College students rarely grasp the full potential of their opportunities. But one Portland State student, originally from Zimbabwe, sees her opportunity as a stepping-stone toward achieving the American dream. “I want to be a talk show host,” Zanele Mutepfa declared with a confident but humble smile. She’s a junior at PSU and studying communication is the first step toward realizing that goal.
College students rarely grasp the full potential of their opportunities. But one Portland State student, originally from Zimbabwe, sees her opportunity as a stepping-stone toward achieving the American dream.
“I want to be a talk show host,” Zanele Mutepfa declared with a confident but humble smile. She’s a junior at PSU and studying communication is the first step toward realizing that goal.
Mutepfa lost both of her parents by age 11 and came to the U.S. to live with an adoptive family. She said that despite her loss she feels fortunate. She wishes to spread that message of hope to others by connecting with television audiences.
“It’s not about fame or money,” Mutepfa said. “There is nothing more impactful than the media, and I want to create an outlet to inspire people to be better.”
One of her biggest role models is talk show icon Oprah Winfrey. Mutepfa said she began watching Oprah’s show while in high school and became fascinated by her level of influence on society.
“It’s not just her position, it’s her heart. It’s her passion to help and talk to people that I love,” she explained.
One night while Mutepfa was contemplating how best to accomplish her goals, an idea came to her: She decided she could reach out to those currently in her dream career field for guidance.
“I didn’t have a clue how people get a talk show,” Mutepfa said with a laugh. “I only knew they graduated from college and then got into these positions. I wondered what happened in between that time, so I reached out to them.”
Mutepfa sent out letters to about 2,000 people working in the media and received responses from only six. One of them was Anne Kreamer, a well-known author and former executive vice president of Nickelodeon.
Kreamer was so impressed by Mutepfa that she not only responded, but in February also wrote an article about her in Harvard Business Review called “Make a Stranger Believe in You.” Mutepfa’s story has since received international attention.
“I’ve heard from some of the best public relations firms, and they want to meet with me,” Mutepfa said. “One girl reached out to me from Singapore to tell me how much I’ve inspired her. It makes me feel like all those nights I stayed up writing letters paid off.”
Mutepfa said that she also has aspirations to become an author. The first story she would like to write is her own, because it holds so many lives in it. She said it’s more than just about her. It’s about her family and friends, too.
“They make me who I am,” she said. “If I can tell my story, then I can also tell their stories.”
A major source of fuel for Mutepfa’s motivation comes from her biological mother, who passed away in 2003 from heart failure. Despite being well-educated and ambitious, she struggled to meet career goals because she lacked American citizenship.
“She was so intelligent and so articulate,” Mutepfa recalled proudly of her mother. “I feel like the only thing hindering her success was a piece of paper saying she was American. If she had that, I think she could have done absolutely anything.”
Realizing how fortunate she is to have American citizenship, Mutepfa serves as the assistant coordinator of African-American Student Services at PSU, helping others to succeed. She works to address issues like finances by assisting students in finding scholarships.
She also pioneered the Empowering Sisterhood program last year, which is a support network for women who are struggling. They come together to meet once a month to empower each other.
“It’s about taking the time to appreciate things about yourself so you won’t need the world’s confirmation,” she said.
Mutepfa’s media experience so far includes working as a host for programs on PSU TV and REAP TV, short for Reaching and Empowering All People. She hopes that with her new media industry contacts she will find an internship to gain even more experience.
“I feel comfortable on camera,” she said. “Right before the cameras start rolling I feel nervous, but once it gets going it’s just a conversation.”
Mutepfa is unsure how long the road toward becoming a TV talk show host will be and recognizes that some doors may not open. But one thing she is certain of is her passion.
“My passion is people. My passion is to inspire and empower others. If I do the best I can, I think I can find a door,” she said.