AU alumna shares her path to success on Capitol Hill
Stephanie Rivera took advantage of all that D.C. and AU have to offer through diverse internships and networking
Throughout her time at AU, Stephanie Rivera, currently an executive assistant for the Republican political consulting firm OnMessage Inc., made it a point to always stay open-minded to different kinds of internships, from working on Capitol Hill to traveling the city covering political news with the television network Univision.
These experiences shaped her future career interests, Rivera said. She was recently featured by The Hill as part of their annual “50 Most Beautiful” list of people working in D.C. politics.
“It was a great honor to be recognized as one of many people actively working in the city, being a young professional who recently graduated from college,” Rivera said. “It is an exciting feeling and I just feel I’ve made my mark in D.C. so I am happy about that.”
Many of her professional opportunities are closely linked with the education she received and the connections she established while at AU, Rivera said, and she urged current students to take advantage of the resources available at the University and in D.C.
“Go to as many receptions and events as you can because you never know who you are going to meet,” Rivera said. “Take as many internships as you can, and when you go to these internships, pay attention to the players that work there. Start keeping a list of contacts, so that once you graduate, you can get advice from them.”
Rivera, who completed her undergraduate degree in 2014 from the School of Communication’s Foreign Language and Communication Media program with a focus on Public Relations and Spanish, said that when she stepped onto AU’s campus, one of her goals was to intern in places that would allow her to learn about the communications field from various angles.
“I wanted to take every experience that I could to see what I liked and what I didn’t like, so that when I graduated, I sort of had an idea of what I was interested in and wouldn’t be wasting time,” Rivera said.
It was while Rivera was an intern in the office of Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida during the spring of 2013 that she first realized she wanted to work in politics, she said.
“I personally never saw myself working in politics, but when I interned for his office, I really fell in love with politics,” Rivera said. “I told myself, if I’m here in D.C., which has so many opportunities, I want to see where I’m going to go, who I’m going to meet and what other opportunities there are out there.”
While Rivera was interning in Rubio’s office, she attended a journalism seminar at AU where she met Fernando Pizarro, a local reporter for Univision, she said. This first introduction resulted in her decision to submit her resume to the network. After an interview soon after, she became a production assistant in Univision’s D.C. bureau that summer, she said.
“Every day was a new experience for me, and every day I was going somewhere new,” Rivera said. “One day I was going to go see the president speak at the White House, or I was going to go with the national correspondent to go interview a member of Congress or I was going to attend a congressional hearing, so every single day, it was totally new.”
From there, Rivera went on to intern with the National Republican Committee’s communications department for eight months, where she enjoyed learning about how information flows from the political department to the communications side of the organization, Rivera said.
“It was interesting to see how the messaging from the political department, including how they were gaining their polling, facts and data, was used by the communications department and in interviews” Rivera said. “So you are seeing the flow of how PR is working, how it is a cycle of getting the information, relating that information and having an audience learning about the information on the Republican party side.”
A few months after graduating from AU, Rivera said she took on an internship with Concerned Women for America, which advocates for conservative values such as the pro-life movement and traditional marriage. There, she got to see yet another side of how the communications field worked as she learned about how an organization with a certain agenda can influence people within the conservative movement, Rivera said.
In August 2015, Rivera started her first job post graduation, working as an executive assistant at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and stayed there until July 2016, when she transitioned into her current job at On Message Inc., where she has been enjoying putting skills she acquired through previous internships to use.
Rivera said that making full use of attending college in a city like D.C. is crucial and played a big role in building up work experience in her field of interest. She also received a lot of helpful guidance from many of her SOC professors, particularly Jane Hall, Leonard Steinhorn and Scott Talan, she said.
“The fact that I went to AU, in the nation’s capital, was critical in terms of being able to take what I was learning in school and applying it to my internships, and also learning new things through my internships,” Rivera said. “Washington D.C. is like our playground as we have so many different opportunities here.”
Rivera’s advice for current students is to know that good planning, time-management and networking skills are important for success, but so is taking out time for friends and for yourself to reflect on everything that is going on. While it was often difficult to balance interning with her full course schedule, Rivera said she feels that the work she put in has been worth it as the knowledge and experience gained has been invaluable.
“It was hard – I will tell you this – I got a lot of sleepless nights because I was interning and I was taking five classes,” Rivera said. “But, I felt like in the end, it really did pay off.”