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FIU Magazine’s founding editor, 20 years later

FIU Magazine’s founding editor, 20 years later

April 21, 2014 at 12:00am

Ever feel that time is elastic, sometimes crawling and other times speeding by? I experienced the latter when Deborah O’Neil, the wonderful editor of FIU Magazine, asked me to share some memories of the founding of this publication for its 20th anniversary issue.


FIU Magazine’s first issue, published in Fall 1994.

Twenty years – impossible! But time is relative, especially when viewed in the context of the events of the day. And when I think back to the early 1990s at FIU, the pace of progress defied conventional logic.

I joined the communications staff in 1988, just a scant 16 years after FIU opened its doors. For many universities that’s just a brief blip, but at FIU so much had been accomplished by then. The institution really hit the fast track when Modesto A. “Mitch” Maidique became the fourth president in 1986, and his bold, visionary, plans took root. It was an exciting period marked by constant change as well as the emergence of a distinct identity. However, the perceptions of and conversations about FIU had not caught up with the reality of the dynamic, forward-thinking university.

The communications at our disposal to tell the FIU story were limited. There was the local press and a Web that was still in its infancy. We produced an employee newsletter and some high-level communiqués to donors and civic leaders – but no publication serving alumni, donors, and friends. Given the flurry of activity and accomplishments, a high-quality, color publication was needed to get the stories out there. FIU Magazine was an idea whose time had come.

With my partner-in-arms, director of publications and creative director Terry Witherell (now vice president of External Eelations), we set about birthing this periodical. However, we never would have left the starting gate without the full support (and funding) provided by the late Paul Gallagher, the vice president for University Advancement, Budget and Support Services, and other top administration.


External Relations Vice President Terry Witherell, FIU Magazine founding editor Todd Ellenberg and FIU Magazine Editor Deborah O’Neil

From the get-go, we were both very deeply involved – selecting the most compelling stories, writing and editing, photographing (often shot by Terry herself), designing – all the pieces that need to come together to go to print. It was no easy task given the tight resources at our disposal, but throughout long days, evenings and weekends putting it together, it was a labor of love.

Looking back at our debut issue, I’m reminded of the remarkable people and times. There was a profile of Ron Jones, the founding director of the Southeast Environmental Research Center, an outspoken and passionate scientist deeply committed to the preservation of the Everglades. A story theorized on how Hurricane Andrew, which had devastated our community just two years earlier, could impact the convergence of ethnic communities. We looked at the construction boom transforming the campus. Over the course of the first few years, the magazine matured as we covered virtually all areas of the university and became appreciated by our readers, as well as those covered in its pages.

As FIU has progressed and grown over the last 20 years, so has this magazine. It’s a delight to receive every issue and revel in its storytelling and design, which reflects the vibrancy of a special university that means so much to our community.

— Todd Ellenberg MS ’91