In January of 2017, Public Affairs Communications certificate alumna Jenni Sweat left her home in Georgia and packed her bags to spend a semester in D.C. interning on Capitol Hill. However, that semester-long press internship turned into a four-year stay on the Hill where she now serves as the press secretary for Senator David Perdue.
Ironically, Sweat never aspired to work in politics or public affairs communications. Originally focused on business, she bounced around a few other majors before finding her place studying public relations at Grady College. Once there, Sweat involved herself in various Grady organizations like PRSSA and ADPR Connection. Throughout her time at UGA, she was always looking for another way to make herself more marketable.
It was then, intrigued by the 2016 presidential election and in accordance with her desire to acquire a unique skillset, that Sweat joined the inaugural cohort of the Public Affairs Communications program. The certificate program introduced her to the role that communications plays in connecting elected officials to their constituents.
The program coupled with her work at the Athens-Clarke County library showed her the difference that effective public policy can make in the lives of citizens. So, when Sweat heard about UGA’s Washington Semester Program through PAC, she jumped on the opportunity. From there, Sweat worked up to her current position, balancing her full-time job while finishing her degree from UGA online.
Today, Sweat serves as the on-the-record spokesperson for Senator Perdue, drafting official statements and implementing the office’s national media strategy.
“My job as press secretary is to maintain the Senator’s brand and help him communicate with the people of Georgia in the most effective way possible,” said Sweat. “Through Grady and PAC, I learned tactical communications skills and met dozens of experienced practitioners – some of whom I still work with today. This gave me a solid foundation that I was able to build upon with real-world experience. Simply put, I would not be in my position today without the skills I learned through Grady and PAC.”
Looking forward, Sweat hopes to continue serving the people of Georgia, cutting through red tape and delivering positive outcomes for all Georgians. Sweat encourages current students to find skills that make them stand out as valuable professionals.
Beyond the artifacts of American history that we all know and love, our nation’s capital is a bustling city filled with countless opportunities for communications professionals beginning their careers. Grady College is actively preparing students for these opportunities through its Public Affairs Communications (PAC) program and the Grady@DC summer program. Today, Grady’s young alumni working in Washington D.C. are thriving. Recent PAC and Grady@DC graduates including Adelaide Miller (ABJ ’17), Thomas Jordan (ABJ ’17), Abby McHan (ABJ ’17) and Jenni Sweat (ABJ ’17) are already doing remarkable things in Washington, D.C.
Miller, a public relations major and English minor, knew she wanted to use her passion for communications in “a field of utmost importance to the American people: government.” Her career journey began as an intern for the Alabama Republican Party. Miller currently works as the executive assistant to the director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, which serves as the external-facing office for the White House. Her role involves overseeing the day-to-day operations of the director, communicating with senior staff in the West Wing and drafting memos for presidential events.
“Grady College prepared me well with the skillsets I need to excel in my daily work at the White House,” Miller said. “I am constantly writing official documents and interacting with key stakeholders, and I have to have a strategic mindset in every facet of communication.”
Among the variety of courses that Grady offers are several classes focusing on public affairs to aid students who are interested in working in the political arena. Grady and the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) jointly offer their students the opportunity to obtain a Public Affairs Professional Certificate.
When Thomas Jordan first heard of the PAC program, he knew that “this was the direction in life I wanted to work toward.” Jordan currently works at the National Retail Federation as a media relations coordinator. He handles media inquiries, conducts media monitoring and research, coordinates interviews and tracks policy.
“Of all the classes I’ve taken in my life, from elementary school to the college level, the courses I took in the PAC program have been the most relevant and practical,” Jordan commented. “The course material has had a clear and direct connection to the work that I do daily, and it has absolutely helped me achieve the success I’ve had in my young career.”
Abby McHan and Jenni Sweat also took advantage of the PAC program during their time at Grady. Each serves as a press assistant on Capitol Hill and continues to utilize the skills they learned.
“When the PAC certificate program was announced, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to build upon my current skillset and jumpstart a career in public policy and advocacy,” Sweat said. “I’m grateful for Ms. Carolyn Tieger’s vision for this program. Without it, I would not be where I am today.”
“I chose to pursue the PAC certificate because I wanted to strength my education background in both public relations and political science,” McHan echoed. “The PAC certificate taught me a lot about the importance of building your network, and these professionals opened my eyes to the options that could become available for me later on in my career.”
McHan’s first experience in D.C. was through Grady@DC. The Grady@DC summer program offers students the opportunity to pair classroom study with experiential learning in Washington, DC. Through this program, Grady students are able to make meaningful contributions to the nation’s public life and gain real insights into what a life and career in Washington might resemble. This experience set the foundation for McHan’s career on Capitol Hill when she landed her first congressional internship with Rep. Tom Graves. During her final semester, she interned for Rep. Doug Collins in his district office. Two months before graduation, McHan reached out to the communications director and within a month was offered a job as a press assistant in the D.C. office.
As a press assistant, McHan, supports the communications director by monitoring media hits, assisting in digital communications and drafting speeches and newsletters. She also assisted in the construction and launch of the website design, serving as the primary point of contact for the website development team.
Sweat first came to D.C. during the Washington Semester program and got her start on the Hill as an intern in Sen. David Perdue’s office. The University of Georgia’s Washington Semester program provides students in all majors the opportunity to earn class credit while gaining valuable work experience in D.C. Before her final semester at UGA, Sweat was offered a full-time position Senator Perdue’s office and she finished her degree in D.C. through online classes and independent studies.
“I talked with my advisors and professors at Grady and they recognized what a great opportunity this was,” Sweat reflected. “Thanks to the support of everyone involved, I managed to graduate on time!”
Currently, Sweat works as a press assistant for Perdue. Her job duties range from responding to press inquiries to creating original video content and designing graphics.
While the career journeys of these four alumni are just beginning, they all have similar advice to pass on to the next generation of Grady grads. For those who want to be successful in their career, particularly working on Capitol Hill, Sweat advises to “find your boss’s voice, know your audience, have a message and drive it, think outside the box and learn some policy.”
“I encourage every student, regardless of their degree, to pursue internships and work experience as soon as you can,” Jordan said. “As a young professional, you will have to prove your ‘worth’ and having the experience really helps bolster your credibility and professional confidence.”
“Keep your head down and work hard,” Miller concludes. “There is so much to be learned at the start of your career, and it’s valuable to surround yourself with smart, driven people who have had a long career in your field. Learn as much as you can from them! They want to help you. “