The Distinguished Young Alumni Award recognizes and honors a UIndy alum under the age of 35 who has made outstanding contributions to their community, demonstrated a continued commitment to the University’s mission of “Education for Service,” and proven to be outstanding in their profession.
Kayla Sullivan knew that she wanted to be a TV news reporter since she was in the fourth grade and worked toward that goal every single day. She even chose her high school, Franklin Central, based on that dream.
One day, Kayla was doing her radio show at Franklin Central when she met Scott Uecker, Instructor of Communication and General Manager of WICR at UIndy. Scott heard Kayla’s news-voice and encouraged her to consider attending UIndy.
“No, I’m going to go to Ball State,” Kayla told him.
“Just hear me out. Take a tour. See what our communication program has to offer,” encouraged Scott.
Kayla took the chance, visited campus, and fell in love with UIndy. And thanks to the support of her parents and a scholarship from the Indiana Broadcasters Association, Kayla was able to pursue her studies in electronic media at UIndy.
“What sold me for UIndy over Ball State was the personal attention that I would get from my professors and the fact that I didn’t have to wait to be on TV,” said Kayla. “Right away, freshman year, I was in an applied TV course and I was able to pick up a camera. That just meant the world to me because I didn’t have to wait to do what I loved. The fact that I got four years of being part of UIndy news and TV, really prepared me well for my career. I really do owe it to Scott Uecker for telling me about those benefits, because otherwise I would have probably gone to Ball State, and who knows what path I would’ve taken.”
Since graduating from UIndy, Kayla has risen quickly through the ranks of some of Indianapolis’s most notable news stations, including CBS4Indy, FOX59, and WISH TV. Her broadcasting journey began at WLFI, the local station serving West Lafayette, Indiana. Kayla quickly worked her way up to the main 5 and 6 p.m. news anchor. She also reported on the courts and Indiana Statehouse beat, which, four years later, led Kayla to be the statehouse reporter for CBS4Indy and FOX59.
“It is rare to be that young, get a job in Indianapolis, and go Monday through Friday,” explained Kayla. “Usually you have to work weekends or a very irregular schedule, but I actually went from my small station in Lafayette to Indianapolis, which is a pretty big market, and I was the Monday through Friday political reporter for the entire state.”
Because the stations were owned by Nexstar Media Group, Kayla had the opportunity to report not only to the Indianapolis area, but to stations across the country, including Chicago.
“It was a great opportunity for someone as young as I was to be the sole political reporter at that station,” said Kayla. “It was a lot of work, and a lot of sacrifice.”
As a single mom, Kayla felt torn between her two passions: being a TV news reporter and being a good mom. Due to the busy and unpredictable schedule that comes with being a reporter, Kayla didn’t have the time she wanted with her son.
“I felt like when I was a good reporter, I wasn’t a good mom, and when I was a good mom, I wasn’t a good reporter,” said Kayla. “So at the end of the day, I said, ‘This position is too much for me. I need to leave it.’”
Thanks to her previous experience as the Statehouse reporter at FOX59, Kayla earned a public relations position with the Oklahoma House of Representatives. This new position gave her a regular nine-to-five schedule and the opportunity to spend more time with her son.
“I felt really qualified for that position, and it’s pretty rare to completely change industries and still feel qualified,” recalled Kayla. “I was very impressed with how well I was able to transfer those skills. I absolutely credit UIndy for preparing me not only for the career that I wanted, but also for the career that I might have ended up doing.”
Kayla enjoyed her position in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, but missed being a reporter. That’s when she began posting satirical news reports about her son on TikTok and Instagram reels. On New Year’s Eve in 2021, Kayla reported on diaper changing and posted the video to TikTok.
Carrie Underwood, American singer, commented on the TikTok, causing it to go viral.
And Kayla’s success has only grown since. She has filmed ads for nationally-recognized brands like Dunkin’ Donuts, Olay, Tampax and more. She even did a collaboration with actress Jennifer Garner.
Her success as an influencer led Kayla to her current role as a Speciality Content Creator for WISH TV, where she repurposes her TikTok and Reels content for a segment called Kid-ing with Kayla.
“This is the dream job that I never actually imagined having,” said Kayla. “It allows me to be the best mom I can be while also being a great broadcaster.”
When she received the news that she would be receiving this year’s Distinguished Young Alumni Award, Kayla was overwhelmed with gratitude and warned that she would be emotional at the reception.
“I feel like it’s going to be a full circle moment for me, accepting that award,” said Kayla. “I accomplished a lot in college and there was a feeling of, “Can I continue this after college?” I felt like a success in the sense that people knew who I was, they knew my dreams, but when I accomplish those dreams, will I be able to take it to the next level? I felt like I had so many people cheering me on, and while that feels good, it also puts a little pressure on you because you don’t want to let all these people down. So I think this award is a nice bow on it all. I did my best in college; it paid off; I actually saw success in my career.”
Kayla will be presented the 2023 Distinguished Young Alumni Award at the Alumni Honors and Recognition Celebration on Thursday, May 4, 2023.