When Mackenzie Pearce ’21 set her sights on sports broadcasting as a college major, little did she know that before she graduated she would make history in her chosen field. As a member of the crew that produced the January 16 women’s basketball game between Syracuse University and Georgia Tech, Pearce played a significant role in the first-ever live ACC Network Extra (ACCNX) broadcast produced by women in every leading position. Working out of the Newhouse Studios, she served as producer of the pregame, halftime and postgame shows.
Before she even arrived at Syracuse University, Pearce had distinguished herself in her Ocean City, New Jersey, high school as the lead anchor for the school’s broadcast “The Current OC.” She helped produce and live-record the 15-minute broadcast every Thursday. During her senior year, the school submitted an entry to the Mid-Atlantic Emmy competition and won Best Broadcast, as well as awards in an assortment of subcategories. By the time she finished high school, Pearce was so focused on entering the field of sports broadcasting that she sent out just one college application: to the top-ranked Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
Pearce didn’t get into Newhouse initially, but she was undaunted. She decided to enroll in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences to study communication sciences and disorders (CSD), and made that her minor when she later transferred into Newhouse. “I loved CSD and learning about audiology, even if I didn’t want to make it my career,” she says. “My mom was a nurse and I share her interest in the field of medicine, so I worked hard and earned a 3.9 GPA.”
Even though she excelled academically, the transition from high school to college wasn’t what she expected.
“I had been looking forward to college since the moment I started high school,” Pearce says, “but I cried every day for the first two weeks. My mom died of cancer when I was in high school, and my family is super close, so I had a hard time adjusting to being away from my father and little brother. I even came up with a plan to return home the next semester and go to community college.”
But she held on, made some good friends on campus and hit her stride during the next few weeks of her first semester. Then one day at the end of October, she felt a tingling in her feet that lasted three days. A spinal tap and MRI revealed that she had Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves, causing paralysis. After four plasmapheresis treatments in which all the blood in her body was pumped out, plasma extracted, and donor plasma injected back in, she made a full recovery.
Invigorated by her improved health and the wealth of opportunities available to her even before becoming a Newhouse student, Pearce decided to follow her dream and get involved in the ACC Network (ACCN) studio shows. She showed up at the Newhouse Studio and Innovation Center’s Dick Clark Studio—a freshman in a control room of upperclassmen—and instantly knew that she had found her passion. It was there that she got a head start on her Newhouse education.
Pearce’s GPA allowed her to do an intra-university transfer to Newhouse at the beginning of her sophomore year, to major in broadcast and digital journalism . She hit the ground running, working closely with Newhouse television, radio and film professor Olivia Stomski ’01, director of the Newhouse Sports Media Center and executive producer at ProAngle Media in Los Angeles. “She really took me under her wing when I got involved in the ACC Network shows,” Pearce says. “I’m now the executive producer of the ACCN studio shows, and I associate directed a FOX broadcast of a Syracuse men’s basketball game. Professor Stomski is more than just a mentor—she’s opened so many doors, and there aren’t enough words to describe how much she has changed my life.”
Professor Stomski is more than just a mentor—she’s opened so many doors, and there aren’t enough words to describe how much she has changed my life.
Building Connections and Confidence
Pearce, whose ultimate goal is to become a live sports studio show producer, has made some exciting connections in that field during her time at Syracuse University. “I was able to be the Newhouse representative when Bob Costas ’74—sportscaster and host of ‘Studio 42 with Bob Costas’—came to campus to tour the school with his niece,” she recalls. “Then Professor Stomski took me to New York City with her to attend a conference on women in sports. I also met NBC sportscaster Mike Tirico ’88, and he told me I was doing a good job with ACC Network.”
In January, Pearce played a significant role in the “female forward” broadcast that made history as the first on the ACCNX to feature a female in every lead position. The live broadcast and accompanying studio shows of the women’s basketball game between Syracuse and Georgia Tech featured women on both sides of the camera. “We didn’t set out to make history, but it just happened that way,” Pearce says. “And it happened because the women sitting in those chairs earned those positions and worked hard to be there.”
We didn’t set out to make history, but it just happened that way. And it happened because the women sitting in those chairs earned those positions and worked hard to be there.
Pearce worked with her mentor Olivia Stomski to produce the pregame, halftime and postgame shows. “I’m grateful I was able to be part of the event, but I also know what I did to get there and that I deserved to be there,” Pearce says. “The hard work we put into the broadcast is unmatched. It’s exciting to be recognized for our hard work and even more exciting to do it with some incredible women in the industry.”
Returning ’Cuse Alumni
Former Syracuse women’s basketball player Isis Young ’18, G’19 and ESPN’s Beth Mowins G’90 returned to campus to call the game. It was Young’s first experience as an analyst for an ACC Network Extra production. Mowins, who earned a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Newhouse, received the school’s prestigious Marty Glickman Award for Leadership in Sports Media in 2015. NBC Sports broadcaster Bob Costas presented her with the award, named for the sportscasting pioneer who launched the Newhouse School’s reputation for grooming the country’s most talented sports journalists.
Last year, Pearce and Sam Rothman ’20 were the first recipients of the Beth Mowins Award, a scholarship that recognizes outstanding women students in the broadcast and digital journalism program. “It was so special because Mowins is such an incredible person and leader in the industry,” Pearce says. “When I finally met her at the Glickman Awards event I could speak to her one-on-one and thank her for the scholarship. She is very genuine and filled with knowledge and advice. It’s such a treat every time she is back on campus.”
Paying It Forward
These opportunities to work alongside industry professionals and other students who are as driven as she is have enriched Pearce’s college experience beyond all expectations. “I owe everything to this school,” Pearce says. “I am a better professional and person because of the professors and students here who push each other to be their best selves. It’s like a family in the Newhouse Sports Media Center, and I spend most of my free time there. I am forever Orange and beyond grateful for the opportunity to attend Syracuse University.”
When she’s not in the studio, Pearce has two campus jobs that keep her busy. “I’m a tutor for student-athletes and an English language partner for international students,” she says. “I meet with them one-on-one to practice their English skills.” She also likes to surprise her father and brother with unexpected visits. “I flew home last year to surprise my dad for his 50th birthday, and I go home every year for my mom’s birthday. I also surprised my brother for his high school soccer Senior Night. I wouldn’t be anywhere without them, and I’m so grateful for everything they have done for me.”
After she graduates in 2021, Pearce plans to pay it forward by mentoring the next generation of aspiring broadcast journalists at the Newhouse School. “Connections are everything, and Syracuse University has given me so many of them,” she says. “No matter how far I go, I will always remember where I came from.”