Colonials Helping Colonials: Marissa Moran, BA ’10, and Tracy Williams, BA ’83

Marissa Moran, SMPA BA ’10 (left) and Tracy Williams, ESIA BA ’83 (right) exemplify the power of “Colonials helping Colonials.”

When Marissa Moran, SMPA BA ’10, moved to Los Angeles from London in 2014, the job market for international media development didn’t make the trip with her across the pond.

“There weren’t many opportunities when I moved to LA,” Marissa says about the field she found herself drawn towards as a political communication major in GW’s School of Media and Public Affairs and a peace and conflict studies minor in the Elliott School of International Affairs. She says she was able to find that field because GW gave her opportunities, like studying abroad her junior year, to explore and hone her specific interests.

“GW was an incredible experience for me, and I am so grateful for the education I received there,” Marissa says. “I had the opportunity to delve into all of my interests—including journalism and international affairs—and was able to bridge these passions in my senior honor thesis, which set me on a career path in international media.”

After a few years in London—where she earned a master’s degree from the London School of Economics—Marissa hoped to continue her career in international media development, but the lack of opportunities in LA led her to make the switch to “cause communications and marketing,” which, she says, “uses strategic communication to advance good social causes, in this case at the local level.”

Though she was able to do some interesting freelance work in her new field, Marissa knew she wanted to settle in Los Angeles with a full time job. “It took a while because I didn’t have a network in LA,” she remembers, but it was her affinity for GW that finally gave her the leg up she needed.

Marissa says she’s tried to stay connected to GW in every city she’s lived in—from Denver to London to Los Angeles—since graduating in 2010. She has joined GW Alumni groups, kept in touch with old classmates, and participated in GW’s Virtual Networking Hours.

It was during one of these virtual networking hours last fall that Marissa had a chance connection with GW Director of Alumni Career Services Michael Steelman. When she told him that she was looking for a communications job in LA, he recommended that she meet Tracy Williams, ESIA BA ’83.

“Tracy graciously agreed to meet me for coffee,” Marissa recalls. “When she found out I was interested in social impact, it just so happened that she was unable to attend a philanthropy event she’d been invited to the next day, so she gave me her ticket.”

Marissa says she ended up meeting a lot of great people at the event, including another GW alumna who, at the time, was working for Hershey Cause Communications, an LA-based communications agency that works with non-profits to impart social change. That encounter led to an interview and, eventually, Marissa being hired by Hershey Cause, where she’s been a communications coordinator since January.

Michael Steelman says that this type of connection is exactly what GW’s networking programs are meant to do.

“Programs like our virtual networking hours and Career Advisor Network connect thousands of Colonials around the world online and in-person,” he says. Alumni can connect based on industries and professional expertise through these programs and can gain insight from professionals who share their expertise through GWebinars or the GWAA LinkedIn group.

“But what really makes these programs work,” he adds, “is the commitment of GW alumni like Tracy Williams who reach out and lend a hand to fellow Colonials when they can.”

The founder and CEO of one of the leading 25 independent public relations agencies in LA, Tracy says she’s tried to keep up with her connection to GW by meeting with graduates like Marissa who are seeking to connect with the Los Angeles business community.

“It’s hard to get to know people here,” she says. “We’re 88 suburbs in search of a city.”

Helping out a fellow Colonial like Marissa was never a question for Tracy—“She’s a GW alumna and has red hair; she could be my kid sister!” Tracy jokes—she sees the benefit for each individual, as well as the GW community as a whole.

“Embracing the concept of ‘Colonials Helping Colonials’ makes GW an attractive destination for future students and their parents,” she says. “It’s powerful to have a network that truly helps our students post-graduation.”

Marissa believes that there’s a common bond between all GW alumni and hopes that she can someday be the one lending the helping hand.

“I feel like I gained so much at GW, so I would be happy to help current students and recent alumni,” she says. “I know where they’re coming from, and I probably have a good idea of where they want to go—we all deserve to be on a career path that we love.”

When next on the job hunt, Marissa advises her fellow Colonials to really put themselves out there.

“Networking really does pay off, even if it’s exhausting and feels like you’re not getting anywhere,” she says. “Take risks and don’t worry about following a ‘formula for success’ because there isn’t one—follow your heart and be sure to take breaks to rejuvenate, too. You never know who you’ll meet along the way.”

Gray Turner

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