Virginia Tech Magazine
Feature -|- Fall 2006

Hoda Kotb: Making her own way
by Amy Boyce M.A. '97

Hoda Kotb Hoda Kotb '86, NBC correspondent
Imagine yourself as a high school senior who wants to be a journalist. When it comes to making a decision about where you'll attend college, do you choose a school known for both its competitive journalism program and sometimes-antagonistic environment? Or do you select a school that offers not only a well-rounded college experience but also the opportunity to learn by paving your own way? If you're Hoda Kotb (communication '86), "Dateline NBC" correspondent and host of the weekly syndicated series "Your Total Health," you choose the latter--Virginia Tech.

Kotb, who grew up in Alexandria, Va., was regaled by stories about Blacksburg and the university by her older sister, who attended Virginia Tech. When it came time for Kotb to forge her own educational path, she was looking for energy, school spirit, and that something special. And she found all of that at Virginia Tech.

"It felt good saying I was going to Tech," Kotb remembers. "You just lay your eyes on this place and something happens." As it happened, many of Kotb's friends also attended Virginia Tech. "Tech turned out to be the hot spot," she laughs.

Athough Virginia Tech didn't have a nationally recognized school of journalism, Kotb felt that Tech's smaller department would be a better fit for her. "It meant I could be more involved," she explains. "I wouldn't be a tiny drop in a huge ocean. I felt like I could make it work."

And make it work, she did.

When Kotb arrived on campus, she found it big and overwhelming, yet she knew from the first that she had made the right choice. Soon after her arrival, Kotb made her way to the campus radio station, WUVT, and signed up for her first job, playing music at 3 a.m. Later, she and a friend decided to carve out a news department at the station--and a journalist was born. The first night that she reported the news at WUVT, Kotb remembers thinking, "Oh my gosh, I'm broadcasting the news! I loved that radio station," she adds.

In spite of her successes at Virginia Tech, however, Kotb faced obstacles after graduation--specifically, 27 interviewers told her that she wasn't ready for her dream job.

Yet Kotb kept trying. "My parents always said, 'You can do it,'" she says. "And I did."

Finally, after driving for days and talking to any news director who would speak to her, she was offered a job in Greenville, Miss. Since then, Kotb's career has taken her all the way to the network news in New York City. But, she says, "every time, I have the same 'Oh, my gosh!' feeling I had when I was doing the news at WUVT."

Her work at NBC has allowed Kotb to travel around the world, and she's seen a great deal of the human experience, such as her meeting with the man who lost one of his two daughters to the December 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Kotb asked him how he was feeling. His response? "He told me he felt lucky. Lucky the tsunami didn't take both of his daughters."

She also met a mother who lost her child after Hurricane Katrina, when she handed her to a stranger through a bus window but didn't make it onto the bus herself. Kotb says that a local police officer drove that mother to Houston to find her baby.

Then there was the battered woman who collected her three children and her last dollar, walked out on her abusive husband, and became a successful self-help author. "This job has shown me the resilience of human beings and what people are able to overcome," Kotb says.

Though her work schedule doesn't give her much opportunity to visit campus, Kotb does when she gets a chance. The campus has changed a lot since she graduated but each visit brings back a wave of memories of people and places. "It's like watching a small child grow," she laughs. "I'm amazed. When I think about how many changes have taken place in the last 20 years, it's hard to even imagine where it will be in another 20."

Kotb looks forward to the day that Virginia Tech's Department of Communication will gain more national prominence. "My hope is that when you go to the network and say, 'I graduated from Virginia Tech,' everyone will nod and say, 'Of course you did.'"

There is no doubt in Kotb's mind that attending Virginia Tech was the best choice. "Virginia Tech gave me confidence and I took with me the knowledge that they believed in me there," she says. "There's just something different here that other schools don't have."

She also has some advice for today's Virginia Tech students. "Be singularly focused on what you want. Do something every day that will take you closer to your goal. But don't miss the moments when you're here. Enjoy your classes and embrace your professors. Enjoy your friends." And her most important piece of advice? "Find your own thing--whatever that is. You can do it."

Hoda Kotb Hoda Kotb '86 with Women and Leadership in Philanthropy Council members (left to right) Vickie Bell '79, Regina Steeneck '70, and Lou Merryman. Kotb visited Virginia Tech for the Circle of Excellence Retreat held in June.

Amy Boyce is publications editor for the Office of University Development.

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