Gateway to Success: The motivational journey of Leia Baez


Jenna Janssen

News Editor

Photo courtesy of Leia Baez.

Gateway to Success is a series focused on Gateway alumni and their journey from campus to career.

Meeting Leia Baez was a motivational journey, as listening to the experience of a person whose life has had ups and downs but ultimately reached a path of success captivated me. Currently a communications director for Douglas County, Baez has the primary responsibility to serve as the Media Relations Director and PR contact for the entire county, and has been excelling at the job for over six years. Prior to that, she was a hard-working journalist at the Omaha World-Herald.

Juggling homework assignments while in college, Baez was also working part time with the newspaper, taking sports scores over the phone in the sports department on Friday nights. Then, she made her way up to become a reporter and editor. She cites experiences like these as helping her get to know the newspaper industry a little bit more.

Her love of writing started even before this, while she was in high school.

“I kind of found my way to newspapers and journalism because I wanted to — I actually tried out to write for the yearbook,” Baez said. “I really wanted to be on the yearbook staff and we had to write an essay about why we wanted to be on the yearbook staff, and I didn’t make it. I was so bummed, and I remember seeing the list, you know, all the names of my friends were on the yearbook staff, and I wasn’t on there. And I was, like, super upset. But it turns out the journalism teacher actually wanted me to be on the newspaper staff. Because she loved my writing.”

Baez says one teacher, Mrs. Beckstead, was instrumental in helping her fall in love with journalism by redirecting her career path.

As she began working at the Bellevue West newspaper in her school, she immediately fell in love with journalism.

“And then I knew, like, I’m going to do this, I want to be a journalist and I want to interview cool people and I wanted to tell stories because I loved writing and storytelling, and so I was like, this is perfect,” Baez said.

When Baez got to college, she started writing for her college newspaper — The Gateway — during her freshman year in 2001. For five years, she worked at The Gateway, absolutely loving it and all the experiences she was able to gain from working there.

“I learned so much from there, you know,” Baez said. ‘I mean, that’s when you really learn what it’s like to be a journalist, cause you’re actually thrown into real life experiences, you know, and you get to learn the trade and interview cool people and write stories on deadline. And we’re working late to make sure that we’re meeting our publishing deadlines, you know, and it’s just a really cool community of people.”

Baez shared the impact The Gateway had on her and how it helped her with future endeavors in college.

“The Gateway was so instrumental in shaping me as a writer and as a communications person,” Baez said. “It was just things you can’t learn in the classroom, right? And that’s some of those real life experiences you get from The Gateway, and I feel really lucky because I got an internship every summer in college. So like I had, all these great experiences. But you know why? Because I had that foundation at The Gateway.”

While reminiscing about her start in journalism, Baez mentioned how the newspaper industries are changing and how we as journalists can move forward.

“It makes me really sad to see the newspaper industry changing so much and kind of shrinking,” Baez said. “I’m really hopeful about the skills that we learn as journalists and everything that we’re learning as communicators. You can transfer over to so many different careers and those skills can be used and so in so many different ways, right. So there’s opportunities out there for us regardless of, you know, if the newspaper is changing so much.”

Going back into her career path, Baez discussed her choice to leave journalism in 2016 after a rough time in her life. She openly shared her desire to change her surroundings to reroute how she wanted to go about her future. Looking for a financially secure job, Baez said God blessed her with the first communications position ever for Douglas County. 

Feeling lucky with her newfound position, Baez was able to mold it to focus on so many different things and learn so much in the process. Changing her full time career path hasn’t stopped her from writing, either.

Baez shared that she’s even an author. Her book, “A Star for Stella,” is a story about her personal journey of sobriety.

Hearing her share her journey was very insightful and allowed the readers to understand those who struggled with the same abuse. Baez mentioned her reasoning for sobriety comes from being a better role model for her own daughter.

“You know, I coped with life in unhealthy ways and I didn’t want to live that way for my daughter,” Baez said. “I had some really eye-opening experiences that helped me decide, like, this isn’t the life that I want to live, and me being the storyteller that I am, I felt God was telling me, you need to write a book. And so I was like, OK, I guess I’m gonna write a book.”

All through the pandemic, Baez started writing — not focusing on whether it was going to be published, but just focusing on writing her story and seeing what happens. In December of 2020, her high school volleyball coach told her of a friend wanting to interview people who have brave stories to share. Baez did the interview, and being the journalist she is, asked the woman who interviewed her about the process of writing a book, and from there, fate took over.

“She’s like, ‘I have something even better,’” Baez said. “‘I’m going to set you up with this program. I’m going to connect you with this professor who teaches this great program out of Georgetown University in DC, and it’s great, and I’m just gonna connect you.’ So before we even entered our Zoom, I got an email connecting me to this professor. He called me the next day and was like, ‘Let me interview you and see if you’re interested in this program. We start next week.’ And I just felt like it was serendipity, right? It was like, this is supposed to happen like this.”

Through a program formally called the Creators Institute, Baez was able to get the necessary knowledge to write her book successfully.

At this point, Baez is not only a public service worker, journalist and supermom, but an author. She shares with me that she is also a public speaker.

“I love storytelling at the end of the day,” Baez said. “Like, that’s my jam. Storytelling is what I love to do. It lights me up and I get to do that, you know, whether I’m speaking on stage; I’m leading a workshop, or even just, you know, as an author.”

Baez shared that one of her speeches went viral. 

“I was a commencement speaker for Bellevue University when I got my master’s degree,” Baez said. “They put it on YouTube and it got picked up by this company called Gold Cast. It’s like a media motivational company and they create these little videos.”

When the company posted the video on Facebook, it went viral, and Baez had multiple offers to speak at even more places.

“The only time I knew that I couldn’t accomplish something was because I was standing in my own way, like I was battling with, you know, partying too much and drinking and alcoholism,” Baez said. “And I wasn’t my best version of me. But that was the only real challenge in my life was overcoming my own demons, overcoming my own issues. I look back and I’m like, man, I really had it good. I did have a lot of supporters. My family is amazing. My parents are my best friends.”

As of now, she is fully booked with speaking engagements, traveling across the country sharing her story to others. 

If anyone has a book of fate written for them, it’s Baez. Her philosophy is how the universe puts everything in place, and who can disagree after seeing what she’s able to accomplish?

 “I had to go through those dark moments, right?” Baez said. “I had to experience that pain and that really hard time in my life; otherwise, who knows what I’d be doing now? I believe that we go through those moments so that we can grow and that we can learn about ourselves and decide who we are and what we want to be. And we can make the most of these really, really bad situations in our life and mold it into something amazing. Or we can just dwell on it and let it eat us alive, and I choose the other one.”

The viral speech, reaching more than 6.5 million people worldwide:

Her book, A Star for Stella, has received national awards and international media attention.