The thought of moving away—again—was a bit unnerving for Sandra Torres ’06.
When she was 13 and spoke no English, her family packed up their life in their native Colombia and immigrated to the Chicago area for new opportunities.
Torres spent the rest of her adolescent years maturing in the Windy City and developing an interest in television news. After graduating from Buffalo Grove High School and attending Harper College in nearby Palatine, Torres wanted to turn her self-proclaimed TV nerdiness into a career. She was ready to leave the place where she evolved from a girl learning to speak English to a woman who had a vision for herself.
She toured the TV-10 studios at Illinois State, which reminded her of the NBC 5 Chicago studio she saw at 17 on a high school field trip. Her dreaming began. One day, she wanted to call that downtown Chicago studio home. She cemented her professional journey at ISU as a mass communication major.
Torres spent most of her time at the student-run television studio in the basement of Fell Hall. She was a tenacious worker, which prepared her for her current and dream job. She eloquently reports in English and Spanish as a journalist at NBC 5/Telemundo Chicago in the third-largest market in the country.
“I’m so thankful because if it wasn’t for ISU, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today,” said Torres, who became the Broadcast Hall of Fame’s youngest inductee in 2019. “I love that I now have this opportunity in the Chicago area, and that I can do it in English and Spanish. I’m sharing to two different audiences, and I feel so proud to be able to do that.”
Fulfilling her dream required an immeasurable amount of work, which is true of all Torres accomplished since stepping foot on American soil. It took about 18 months before she felt comfortable speaking English. Her parents instilled in her and brother, Sebastian Torres ’10, the importance of assimilating into the American culture to succeed but also not forgetting Spanish or where they came from. Sebastian is a former TV-10 worker who is now a photographer at Telemundo Chicago. The siblings are colleagues.
“I feel really blessed and very fortunate that I’ve been able to get to this position and have been able to get this far,” Torres said. “I am very aware of the sacrifices my parents made to get me and my brother to this country to build us a better future.”
Torres was originally a production student at Illinois State. She took a writing class with TV-10 News Director Laura Trendle Polus, who saw the potential in Torres and asked if she had considered being on air. That prompting resulted in Torres becoming a TV-10 reporter and anchor.
Trendle Polus said that because English was Torres’ second language, she was especially careful with the words she used, thus polishing her writing and storytelling ability. Her work ethic and a naturally friendly personality gave Torres more confidence with each story.
“She is just such a warm and relatable person that she maybe underestimated how much that would do for her,” Trendle Polus said. “It was her natural way to be very engaging and put somebody at ease in an interview.”
Torres interned at WMBD in Peoria before returning to Chicago after graduation as a freelance Spanish-speaking reporter at Telemundo Chicago. She worked behind the scenes at NBC 5, which shares a building with Telemundo Chicago.
“I’m so thankful I got that experience, but I so badly wanted to be on the other side of the newsroom,” Torres said. “I came to this country and worked so hard to learn English, and I wanted to prove I could to do this in English, too.”
She landed a bilingual reporting gig at WDJT-TV CBS 58/Telemundo Wisconsin in Milwaukee before coming back in 2015 to CBS 2 in Chicago. In 2017, Torres summited the mountain. She was hired as a bilingual reporter to gather news for the station that provided her first taste of reporting in Chicago—Telemundo Chicago, as well as the one that was always a big-picture goal—NBC 5.
“I’m just so proud of her,” a beaming Trendle Polus said of her first student to earn an on-air job in the Chicago market.
Torres works 4 a.m.-to-noon shifts, traversing the city for breaking news and features stories articulated well in both languages, all while building a family with her husband. The first-time mother is a board member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists—Chicago Chapter. She’s also served Illinois State as an ambassador and recruiter.
Whether it’s returning to emcee ISU events or joining classes via Zoom, Torres embodies the Redbird spirit—so much so that when an aspiring reporter approached her in the city one day, Torres encouraged her to come to Illinois State. That student, Annamarie Schutt, is a current reporter for TV-10 and WZND.
“I am so passionate about TV-10 and their program,” Torres said. “That just makes me so proud because it worked so well for me.”
“When Sandra says ‘you should check out ISU,’ that’s absolute gold,” Trendle Polus added. “The fact that she will speak well for us and push people our direction, I couldn’t afford to pay her what that is worth.”
For Torres, every recommendation stems from her desire for others to experience what she gained at Illinois State, which she proudly embraces as her collegiate home.
Follow Torres on Twitter at @SandraTorresNBC.