Colleen Haggerty

Alumni of Political Science

nancy_pelosiQ&A with Colleen Haggerty (BA 1993) Senior Vice President for Media Relations, Bank of America



How would you describe your time at CSULB? My college years at CSULB are remembered as times of adventures, opportunities and growth. I loved the large campus, and the diversity of students and activities. It took me a few years to realize that everything is there for you if you just dig a little, work hard and the opportunities and rewards are waiting for those who seek it. There were also people on campus who were willing to help, provide guidance or just an ear to listen, and I was fortunate to have found them! So many of my poli sci courses and professors also made a meaningful impact on me!

What made you want to study political science? I always excelled at social studies and history, and my family always had exciting dialogues about politics and current events at home, so political science felt like a natural fit for me. I wasn’t quite sure what I could do with a poli sci degree, but I figured I should pursue what I love and the rest will figure itself out eventually.

Which course(s) or professor(s) had a big impact on you while you were completing your degree? So many of my poli sci courses and professors made a meaningful impact on me! Dr. Soe’s comparative politics courses were a favorite for me, as we were studying front page news about the fall of communism and the Berlin Wall, and the rise of Lech Walesa in Poland. Dr. Riposa‘s public policy courses made me change my emphasis from international relations to public policy. Dr. Noble’s advanced classes really challenged me to tackle societal assumptions head on through facts and research. Dr. Ron Schmidt had this wonderful teaching method from which I still benefit to this day. He would make the class write a 25-page thesis on a topic. After completing it, he would make us condense it to 10-pages, and after that to just one page. It taught me how to zero in on the most important concepts and build out themes and supporting anecdotes from there. When I worked at KLON on campus writing news for the anchor, this exercise prepared me to convert news into one minute stories and sound bites. Later on Capitol Hill, these skills were invaluable in helping me condense lengthy legislative proposals into two-page press releases.

What path did you take to get to your current job? It started in college with my news writing job at KLON, providing me experience with newsrooms and deadlines. After graduation, I sold my car and moved to Washington D.C. in hopes of landing any job on the Hill. One of our political science professors, Dr. Steve Horn, had recently been elected to Congress representing Long Beach, and he was kind enough to let me work out of his offices and use the office computers (pre-email days!) to try to land a job on the Hill. I am sure he would have hired me but we were opposite parties! Some of his staffers were also CSULB political science alums. I also had an anthropology professor, Brad Bagasao, whose sister worked for the newly elected Senator Dianne Feinstein in her Los Angeles office. Brad put in a good word for me with his sister, who agreed to interview me and send my resume to key staffers in Feinstein’s DC office. That helped me land a work-for-free volunteer position in the new Senate office, and soon I was hired to answer telephones for $16,000 per year! A few months later, the press secretary needed an assistant and brought me onto his team based on my KLON news experience. I was hesitant to accept that promotion, as I really wanted to be on the legislative side of the house. But it wasn’t long before I realized the unique role I was in at a press office that was highly respected and utilized by the Senator – she understood the importance of a good press team and had a close and friendly relationship with our department that none of the other staffers (at least the ones at my level) experienced. I soon loved the intersection between politics and the news, how I could influence what was being reported and see the immediate results of my work in the newspaper or on television. I never really left this intersection. In 1998, I was press secretary for Congresswoman Jane Harman’s race for governor, where I was responsible for setting up and running the press operation, hiring and providing strategic counsel on media issues. After the race, I became communications director for Fannie Mae. I had no clue about mortgage finance at the time, but Fannie Mae was a company that coveted Congressional and media strategy – and that was my strong suit. I reviewed business trends and successful deals to determine where and when to hold press announcements, arranged for key elected officials to participate in these events, briefed Congressional staffers and drafted speeches for their bosses to use at our events. It wasn’t long before I learned the business end of our industry, which rounded out my professional background and gave me an area of expertise that became the center of our economy for a number of years. After seven years at Fannie Mae, I joined Bank of America to manage media relations for the western states and work on a company-wide effort to rebrand the company in California.

What does a typical day at work look like for you? Since our headquarters is on the East Coast, I get into work by 7:30 and most of my morning is on conference calls to plan and strategize press-related needs. Here is an example: If a reporter calls asking why our SBA lending has declined, I will work internally to verify facts, understand the trending, analyze the impacts that various responses will have to the business, political and public realm, recommend a final response and any key messages to convey, and then go back to the reporter. All this may take a few hours or a few days. It is a mostly reactive press job, even in good times, but these days as part of one of America’s more unpopular industries, we take a good beating in my world of media every day.

How do you think that your studies at CSULB helped prepare you for the success you’ve had in your professional life? The studies gave me a general foundation, but the entire CSU experience was what really helped me. Nothing at CSULB is handed to you. You have to invest energy and be tenacious to find what you need or realize your goals. It’s the same in the real world if you want to succeed. Also, like most CSULB students, I always worked full time while having a full course load. I believe this work-life balance builds a greater tolerance for stress and helps put things into perspective in ways that prepare you for various challenges in professional life. I was fortunate to have studied political science at a time when communism and the Berlin Wall were collapsing, and everything was changing in Europe and Eastern bloc countries. Now, 20 years later, I am still passionate about these issues, even though they may not be part of my day to day professional job. But this passion and my CSULB political science studies helped me recently be accepted as a German Marshall Fellow for 2010 to study transatlantic political and economic issues.

What advice would you give a current student who is seeking to follow a similar career path? I never set out to be in media relations, it just happened that way, and I have enjoyed the journey. Students should figure out what they’re good at, what interests them, if they have any passions, and then pursue any opportunities that involve those things. Being flexible is important too. I actually never landed the jobs I set out for or coveted. Instead, something else totally unexpected would pop up that I never saw coming, and most of the times ended up being much better for me than those positions I had wanted so badly. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help! I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support and guidance of past professors, deans, colleagues and others who either became unofficial mentors to me or were willing to do something as simple as put in a good word that can go a long way.