By Rebecca Esparza ’99 BA & ’03 MBA
At only 22, Michael Saenz ’13 BS is already living his dream: broadcasting the weather as a television meteorologist. Before graduating last December, he accepted a job with Tyler Media Group’s Accion Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, Okla. The company broadcasts Spanish language programming throughout Oklahoma via Univision and Telemundo.
But fulfilling his lifelong dream did not come without major obstacles. Saenz was born legally blind and doctors gave him a 10 percent chance of surviving. His medical condition, retinopathy of prematurity, left him completely blind in his left eye and legally blind in his right eye.
According to Srihari Narayanan OD, Ph.D., FAAO, associate professor and director of dry eye and cornea service for UIW’s Rosenberg School of Optometry (RSO), retinopathy of prematurity is a condition of abnormal blood vessel development in the retina of the eye that can occur in premature infants with very low birth weight. “Premature babies are often exposed to high levels of oxygen while they are being cared for in the hospital,” he explained. “This oxygen exposure is thought to initiate the development of retinopathy of prematurity. It affects almost 60 percent of premature babies in the United States and almost 80 percent of premature babies worldwide.”
Although most have been supportive in helping him achieve his dream, there were some along the way who impeded his chances of success.
“I was bullied in middle school,” he recalled. “I had devices that would help me see, but I was embarrassed to use them. When I did start using them, I was surprised to learn kids thought they were cool. They wanted to learn more. It helped break the ice and became a conversation piece. I learned early: you are your own biggest advocate.”
Born and raised in San Antonio, Saenz said his parents gave him the foundation he needed to create his independence.
“Although I had a disability, my parents treated me just like my brother and sister,” he said. “In elementary school, I started orientation and mobility classes, which were invaluable.”
Saenz knew he wanted to be a meteorologist at the age of seven. But it was during his sophomore year in high school when he became part of a significant weather event that solidified his career choice.
“My family and I ran into a treacherous storm on the highway in San Antonio and it started pouring down rain. Then huge hail started pounding our car. Thankfully, we were able to take shelter under an overpass. But it was a rush and my heart was racing with excitement. I immediately started looking for schools.”
In 2009, he attended his first South Texas Severe Weather Conference, where he toured the meteorology department at UIW and met with some students.
“The conference was a great networking opportunity, where I met students and weathercasters from across the country,” he said. “That was also the first year I became a Certified Storm Spotter through the National Weather Service.”
While enrolled at UIW, he explored different ways to break into the business. When one door closed, Saenz had the fortitude and tenacity to open another door.
“I began an internship at WOAI in San Antonio, where I eventually recorded the weathercast at their studio and brought it back for airing on UIWTV,” he noted. “It was a professional looking weathercast and even after my class, UIWTV asked me to continue taping the segments.”
His work at WOAI, San Antonio’s NBC affiliate, was going so well the station extended his internship, eventually offering him a job as associate weather producer. Saenz was responsible for posting severe weather updates to the station’s social media networks. He also developed a new way of tracking weather that saved the staff valuable time.
“I’ve had people in my life who said I couldn’t do this, that it would be impossible to do what I truly loved, so to actually become employed doing what I love was amazing. I learned so much from the entire weather team at WOAI. It’s an amazing feeling to get paid doing what I love,” Saenz said.
A few weeks before graduating late last year, Saenz accepted the broadcast job offer in Oklahoma, which has him forecasting the weather for both evening newscasts to Oklahoma’s Spanish speaking community. Accion Oklahoma is the only statewide Spanish-language newscast broadcast in the state.
Saenz has some sage words of advice for others with obstacles that keep them from living their own dreams. It’s advice he learned the hard way.
“Don’t let other people bring you down. At the end of the day, we create our own happiness. Others don’t have the final say over what you are capable of doing.”