How has your UCLA experience helped shape your success?
It is difficult to specifically assign how my time at UCLA influenced both my personal life and my career. But when I look back, I see how my various UCLA pieces fit into my puzzle.
I worked at the Sproul front desk for my first two years, and I used to work the 12 a.m – 3 a.m. and 3 a.m. – 6 a.m. shifts there. I made calls for the UCLA Fund. I participated in the UCLA Student Alumni Association (SAA). I babysat sometimes 30 hours a week for a UCLA family. I was involved with the UCLA Advertising & Marketing Team. I was a Communication Studies major, and I met a million people along the way including my husband who is also a fellow Bruin. All those pieces definitely play into where I am now. UCLA really has played an undeniable role in my personal and professional life.
While I was at UCLA, I started my museum career. In 2007, the summer between my junior and senior year, I was accepted into a Getty-funded multicultural internship program with the marketing and communications department at the Skirball Cultural Center. I ended up working there for about 3 years, and then I moved to LACMA, where I became the Director of Marketing. From there, I was recruited to be a key member of the opening team for The Broad Museum in Downtown Los Angeles which opened in 2015. I have just recently taken a position as the Deputy Director of The Main Museum, another museum under development in Downtown L.A. My career has had a strangely straight trajectory, but it all started with UCLA and the experiences I had there.
Why did you choose to pursue a degree in Communication Studies at UCLA?
I came to UCLA undeclared. I think I applied for the Communication Studies major my second year. It was a very competitive major when I was there. I had no idea if the major would be something I would be able to get into, and if I didn’t, I don’t know that I had a backup plan. Many of my friends knew they wanted to get into the medical profession or wanted to be a lawyer and went in as pre-med or pre-law, and I definitely did not have that sort of direct drive. So, I was nervous about coming in undeclared. Museum marketing isn’t exactly something you are aware of as a profession when you are in high school.
I’m from Fresno, and in the summers between all of my college years, I used to go back to Fresno and work full time at a local company that focused on orthodontic marketing. Basically, we developed brand identities for orthodontists, which sounds like, and really is, a very strange niche. But I really enjoyed it especially the opportunity to help local businesses express themselves and communicate about their practices in a beautiful and effective way. This was really my first experience in communications and marketing. This, along with the UCLA AdTeam, really pushed me toward the Communication Studies major and I couldn’t be happier I went that way.
I loved every Communication Studies class I ever took. Basically, we would learn the building blocks of how people communicate with each other, whether through linguistics, political communications, psychology or negotiations. It really is such a broad topic. I really don’t even know if communications is the right word for it. It’s really about personal and interpersonal relations. It was something that was so much fun to study that I never really felt like I was studying. It just felt like an extension of information I would read on my own which is maybe how a specialty should feel.
What was your favorite course at UCLA and why?
I would actually say that my Italian language classes were my favorite. I took four quarters of Italian, and I also studied abroad in Rome for 6 months. It was pretty wonderful to learn something from zero and to work with a group of people who were also starting at the same level, who weren’t coming from the same background and who weren’t all from the same major but all had a shared interest in this language. Everyone was going into different areas in their lives but for some reason we all bonded over the Italian language in a really intense way. I still have friends from those courses. As for the courses themselves, they were hard to excel in. When you are challenged by something, you are always connected with the people who are experiencing that challenge with you.
What is your favorite UCLA memory?
AdTeam is my favorite thing to think back on in my time at UCLA. If looking for one specific memory, I’d have to say it was the year I was on AdTeam’s presentation team. AdTeam is a team that competes against other national teams around developing an advertising and marketing campaign for one product. It culminates in a big presentation at the end of the year. I am trying to remember how many hours a week we would work on it, but there were times when we would spend 20+ hours a week working towards this final presentation. The one thing that I am most proud of from my UCLA time is participating on the presentation team for AdTeam. AdTeam was a pretty incredible group of people who I have completely stayed in touch with. These people really introduced me to the worlds of marketing, design, communications strategy, campaigns and how to work on teams. It feels very strange when you meet a group of people who have such similar interests to you. It’s always crazy to think how being on AdTeam and working on a faux-campaign for something like a locking mailbox, or AOL, really had an effect on my life.
How do you support and participate in the UCLA community now?
