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Monica Rizzo '87

Monica Rizzo '87Monica Rizzo, a 1987 IUP graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism, attributes much of her success to professor Patricia Heilman, who guided her to see that she didn’t have to be “another Jane Pauley doing hard news.”

“Never in a million years did I realize that I could be anything other than a serious journalist,” Ms. Rizzo said. “Pat was an excellent role model for female students. She was the one who suggested that I look into entertainment journalism because of my love of the arts. ‘Write about things that interest you,’ she told me. What a concept.”

Randy Jesick is another of her former journalism professors whom Ms. Rizzo admires.

“Randy was very influential, and I’m in awe of his encyclopedic memory,” Ms. Rizzo said. “He’s an excellent ambassador for the university.”

Ms. Rizzo began her journalism career at the Indiana Gazette but decided to move to Los Angeles in 1988, driving her un-air conditioned Pontiac Sunbird across the country “sweating bullets because it was during the dog days of August.”

After working in retail at Banana Republic, she got a job at Sports Illustrated as an advertising sales secretary. It was a chance meeting in an elevator with an editor from People Magazine that resulted in an interview and a position at that magazine, where she now serves as senior writer.

Ms. Rizzo said she is “completely flattered” to receive the 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award.

She advises IUP students to be willing to consider careers “outside the box,” especially ones that may appear to be less than perfect, and be willing to “rough it” if necessary.

“Before I could afford my own place to stay, I slept in sleeping bags on friends’ floors,” Ms. Rizzo said. “I constantly volunteered to cover events for the magazine because (a) it would give me experience, and (b) there was free food, always a plus for a struggling journalist.”

She also recalls an early apartment where she would “plug up the kitchen sink to keep the cockroaches from crawling out at night.” She feels that, without experiences such as this, people lose the lesson on how to be resourceful.

In her position at People Magazine, Ms. Rizzo’s main “beats” include American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and the Disney Channel. She has written 10 entertainment books, including a 2011 biography on Cheryl Burke, a professional dancer on Dancing with the Stars, as well as The 7th Heaven Scrapbook, and Meet the OC Superstars: The Official Biography.

Ms. Rizzo has returned to IUP several times, including during the Fall 2009 semester, when she spoke to five sections of Journalism classes and was the guest speaker in Beard Auditorium in Stouffer Hall, sharing stories of her adventures in the TV/entertainment/magazine-journalism world of Hollywood. In March and April 2012, Ms. Rizzo taught a magazine writing course at IUP.

In 2009, she received second place honors from the Los Angeles Press Club for Entertainment Journalist of the Year. In 2010, two of her features were honored by the National Press Club, and in 2011 her writing was again honored by the Los Angeles Press Club.

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Michael, CEO of Pen Music Group, and her nine-year-old son, Matthew.

Profile published on 5/31/12

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