In a recent board presentation for Window to the World Communications Inc. (WTTW), president and CEO Sandra Micek ’91 quoted former Federal Communications Commission chair Newton Minow: “It is not enough to cater to the nation’s whims; you must also serve the nation’s needs.”
Micek oversees WTTW, Chicago’s PBS television station, and WFMT, its classical music radio station, which have been instrumental in relaying news about the pandemic. “You’re really reminded of your role in serving the public in times like this,” she says.
Invited to Make a Difference
After Chicago’s shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Lori Lightfoot invited Micek to join the city’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force to advise city government officials on economic recovery planning efforts. The task force is headed by Mayor Lightfoot and former White House Chief of Staff Sam Skinner and includes regional government leaders, experts from a range of industries, and community-based partners and policymakers to ensure recovery efforts are aligned across multiple jurisdictions.
“This is a seminal moment for the city of Chicago,” says Micek. “I’ve seen unbelievable civic engagement across all sectors of the city. People believe we can come through this even stronger as a city and as a community. That drives me to be part of this work.”
Addressing Chicago’s Digital Divide
Micek’s contributions on the task force are grounded in her deep understanding of public media’s importance to the community. “Public media is meant for this moment in some ways. We’re serving the public at a time when they really need it,” she explains.
Since the crisis started and people shifted to online education, WTTW has used its educational programming to address Chicago’s digital divide—the uneven distribution of access to computers and the internet among different groups. The station has aired free educational content and is supplementing e-learning with an educational block for middle school and high school students and lesson plans for teachers through PBS Learning Media.
The commitment to meeting public needs underscores the significance of Micek’s role on the task force.
A Career, and an Alumni Network, That Spans the Globe
Micek came to Syracuse University to study journalism, but an introduction to the business side of media offered by the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications drew her attention. “It was important to me to go to a school where I’d be exposed to many facets of public communications, and where I could study abroad,” says Micek, who spent a semester in London in 1991 during the Gulf War, just as Operation Desert Storm was beginning.
“It was a fascinating time to live in London as an American student. My perspective on global issues evolved there, spurring greater curiosity about world events, politics and cultures.” Her experience abroad also deepened her understanding of the arts, as she took a classical music appreciation class and attended live musical performances, which helped prepare her for running WFMT, one of the world’s leading classical music stations.
Micek graduated from the television, radio and film program at the Newhouse School and went on to earn an MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was the Ford Motor Company Marketing Scholar. Since graduating, she has worked for Turner Broadcasting, Accenture (first in London and later in San Francisco), Yahoo!, NBC Universal, USA Today and Hyatt, where she served as senior vice president of global brands before joining WTTW in Chicago.
Micek says that wherever she goes, there’s always a strong Newhouse School network. Her husband, Marc, a fellow Syracuse University alumnus whom she met while they were both studying abroad, is also involved with the alumni network, chairing the Chicago regional alumni council. “The Syracuse network is everywhere, and it’s been a wonderful thread throughout my whole career,” she says.
Recently, the Miceks started the Cordova Micek Family Scholarship Fund, which gives financial assistance to Newhouse students in need, with preference to Latina students. “Both of my parents are immigrants from Ecuador, and I am first-generation U.S. born,” says Micek. “The fact that we can help to make it possible for another Latina to fulfill her potential through an education at the Newhouse School at Syracuse is very meaningful to us.”
The Syracuse network is everywhere, and it’s been a wonderful thread throughout my whole career.
Micek still finds time to give back to the University as chair of the Newhouse Advisory Board, which supports the dean, faculty and staff in their efforts to make the Newhouse School the country’s leading institution for education and research in communications. She took on the role, in part, because she fully supports the Chancellor’s One University concept. She also likes to interact with other alumni and is proud to count herself among them. “My experience not only as an alumna of Syracuse University but with other alumni has been great, and it’s why I’m involved with the advisory board.”