I’ve interviewed and hired for numerous entry level positions at various museums, and I am always sending any job opportunities I may have to Jane Bitar, the manager of the Department of Communication Studies. I always get excellent candidates from UCLA and specifically from the Communication Studies Department. I have actually hired many of them and have watched a lot of them grow in their careers. I know what I am getting when I am hiring candidates from UCLA. I also make myself really available for any informational interviews for UCLA and other students. I think one of the best things UCLA alumni can do for current students is to help them figure out how to move through their careers. I probably do at least one informational interview a week, and I am especially open to speak to students from UCLA. I also recently participated on an alumni panel for UCLA’s LeaderShape Program in Malibu. I went with other alumni to speak to students about our careers, and I met many students and alumni there who I have been keeping up to date with. That was a great way for me to meet not just students but more alumni who are in my life-class and moving through our careers together.
What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in your industry?
The informational interview is huge. I think people don’t really take advantage of this. If anyone calls me and asks for an informational interview, I always do it but I typically don’t have the time to give an hour or even thirty minutes of sit-down coffee time to everyone. What I did start doing is offering about a 15 or 30 minute phone call on my drive to work typically around 8:30 a.m. So anytime anyone contacts me, I offer that as a time period to chat.
I recommend asking questions like “What do you do on your typical days at work? What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your job? What should I do to get into your industry? Do you have suggestions for other people I can talk to? What is the most surprising thing about your role that people might not know?” It’s very difficult to know what a position is like from the outside. You might not know everything that goes into a position. Don’t be afraid to just ask people if you can talk to them about their roles and about their jobs or if they can give you any additional help. I often get requests from people directly asking for a job, and I think that is okay but that’s not going to get you where you want to go all of the time. It’s more about building relationships, learning from people and learning more about their industries. I think that if you take a little bit of a softer approach like that, people will be more likely to talk with you.
For students specifically interested in arts and museum marketing, which was my first career, I have a bit of specific advice too. I think it’s generally applicable to all industries. I recently hired someone from UCLA for a position, and I was really excited that she did marketing for the UCLA Jazz Reggae Festival. This showed me that she was interested in marketing and also interested in an arts and cultural take on marketing. So if you are interested in getting involved with this kind of marketing, start doing it at UCLA. There are so many places where you can start there. The Hammer Museum has a great relationship with UCLA students and is a great launching pad for an arts career; the Getty offers 100+ paid internships each summer at LA arts organizations. I would also just say to go to museums. We have over 100 museums in Los Angeles and while they are not always in walking distance of UCLA, it is so easy to get to them. So take advantage of student discounts and gain an understanding of the museum cultural landscape in the city if you want to participate in it for your career.
The strange thing about the museum world is that it is small. For example, there are probably about 50 upper-level museum marketing positions in Los Angeles. Museums often hire from within the industry but they also look outside of it. If you are looking to get into the museum industry, it is really about making your skills match up to what is needed. We have definitely hired people with advertising, business, or consulting backgrounds who showed an interest in and an understanding of cultural institutions. It is very difficult if you are hiring for a mid-to upper-level position to teach someone about the relationship between, for example, a curator and an institution. So read and participate in the cultural landscape if you want to be a part of it professionally.
What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?
I really love that UCLA is a democratic institution in that it doesn’t favor wealth and connections with its students. I am one of the first in my family to get a degree. At UCLA, it’s really about whether you are willing to work hard and prove yourself. It is not about where you came from or what your parents did. Many of my close friends share my background, and I think that is why a lot of my friends and colleagues, new and old, come out of UCLA. We all share a similar personal drive. I am just so proud that so many of my friends and colleagues are from UCLA, and I love following their lives and careers. Their paths after UCLA have taken them to be venture capitalists, designers, lawyers, social media executives, Imagineers at Disney, teachers, nonprofit executives, elected officials, doctors and many are practicing musicians and visual artists. UCLA has helped launch the careers of some of the best people in a wide range of industries, and I am really proud to be a part of that community.
I have just started a new career as the Deputy Director at The Main Museum, a new museum that is under development in Downtown Los Angeles with a focus on L.A. art and artists. It is going to be my first time out of marketing and communications and into a more strategic and administrative role for a large museum. This is a big new career challenge for me that I am really looking forward to. I am nervous but very excited to be working with the staff and museum director to build another new institution from scratch that serves the public and LA artists.