the School of Journalism, and by the spring semester of her freshman year she decided to make journalism her major.
Today, months after graduating with a bachelor of arts in broadcast journalism major and a minor in business, Rena is working behind the scenes as a trainee, helping to produce Fox 5’s Good Day New York with Rosanna Scotto and Greg Kelly. Her internship for Fox 5 News, which began this past spring, has placed her in the trenches of real-world reporting, where she accompanied reporters to a number of political protests in the New York area.
Rena’s first writing assignment in college was a “dinky” little story about French puppetry for the University student newspaper, the Statesman.
But it didn’t matter — her dream to become a journalist was now too real to be denied.
Rena credits her own parents for not pressuring her to pursue a “practical” career in lieu of a “far-fetched” one.
“This is something for which I cannot thank them enough,” she said.
Even as most of her friends chose pre-medical paths of study, Rena stayed true to her inner voice.
She worked her way up the journalistic ladder beginning in the summer of 2015 at the Southampton Press, where she photographed and covered the news, real estate and health and wellness beats.
Rena also began contributing quirky features such as “Why You Should Totally Try Winter Surfing,” for the Long Island Pulse, in winter 2015.
In 2016, she oversaw the Arts and Entertainment section of The Stony Brook Statesman.
Moving from print to broadcast, Rena was enrolled in a class that solidified her love for video storytelling. In this class, JRN 371, she had the experience of being the producer, assignment editor, reporter and anchor of The Stony Brook News, a weekly newscast.
“I was drawn to broadcast journalism because an entire story can be wrapped into a minute and a half segment,” she said. “You can see the cause and effect of reporting take shape right before your eyes and it captures the real human spirit in a way that print can only leave to interpretation of the reader.”
Rena also served two internships at JVC Broadcasting, where she assisted in marketing for their four radio stations.
But the work that came to define her, was her final project in the School of Journalism, a requirement of the program supposed to encompass all forms of reporting, from print to web to broadcast.
Rena was conducting research on veterans finding jobs, which led her to a Facebook story about Matias Ferrera, a marine who lost both of his legs during his service and is currently a Suffolk County policeman.
This became her “Hiring Heroes” project:
“They really did teach me everything I needed to know about journalism,” said Rena about the School of Journalism.
“Stony Brook is very science-based and most of my friends want to go into the medical field,” Rena said. “And although the world needs doctors and dentists, we need to have something to read while we’re waiting to see them,” she joked.
— Glenn Jochum