ThreeSixty Alumni Spotlight: Look, Ma. I’m on TV: Hard work brings journalist Levi Ismail from the Midwest to Florida

Ismail Levi
Ismail’s first job after graduating from the University of St. Thomas was at KIMT in Mason City, Iowa. (Photo courtesy of Levi Ismail)

Levi Ismail’s mother always taught him and his siblings the importance of hard work and wanting to succeed.

Ismail, who moved to Minnesota from Egypt when he was 7 years old, did just that when he pursued a career as a TV broadcast journalist.

“I think I caught [my mother] off guard when I started showing her videos of me actually on TV,” said Ismail, who is now a reporter at NBC-2 in Fort Myers, Florida. “Because for her, she pictured TV as this untouchable realm of media where only the prettiest people got on TV.”

Ismail was born in Cairo, but his family is from South Sudan. When he came to the U.S., he became a “sponge,” he said.

“I soaked up whatever I could find. Learning English didn’t really take that much effort,” said Ismail, who learned the language by watching cartoons and wrestling on TV with his siblings.

Ismail’s interest in journalism began in high school. He took part in a TV production class during his sophomore and junior years at Anoka High School that produced the morning news every school day. Then, his TV journalism teacher and mentor, Bill Leach, introduced him to ThreeSixty Journalism.

“He was obviously one of our top news anchors ever,” said Leach, who is now retired but taught 32 years at Anoka High School. “What really stood out about Levi is [that] his maturity and poise is totally uncrackable. There’s nothing that distracts him.”

One thing that stands out to Ismail about participating in ThreeSixty Journalism was the diversity, he said. He was surprised to see, in one place, so many people from different backgrounds who were passionate about storytelling, he said.

“I remember that first day being very hesitant because I had never experienced anything like it,” Ismail said, “but being very enthusiastic at the same time because I knew it was going to be the best choice moving forward in what could be a potential career.”

During his senior year, Ismail received a call that he had been selected as the 2008 ThreeSixty Scholar. This gave him the opportunity to attend the University of St. Thomas on a full-tuition scholarship to study Communication and Journalism—which he took.

“That’s one thing I know I will never forget—the phone call that I got saying that I received the scholarship,” Ismail said. “I remember it like it was yesterday.”

“That was a very exciting day for me,” he added.

At St. Thomas, Ismail played four years of football, anchored for Campus Scope, the now-defunct campus TV broadcast program, and was president of PULSE, a performance arts organization that promotes diversity.

After he graduated in 2012, he moved to Mason City, Iowa, to work as a multimedia journalist and fill-in anchor at KIMT-TV. For three years, he reported on long-form stories, features, policy changes and court trials.

In fact, some of his reports on court trials caught the attention of national sources such as CNN and USA Today, he said. 

In 2013, Ismail received a Midwest Regional Emmy for reporting on the evacuation of Northwood, Iowa. He also has received several awards from the Iowa Broadcast News Association for his reporting and photography.

Now, Ismail reports on breaking news and crime-related stories for NBC-2 in Fort Myers, where he’s worked since March 2016. His beats are different from Iowa, he said, and he is hoping these experiences make him a more well-rounded journalist.

He’s also hoping those skills will bring him back home to Minnesota one day.

“My big thing since I left Minnesota was that I was going to come back home at some point and see if I can report in front of my mom,” Ismail said. “That’s been a dream of mine for a long time.”

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