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Trading wedding bells for cowbells: MS State Online opens career opportunities for Katie Zuniga

One might wonder how a successful wedding planner and stay-at-home mom became an on-air meteorologist, but for Katie Zuniga it was a natural progression.

Zuniga started a wedding business after a college student asked for help planning her wedding.

“You are so organized, and you’ve planned your own wedding–can you help me with mine? My family is driving me nuts,” Zuniga recalled. From there, Zuniga said, things took off as one friend after another approached her for help. As word spread, she opened an office rather than meeting clients at the local Starbucks. The business grew into offices in both Portland and Salem, Oregon. Later, Zuniga began discussing wedding planning during monthly appearances on a long-running morning show-KATU’s “AM Northeast”.

After becoming a mother, Zuniga left her wedding planning business to focus on her family full time. But once her children started school, she began looking for something to occupy her time.

“My husband remembered seeing the sparkle in my eye while I planned wedding segments for ‘AM Northeast’ and suggested I seek a degree in journalism,” Zuniga said.

Katie Zuniga sitting at a desk smiling

She began classes at a local community college with an eye on an Associate of Applied Science focusing on digital media communication and journalism. The degree required an internship, and Zuniga landed one with KTVZ in Bend, Oregon. The station offered her a job, and she finished the final semester of the degree remotely.

“When you work at a small-market news station, you get a chance to try all of the positions,” Zuniga said. “I thought it would be fun to learn to fill in for weather when the weather people were sick or on vacation. It took maybe a month before I realized this was what I was here to do.”

Knowing that becoming a meteorologist required further education, she sought advice about obtaining a degree without moving her family and quitting her job.

“Every single person I asked said ‘Mississippi State’,” recalled Zuniga.

She enrolled in Mississippi State’s online geoscience bachelor's program, with a concentration in broadcast and operational meteorology, and soon was offered the evening weather position at the television station. Then, midway through her second semester, just months into her new job, her children were sent home from school due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For the next two and a half years, I was teaching my kids at home, doing my classes through MS State Online, and working fulltime at KTVZ,” she said.

While her online journey was atypical, Zuniga said she found the process rewarding.

“The highlight of the program for me was the relationships I built with classmates and teachers from a distance,” she said. “I have at least half a dozen friends from the program who I consider good friends. They have been extremely supportive and walked the last several years with me. I created a bond I did not think was possible with an online program.“

Zuniga graduated with her meteorology degree in August 2022 and said she plans to continue her career at KTVZ and knows her degree prepared her for additional opportunities.

“One of the main reasons I love my job is that I help people daily,” Zuniga said. “The weather impacts everyone and being able to reach people like that is not a job many have. Now that I am a meteorologist, I better understand the ‘why’ behind what’s happening, and I believe I can give more effective and accurate forecasts to help my community be prepared and possibly save lives.”