KCRA reporter and anchor Leticia Ordaz is a Sacramento State graduate who seized upon the California State University's mission: to provide an education to all who are prepared for and wish to participate in college, and assisting qualified individuals who face barriers in that quest.
Ordaz (Communication Studies '98) is the first in her family to attend college after growing up in Galt where her parents, immigrants from Mexico, worked in the fields.
When it came to choosing a college, Sac State had what Ordaz wanted. It provided a four-year university experience, yet was close enough to home that she could frequently visit her family and enjoy her mother's cooking.
Her decision didn't mesh with the advice of some school counselors, who advised her to start out at a community college since she would be the first in her family to seek a higher learning diplomA.
But when Galt High School organized a tour of Sac State for some students, Ordaz's mind was made up. “We were just so impressed by all the trees, and the campus, and the residence halls,” she says.
There also were programs that helped her get acclimated to university life. The College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) provided support services, and the Summer Bridge Academy through the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) helped ease the transition from high school to college.
“It was a great experience with people who all had the same vision,” Ordaz says. “Many of us were the first in our families to go to college, so we were kind of in it together. We were all going through the same thing so college was not as scary.”
Those introductory programs also gave Ordaz a broader look at the world. “I grew up in a small community, and there wasn't a lot of diversity,” she says. “Coming to Sac State you get to meet people from all different backgrounds and learn about their cultures.”
In high school, Ordaz enjoyed theater and dance and considered being a drama major in college. She soon changed her mind and chose communications. “I thought there was a slim chance of my becoming an actress.”
In addition to carrying a full load and working two jobs, Ordaz also worked on a cable access program produced by students, and interned with the news staff at KCRA. “I had a dream to one day work there and to represent the Latino community,” she says.
Ordaz credits the internship for helping her land her first job in Elko, Nev., which she got two weeks before graduation.
Since KCRA interns were not allowed to work with camera equipment, Ordaz had quite a surprise when she arrived in Elko and found out that each reporter was a one-person crew. “They handed me a camera and said ‘go shoot your first story,' ” she says. “I had never touched camera gear. One of the other reporters trained me and within a day I was shooting and editing my own story, and it made the air that evening.”
From Elko, Ordaz went to KMPH in Fresno. While covering the trial of accused killer Scott Peterson in Redwood City, Ordaz ran into a KCRA photographer who remembered her from her intern days. He urged her to apply for a recent opening and in a few months she was covering the case for Channel 3.
The new job also led to national exposure since her reports were picked up by cable news network MSNBC and other outlets from coast to coast.
“It was like a dream come true,” Ordaz says, adding she had always hoped to get back to KCRA within four years of graduating. “I went to Elko in 1999 and was working at KCRA in September of 2003. I met my goal.”
Achieving goals is a regular feat for Ordaz - whether it's going to college or reaching her dream job in fewer than five years. Determination is one of her strengths.
“Nobody's going to tell me I can't do something,” she says. “And if someone tells me something's not going to happen, it just makes me work even harder for it.”
Ordaz always has found people to help her achieve those goals.
At Sacramento State she appreciated the willingness of the professors to help along their students. “I felt like the professors always had their doors open,” Ordaz says. “And I was one of those students who wasn't afraid to say ‘I don't get this.' ”
In her private life it was her parents who had her back, and the catch in her voice reveals the emotion Ordaz still feels when recalling what they did for her.
“I remember putting my cap and gown on and my father was so proud. All of the sacrifices - he worked so hard to give me money every week so I could afford groceries and pay rent while going to college.”
And she notes how sometimes you don't understand the full impact until later. “My parents made a lot of sacrifices so I could be here,” Ordaz says. “You don't think about it when they're giving you the money, but now I think, wow, that was a really big sacrifice. I know they went without.”
Sacramento State also provided another supporter of hers - her husband Enrique BaezA. “He was my college sweetheart,” Ordaz says. A more recent addition to Ordaz's life is the couple's son - and possible future Hornet - Maxton, who is 2 years old.
Ordaz now serves as a supporter to others - visiting elementary and high schools and community colleges in the area, encouraging students to continue their education. “It's important to let them know to dream big,” she says.
In her own family, Ordaz has been told by her younger cousins and their friends that her experience encouraged them to pursue a college education. “You never know what kind of impact you have,” Ordaz says. - Craig Koscho