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CSUF alumna Vikki Vargas reflects on her career, her scholarship fund

One morning in 1981, Vikki Vargas, then a senior at Cal State Fullerton, walked into an Orange County  Board of Supervisors meeting to cover the proceedings in downtown Santa Ana as an intern for KOCE-TV.

She smiled at that memory when, on July 19, 2022, she walked into the Board of Supervisors meeting to be recognized as a local TV news icon during her 40th year on the NBC4 team.

That day, the news was about her, with her NBC4 colleagues airing a tribute video that chronicled some of her biggest stories, from the release of the American hostages in Iran to her scoop about the three inmates escaping from the Orange County Jail.

But the news never has been about her, an emotional Vargas noted after receiving a proclamation from her friend and fellow sorority sister at CSUF, Supervisor Lisa Bartlett.

“My mom said a long time ago — this was before social media existed, right? We’re talking four decades. She said, ‘Don’t believe the hype.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ She said, ‘It’s not about you and it’s never been.’”

Added Vargas: “It’s always about the people I put on TV because they’re the reason we do these stories.”

The classics

It is in this spirit — humility, getting the story right, reporting on issues that are important to local communities – that the NBC4-Vikki Vargas Broadcast Journalism Scholarship was established 11 years ago.

The scholarship, a partnership between CSUF and NBC4, supports college students interested in pursuing careers in broadcast journalism. Every spring, Vargas looks forward to attending the event.

“It gets me back on campus every year to see how things are evolving and see who is teaching the journalists of the future,” says Vargas, adding with a laugh: “I’m not sure what lies ahead in the future, but I have the classics down.”

Vargas feels a close connection to her alma mater.

“I’m cut from the same cloth as the majority of students there,” she says. “I was the first in my family to go to college. I’m Hispanic. My success in broadcast journalism gave me pause to think, ‘There are so many students there like me.’ What they need is a little push, and the scholarship helps us do that.”

‘A positive change’

The most recent scholarship recipient is Alexis Rae Johnson-Fowlkes, an aspiring journalist, model, philanthropist and businesswoman who grew up in South Los Angeles watching Vargas on NBC4.

“I always had a passion for being in front of the camera, and I’m big on community service,” Johnson-Fowlkes says.

She plans to pursue a career as a TV news anchor after she earns her bachelor’s degree in communications with a concentration in journalism next spring.

And she views Vargas as the ideal role model.

“She’s one of the most genuine people I’ve met,” says Johnson-Fowlkes, who received the scholarship at an April 27 ceremony and enjoyed a long hug with Vargas. “I want to thank her for seeing the potential in my work.”

Johnson-Fowlkes, 20, says as a TV news reporter and anchor her goal would be “to be a voice for unheard communities.”

Adds Johnson-Fowlkes, who is Black: “I want to tell stories that reflect my community and other communities that are underrepresented in the news or, when they are (represented), it’s usually in a negative light.

“I plan to make a positive change wherever I end up.”

An epiphany

As bureau chief for NBC4 in Orange County, Vargas, celebrated for her versatility and journalistic integrity, is responsible for gathering and covering the region’s major news stories weekdays for the NBC4 News at 11 a.m., 4 p.m. 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.After being honored by the Board of Supervisors, Vargas went to work.

Huge waves were crashing at the Wedge in Newport Beach.

A young reporter also covering the high surf congratulated Vargas on her 40 years in the business.

“It was an epiphany for me,” Vargas recalls. “The TV reporter, a young woman, told me: ‘I don’t think this business is going to last 40 years from now.”

“You could be right,” Vargas told her.

She explains: “We livestream and do all sorts of things on our phones. You’re still going to have people covering the news, but it’s so bifurcated now. You can get it anywhere, anytime.”

During her 40 years at NBC4, Vargas has won numerous honors and awards for her professional achievements and community involvement including the Sky Dunlap Award, the Orange County Press Club’s highest honor for career achievement and community service.

She’s also won a Golden Mike, a State Bar Association Award for “Outstanding Reporting,” the Orange County Press Club Award for “Best News Reporting,” and she was part of the team that won a Los Angeles Area Emmy Award for “Best Newscast” in 2008.

CSUF has given Vargas a Vision & Visionaries Award, the highest possible tribute given by the school to alumni.The accolades are great, Vargas says. But one of her most rewarding pleasures happens every month when she and her husband of 35 years, Mike Nason, go out and buy whatever Sunday newspapers they can find and sit outside their Dana Point home and read them.

Speaking like a true news hound, Vargas says: “It’s one of the most romantic things we do.”

 

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