As a former communication major at George Mason University, Susana Castillo was never satisfied with her own work. Constantly working to improve rather than simply earn a grade, Susanna garnered a hardworking demeanor that she carried into the workplace. She created her own networking opportunities within the Washington, D.C. area, which eventually led her to her current position as press secretary to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.
“Networking is super important,” said Susana. “It doesn’t always mean having coffee or sending an email. You have to go everywhere. There are a lot of things that you can do for free. Join different groups. That’s how you’re going to learn.”
Susana attended events, including press conferences and rallies, and worked internships that connected her with important people. In 2015, through her second internship, she was connected to her first job in Washington, D.C. as a public relations specialist for the Mayor’s Office of Latino Affairs.
The Mayor’s Office of Latino Affairs had no social media strategy, no marketing, no branding and no overall structure when Susana came into the position. She had to learn new skills, such as website development, in order to build up the office’s communication.
“I created all of that from scratch,” said Susana. “I struggled with things, but I’m a fast learner.”
In the summer of 2016, a member of Washington, D.C.’s Office of Communications left, so Susana was offered an unpaid position within that office for three months.
“I was a young professional looking to move up in the public relations world,” said Susana. “I saw this as my moment to shine.”
Susana was excited, but the job proved difficult. Mistakes became her toughest barriers.
“When I started working at the mayor’s office, nobody told me how to be a press person,” said Susana. “I accidentally invited an unwanted reporter to a press event hosted by the mayor. This led to my boss [the Communications Director] screaming at the reporter.”
Susana quickly learned from her mistakes and found successful practices for the position. She worked hard, completing even monotonous tasks in the best, most efficient ways.
She organized press releases from the past two years digitally on a spreadsheet and hard copy in a binder. Susana completed this task so well that she earned attention and respect from coworkers and supervisors.
“Once you have a lot under your belt, you can ask for a title. You can ask for money,” she said. “That’s what I did.”
Susana was promoted to deputy press secretary in July 2016 and was recently promoted to press secretary for Mayor Muriel Bowser in Jan. 2019.
As a spokeswoman, Susana maintains the mayor’s image. She ensures that the press knows about events, which includes creating calendar invites, sending media advisories and calling reporters. She then focuses her attention towards the mayor, prepping her for the event.
“It’s not enough to have the mayor behind the podium giving remarks. There needs to be a story behind [her addresses],” said Susana. “After the story is out, [I] make sure that [it’s] accurate.”
If there’s an inaccuracy in reporting, Susana contacts the reporter and then if necessary, the news editor. Susana will not stop until the story is corrected or rescinded.
While overseeing nearly 60 organizations that report to the Office of the Mayor, there’s a lot of moving parts associated with this position. Requiring constant attention, Susana must work quick and produce often. This fast-paced work environment makes Susana happy every day.
“Susana’s success is no surprise to me,” said Suzanne Mims, Susana’s former Writing for Public Relations professor. “Nothing was ever good enough.”
As a writing intensive course, Writing for Public Relations challenged Susana with multiple assignments. All the work was then compiled into a portfolio that she showed off to potential employers.
Susana constantly looks to improve. Originally from Colombia, Susana learned English as her second language, so she initially struggled with communication in the United States. But, she didn’t let this setback deter her from learning or moving forward with her career.
“I don’t want to be defined by being a Latina,” said Susana. “People will try to put you in different buckets. It gives me more energy to fight every day.”
The department of communication at George Mason University offers concentrations in public relations, journalism, interpersonal, organizational and political communication. With an emphasis on blending theory and practice, the department provides students with the knowledge, skills and opportunities necessary to be successful within the communication field.