From Comm Student to Press Secretary: Mason alumna shares her rise to the top and advice for students

by Nathalie Nguyen  

From Comm Student to Press Secretary: Mason alumna shares her rise to the top and advice for students
Susanna Castillo ’13 speaks to Professor Mims’ Writing for PR Class on networking and her career journey

Susanna Castillo knows a thing or two about determination. She moved to a new country, mastered English, earned a B.A, and then networked persistently.

Now, Castillo has one of the most challenging jobs in politics as the press secretary to D.C Mayor Muriel Bowser.

From managing the mayor’s messages to drafting media advisories and running press conferences, Castillo says the job is amazing.

“Everyday is something new and I love the fast-paced environment,” says Castillo, “I wouldn’t change my job for anything. My life is the mayor’s life and it’s not a Monday 9-5 job, it’s a 24-hour job.”

The 31-year-old professional, a Mason alumna from the class of 2013, is one of the growing numbers of graduates who gained valuable skills from Mason Comm and applied them for professional success.

Castillo earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication with a concentration in public relations at George Mason University. Originally from Columbia, Castillo’s decision to study at Mason came from a compelling desire to learn English, which she figured would help her in the long run.

Although her path focused on public relations, Castillo interned for VA State Sen. Jeremy McPike from Prince William County as a political campaign intern and immersed herself in the political climate while at Mason. An advocate for the Latinx community, she spent her first year after graduation working with the Latin Youth Center, a nonprofit that aims to provide low-income youth with socio-economic resources.

Castillo’s focus on Latinx issues shifted to the federal government level. In 2016, she worked as a public relations specialist at the Mayor’s Office of Latino Affairs, where she headed the social media, branding, and marketing initiatives. But she had big ideas about getting the best of both worlds -- and that meant combining her Latina background with the informed public world.

After doing some external work for the mayor’s office, she became the deputy press secretary at the Executive Office of the Mayor.

Most recently, Castillo was promoted to press secretary in January, the top position in the mayor’s office. Her work spans from giving press briefings to working with journalists in a political landscape, where she oversees over 60 agencies to make sure a consistent message is disseminated.

Nearly six years later, she still thinks back to her communication classes, where she gained professional writing experience and a chance to produce industry-specific work. Her journey towards her career success all began at Innovation Hall as a student in Professor Suzanne Mims’ Writing for PR class.

“Susanna’s success is no surprise to me,” says Mims, a public relations professor at the Department of Communication. “As a Mason comm student, she was determined, she was absolutely dogged in every single assignment. Her goal was to strengthen her skills. Nothing was good enough and she set high standards for herself.”

Castillo credits the class with paving the way to starting her career, where she accumulated practical writing skills and an understanding of how to craft effective messages. Castillo says she was able to use her writing portfolio to show her skills to her employers, leading to a full-time job at the Latin Youth Center.

The Mason alumna still visits her alma mater to advise younger students preparing to enter the workforce. As for advice, she says networking is super important and encourages students to be persistent.

“Keep in touch with your professors and supervisors because they’ll get you the job eventually,” she says. “But you gotta be out there, you gotta network, keep reading, and learn from others.”

Addressing the same class where Castillo was once a student, the recently promoted Mason alumna shared stories of how being persistent opened new doors for her career. After three ignored emails to the press secretary at that time, Castillo recounted how she later met her in person at a networking gala and kept in touch after the event.

Castillo discussed how her connections helped her stay ahead in the job market and how it would eventually lead her to work for Mayor Bowser -- setting off what would be her climb to become press secretary.

While Castillo is an accomplished communication professional, she says she wished she had used the resources at Mason.

“I got two internships through Mason,” she says. “They have so many opportunities and I didn’t really use all of them.” 

George Mason University is a public research university located in Fairfax, Va, located 30 minutes away from the nation’s capitol. As a top-tier research university in one of the most politically active hubs of the world, Mason provides a comprehensive, innovative, and robust education with 67 concentrations, 60 majors, and 24 broad fields of studies. The communication program at George Mason University offers students a basic foundation in information dissemination with five distinct concentrations.