Emmy Award-winning Univisión anchor pursues degree at FDU

Merijoel desk edit

By Kenna Caprio           

At age 46, Merijoel Durán is “doing all the things I should’ve been doing 26 years ago,” she says.

In 2013, the successful Univisión anchor and reporter decided to go back to school, enrolling in Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Puerta al Futuro program, designed for adult learners and native Spanish speakers seeking to continue their education. The program runs out of Petrocelli College of Continuing Studies at the Metropolitan Campus.

“Even though I achieved all this success, I didn’t have a college degree,” says Durán. “I felt uncomfortable talking about the importance of an education when I didn’t have one myself. I want to be an example for my kids.”

She’ll have an undergraduate degree soon — a Bachelor of Arts in individualized studies with a concentration in communication. And she’s planning to forge ahead and get her master’s degree in administrative science with concentrations in international relations and diplomacy and nonprofit organizational development.

Armed with two degrees, Durán plans to marry her current career with a future one, blending her local community priorities, with international interests and communications experience.

Merijoel close up

“When you become a journalist and reporter it’s because it’s in your heart. This is about helping people and about trying to be better. My career has shown me how to be more humble,” she says. “When I cover stories about people living in bad conditions, like a family of 10 in an apartment with one bedroom, that’s when I see my blessings.”

Born in the Dominican Republic, Durán was raised in Paterson, N.J.

“I came to this country when I was four years old, and grew up in a tough neighborhood, with drugs and violence,” she says.

As a young, single mother, Durán took night courses at the now defunct Center for Media Arts in New York City, N.Y. During the 10-month night course in 1992, she gained hands on experience as a reporter. Shortly after completing the program, she called Telemundo, a Spanish-language television network, seeking an internship. Following a yearlong internship, she took an assistant position with the network — anything to get her foot in the door.

“They used to call me a sponge there,” Durán says, because she soaked up every ounce of experience available. She quickly rose to the role of production assistant and started practicing the weather on her own with a prompter when the need for a substitute arose. “I used to be in the studio everyday. I saw how the weather anchor did it.” Until she resigned — while expecting her second child — Durán worked as the substitute weather anchor and production assistant at Telemundo for three years. During that time she also worked for a radio station in the morning.

In 1999, she applied and auditioned for a job at Univisión, another Spanish-language television network. She started doing weather and traffic updates. In 2000, when the New York Yankees won the World Series, she got her first shot at being a reporter. “I became a reporter and have been ever since. Then one day the news anchor for the morning show went on maternity leave. I applied to be her substitute. Now, I’m the anchor of the morning show,” Durán says.

The journalist and winner of four Emmys and an Edward R. Murrow Award doesn’t take her success for granted, though, always striving to do more and be more. In 2003, Durán received a Presidential Medal from the Dominican Republic, the highest honor that can be bestowed by the president.

In her New Jersey community, Durán has tutored high school students, volunteered for the American Cancer Society, participated in walks for multiple sclerosis, worked for diabetes awareness and mentored immigrant mothers in Passaic, N.J.

“I can be a voice for thousands of immigrants who came to this country to do good, be better and help people,” says Durán. “A voice for Latino women and kids who grew up like me, to tell them, ‘you can do it, the way I did.’”

She also found the time to become a foster mom, eventually adopting a child. Now, her children are 24, 18 and 12 years old. Durán says when her children see her struggle while doing homework that they encourage her to keep going. Puerta al Futuro has given her a chance to go further. “It’s the only program that I’ve seen so far, that can give an opportunity to older immigrants who come here and are professionals. People are reinventing themselves,” she says.

“It takes sacrifice for good things to come,” says Durán. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, with sacrifice, your dream can come true.”