The class of honorees chosen by PRNews last month represent women trailblazers in the field who think outside the box and who demonstrated significant passion for their work.
Bob Howe, assistant vice president for communications and special adviser to the president who has worked with Vergel since she started at Fordham in 2007, said the honor was extremely well deserved.
“She’s just stellar,” he said. “She sets the kind of tone that I like for collegiality and for inclusiveness in the department. And I trust her implicitly. Any boss would be lucky to have somebody like Gina as their right hand.”
Vergel oversees a shop of eight people, including the Fordham News team and the University’s social media director. She started at Fordham as a staff writer; around 2010, she began her work in media relations, pitching Fordham’s stories and faculty expertise to local and national outlets.
Under her direction, the University averages more than 10,000 global media mentions per quarter, with faculty appearing in national and local publications such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Post, and CNN.com, and on television and radio stations including NY1, MSNBC, and WNYC.
Vergel credits her time as a staff writer with helping her develop relationships with professors whom she would later pitch to the media.
“That is the best way to get to know faculty, administrators, and even some students,” she said, noting that she’s grateful she covered so many topics and departments as a News staffer. “One day, you could be interviewing a mathematics professor, the next day, a biology professor. That’s how you build connections.”
Many of the faculty members are just as grateful to her—both for the media placements and her guidance.
“I think she’s fabulous. First of all, she’s an incredible powerhouse with making connections,” said Paul Levinson, Ph.D., professor of communication and media studies. “I really consider myself lucky that Fordham has someone with Gina’s level of commitment and professionalism, because it’s helped me a lot.”
Mark Conrad, an associate professor of law and ethics, said that Vergel’s success with media placements has improved Fordham’s profile.
“She added a degree of urgency, pizzazz, and I think, a really good working strategy with faculty who want to get to be noticed in the media,” he said. “[Fordham is] in the same city as Columbia and NYU, and chances are most media tended to go to them, because of the name recognition.” But thanks to Vergel’s know-how and connections, he said, reporters regularly seek out Fordham experts.
Vergel attributes her success, in part, to finding the right angles and the right reporters.
“With the media landscape, reporters are so overworked right now, having to be on 24/7,” she said. “So trying to get their attention can be difficult, and so I try to be very mindful of that, because I was a reporter. So I’m not sending blanket pitches to just a huge list.”
Before Fordham, Vergel was an award-winning reporter for Home News Tribune and Ridgewood News in New Jersey, her home state, where she also reported for radio stations WRNJ and WGHT. She earned a B.A. from William Patterson University and a master’s in organizational leadership from Fordham’s Graduate School of Education.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., associate professor of political science, said that Vergel brings both an easygoing attitude and a professional skillset to the job.
“She’s fun. I’ve got 1,000 different things going on, and so to work with someone who has an easygoing temperament is great but also, she knows her job really well,” said Greer, who regularly appears on stations such as MSNBC and WNYC. “All of our interactions have just been clear communication, positive energy, high energy.”
Greer said that Vergel’s work not only benefits the University community, it also brings academic expertise to people who might not have gone to college.
“It’s great for alumni because they like to see their university represented in national and international outlets,” Greer said. “It’s great for recruiting because I get lots of people on Twitter who say, ‘I can’t wait to apply to Fordham because if I can get you as a professor, this is awesome.’ And also, not everyone is fortunate enough to go to college …. So whenever I do outward facing stuff, I view it as regular people getting to spend five or 10 minutes with a professor.”
While Vergel still does a lot of pitching in her current role, she’s also very involved with communications strategy decisions.
“For a lot of the news, even a lot of marketing-type decisions, I’m brought in to consult on different strategies that we’ll take, how we put word out there via social media,” she said. “You have your hands in everything that has to do with telling Fordham’s story.”
Howe said Vergel’s a natural storyteller who is gifted in finding stories that appeal to different populations. She’s also been essential, he said, to the University’s efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“She has been good at helping me and [the Department of Alumni and University Relations], in thinking through how we approach issues of race, especially from a Latina perspective,” he said.
Vergel said she’s incredibly grateful for the recognition from PRNews as she’s used to being “behind the scenes.” And as the daughter of immigrants, she’s especially proud of what she’s achieved.
“I feel it was in my parents’ wildest dreams. When they came to this country from Colombia in 1970, they had to do menial labor. My father was a custodian and my mother worked in a factory. They wanted to have their children here for us to have opportunities. They’ve just been incredibly proud of us,” she said.