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Beaumont native becomes LU public affairs director

What started as an interest in journalism in the third grade turned into a career for Shelly Vitanza, LU’s new director of public affairs, that led her to meeting many fascinating people and, ultimately, returning back to her home town of Beaumont.

Shelly Vitanza, director of public affairs, reminisces about her time as a  a journalist in her office in the Reaud Honors Building, Feb. 8.  UP photo by Noah Dawlearn
Shelly Vitanza, director of public affairs, reminisces about her time as a a journalist in her office
in the Reaud Honors Building, Feb. 8.
UP photo by Noah Dawlearn

I had always done some type of writing or publication for my entire life,” she said. “I said this is what I wanted to do because it’s what I do. It was so natural to me. I loved photography and I almost got a minor in it.

“I remember talking with my mother when we went to orientation at Texas A&M University. I started looking through the catalogue, and I got to the journalism school and started looking at the classes (and) got excited. I said, ‘You know mom, I would really enjoy journalism,’ and she said, ‘Uh, yeah, because that is all you have ever done.’”

Vitanza earned a bachelor’s in journalism with a minor in political science. She said she went to Texas A&M for practical reasons.

“I think, now, you choose the school based on what you are going to major in,” she said. “My dad went to A&M, and he told me he would pay for me to go to A&M. If I wanted to go somewhere else, I had to get a job and pay for it myself — so I decided to go to A&M.”

Vitanza has done just about every journalism job there is.

“I did an internship in Washington D.C.,” she said. “It was a co-op actually, and I worked for the CIA on Capitol Hill — it was interesting. They employ journalists because they take images from their analysts from all over the world and they put together reports, and then go to members of Congress.”

After her internship, Vitanza moved to Houston for her next job.

“I worked for two different non-profit organizations,” she said. “The first non-profit, I worked for two years, was an independent grocers’ organization and I did all second real job was with a pharmacy association and they represented independent pharmacists — I worked for them for about 12 years. I published a magazine for them and did all of their communications.”

After working in Houston, she created an online events calendar.

“I started a website called,” she said. “It was a website to keep the Southeast Texas calendar, so that everybody had a central location to go to see what was going on in the area. That was the vison I had for the website.”

Eventually, Vitanza’s site was bought by the owner of

“The website is gigantic,” she said. “People can sell their wares and services. I went to work for the guy who bought the website and did publishing and marketing for the Events Book for”

In 2015, the Beaumont Enterprise bought and Vitanza was hired as the specialty publications manager.

“I came on board there publishing the Events Book and the VIP magazine,” she said. “I published each month the Events Book and VIP magazine. I was basically a copyeditor for the Lakecaster magazine and helped manage that publication and one additional specialty publication a month. I was responsible for four magazines a month.”

Now she said she is excited to be a Cardinal.

“I am responsible for the image of Lamar University to the community and to the press,” she said. “I am responsible even for the image beyond our community. We want to make sure everybody understands how amazing Lamar University is, how amazing our faculty and staff is, students, facilities, sports, research programs, speakers, lecturers — even the Starbucks, and our library.”

Vitanza said her parents are her biggest inspiration. The couple have been married for more than 50 years.

“(My dad) was 16 hours shy of an accounting degree,” she said. “He hated it and so he dropped out to marry my mother, because she was dating other guys. They are a wonderful example of love, perseverance, partnership — they have an inspirational love and marriage together. I am thankful that they have loved each other for all these years.

“My mother is such an inspiration to me. She is going on into her 70s, but it is like she is going on 45. My dad has this incredible work ethic that has rubbed off on me. I watched him every day work hard. I am not talking about an eight-to-five job, I’m talking like seven-to-six, or whatever it took to support us, that is what he would do.”

Vitanza said that she enjoys interviewing people who have been through hard times.

“Some of my favorite interviews were interviewing breast cancer survivors,” she said. “They always gave me a perspective. Breast cancer survivors don’t have bad days. They don’t sweat the small stuff. They focus on what is important which is family, friends, and loving one another.”

Vitanza has interviewed people from all walks of life, including celebrities and southeast Texas icons.

“I remember interviewing Jaime Lee Curtis,” she said. “She is so down to earth and willing to tell you the good, bad, and the ugly parts of her life. That was always kind of shocking, you know, that people are so down to earth when they didn’t have to be.”

Recently, Vitanza interviewed local radio personalities Al Caldwell, Jack Piper and Jim Love.

“(They) were some of my favorite people to interview, because it was one of those interviews where you get so much content that you don’t even know where to start,” she said. “You get it on a recorder and you listen to it repeatedly. They had many colorful stories, because they are three men who have worked together for decades. They have stories on each other and stories about who they had met.”

Vitanza said she hopes to bring a positive mindset to LU and create awareness of the school’s programs and dynamic people.

“I have got to meet Dr. Fan over in engineering, who is responsible for the reliability of the microchip,” she said. “Intel brought him in from China in 2006 to make the microchip reliable. That is one of the things responsible for our cellphones working so well.

“Our nursing program is rated top in the nation, and we’ve got a professor, P.J. Couch, over in mathematics who developed an app for kids to compete in math. The math camp is being done here at Lamar in April, but it has been done in Japan and Australia. He developed that, and I want people to know about that.

“We have players doing things on a global-level field here at Lamar and that story is not being told — and I want to tell those stories to the world.”

Story by Cade Smith, UP staff writer

Category: Features