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Communication Department's Brenda Garton-Sjoberg Has Enjoyed Lifetime of Reporters and Lectures

By Kenneth Stratton '19 TUESDAY, JUNE 18, 2019 - 12:00 PM WNE100

In 2007, a student of journalism took her seat, among a group of 20-somethings just itching to get their careers underway. But she’d already done so - about two decades earlier.

Brenda Garton-Sjoberg found herself in an unusual position when she enrolled at Quinnipiac University to earn her master's degree in journalism. Not only was she now jockeying for the use of the family computer with her sons to do homework, but she could relate with her own students at Western New England University on a whole new level.

“It was an interesting role to be a student again, while at the same time, being a professor,” said Garton-Sjoberg. Here, as she’d done many times before, Garton-Sjoberg proved that she was not afraid to shake up her life if it meant advancing her career.

A native of Columbus, Indiana, Garton-Sjoberg grew up with prominent parents involved in the community. Her mother started, chaired, and served as president for many local organizations. Her father served in the Indiana State Senate for 36 years, spending 26 of those as the longest serving legislative leader in state history, at the helm as President Pro Tempore.

“Our dinner table conversations were always centered around politics and current events. I believe that’s where I began my nose for news,” Garton-Sjoberg explained. Soon, she began to dabble in journalism.

“I was actually involved in broadcasting in high school,” said Garton-Sjoberg. “When I left for Ball State [University] I’d often come home on the weekends and certainly during breaks to work at the radio stations. It helped me to get used to working holidays,” the professor explained.

Following graduation, Garton-Sjoberg would throw herself into broadcast journalism for the next 20 years, working for four different television stations. Her first big break came when she moved from Columbus to South Bend, Indiana, to work for a CBS affiliate. Two years later, she’d leave the Hoosier state for an NBC station in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“I was the night reporter reporting live for the 11:00 nightly news, so when the morning anchor would call in sick I’d volunteer to go home, take a shower, and anchor the next morning - working a double shift,” Garton-Sjoberg recalled.

From Michigan she’d move further east to Pennsylvania to become morning news anchor for WBRE-TV, before eventually landing in western Massachusetts as an evening news anchor. Garton-Sjoberg remembers that leaving for an unfamiliar part of the country was daunting, but time and time again, she was willing to make these changes to further her career.

Starting work with WWLP-TV in Springfield in 1989, Garton-Sjoberg would become a staple of local television, broadcast into the homes of Western Massachusetts residents for the next decade plus.

She recalled some of her most memorable work, including a mammogram on camera, jumping out of an airplane for a feature on skydiving, interviewing Vice President Dan Quayle, and coverage from the Middle East during Desert Shield in the Persian Gulf War. Sometimes, Garton-Sjoberg’s life became the story.

“Cameras were in the delivery room pretty quickly after giving birth to Stefan and Bo. Not ideal, but I agreed to the coverage. When you’re on the air, you have strong connections with viewers, and sometimes that comes with sharing your own stories,” Garton-Sjoberg said. Today, her sons are both Golden Bears themselves; Stefan graduated from the School of Law in 2018, and Bo is a current law student.

Garton-Sjoberg received her first taste of teaching in 1996 at Bay Path University. During this time she also oversaw the internship program at 22 News, working closely with college students to help secure their careers. “This is where the seed was planted to teach,” she explained, and soon it was time to leave the anchor desk behind.

“I absolutely enjoyed serving as news anchor, reporting on stories important to our region and the responsibility that comes with being an ambassador for the television station in the community,” Garton-Sjoberg said. “And now, I enjoy helping students get positions in this industry and related professions,” said the broadcaster-turned-professor.

Coming to Western New England in 2001 as the Director of College Relations, Garton-Sjoberg found herself spending more time inside the classroom. Working first as an adjunct, Garton-Sjoberg became a full-time faculty member in 2007 while she was studying at Quinnipiac.

Garton-Sjoberg’s impact has been felt all across campus. During her tenure, more courses in journalism, radio and television have been added. In 2003, Garton-Sjoberg co-founded the Student Media Festival, and in 2006 saw the TV studio in the D’Amour Library come to fruition. In recent years, much of the professor’s work has been focused on facilitating and advising the Study Abroad program that brings Western New England students to Sorrento, Italy.

“I believe this was the path that I was always meant to take,” Garton-Sjoberg said, reflecting on her work with students. “Watching their success, it reminds me of my starting days. It is extremely rewarding to see students I’ve met as teenagers, grow into professionals. To think I may have played a part in their life in becoming a professional is a feeling of pride difficult to describe. At times, I feel like a proud mom as much as I do a professor,” she added.

In her roles as a student, reporter and professor, Garton-Sjoberg has spent most of her career in either the newsroom or the classroom. As a result, she remains uniquely positioned to continue connecting her students with professionals in the community.

After a career full of live shots and lectures, Garton-Sjoberg says the next career change she’ll make is retirement…but not quiet yet. For someone who’s been dedicated to building her career, and helping build those of others, retirement might be the most difficult change of all.