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Student Spotlight: Valencia Richardson

Political communication senior finds her voice

Rising Ogden Honors College senior Valencia Richardson is one of those people that makes us stop and wonder: was she magically granted an extra hour in every day? Valencia is involved all over campus: she’s the Editor-in-Chief of Gumbo, LSU’s yearbook; she’s involved in College Dems and founded Geaux Vote LSU; serves as a student ambassador for the Andrew Goodman Foundation; works at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber as a communications intern; studied abroad in Argentina this summer; and did we mention she’s somehow graduating a year early? Valencia took some time out of her busy schedule to chat with us about how the Ogden Honors College has been a constant source of support and guidance throughout her time at LSU.

It seems like a lot of what you’re involved in on campus has to do with politics and advocacy. Can you tell me a little bit about how you first got interested in these subjects?

Well, when I was first thinking about college, I thought I wanted to do journalism. But while I was deciding between schools, I was doing my research on what each could offer, and I discovered that at LSU you could major in political communication, and I was sold on that. So that was my primary reason for coming to LSU…civic engagement, and how people get involved in the political process, and how students get involved in that process, because they don’t tend to, has always been really interesting to me. Political communication is very applicable to that point of interest. I like to call it political science on steroids; we’re learning how to use mass communication for political ends. For me personally, it’s about figuring out ways to get people and more specifically students involved in the political process. That’s kind of what my thesis is focusing on, in fact.

I’d love to hear more about your thesis research. Who’s your faculty advisor?

Prof. Kathleen Searles. She has a joint appointment in the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication and the Department of Political Science. My thesis research involves the current governor’s race and looking at the social media presence of all four major candidates versus college student turnout, specifically LSU students. I want to see if there’s any way LSU student turnout can be improved upon, what candidates did right and what they did wrong, things like that. My point of interest is voter turnout, and it’s really low right now among my age demographic. My focus is on how we could use social media to improve that, or at least raise awareness about the elections.

So what are you going to do after LSU? What are your career goals?

I would like to go to law school and then work for a non-profit. Specifically, I’d like to work for a non-profit that promotes economic development. There’s so much more to it than attracting business. For example, a lot of their legislative priorities have to do with higher education; we need a skilled workforce in order to attract businesses. I really like advocacy work in general, whether it is civic engagement or working more on the civil rights side. So, I think I’m going the advocacy route through law school and then in the non-profit arena.

How has the Ogden Honors College impacted your time at LSU?

I think for the better! The standards that you have to maintain, it’s great for accountability, especially for myself. I’m really busy and tend to have tunnel vision, and I think the Honors College requirements and standards are the best help for me, personally. I like that the expectations are high because I have a really good incentive to keep my own standards high. I’ve also been able to build up my resume because of all my connections made through the Honors College, as well as the Manship School. I actually got my internship through the Honors College.

So tell me a little more about your internship. What do you do at BRAC?

I love it! It’s not a filing papers kind of internship—my main job is running the social media accounts for BRAC. I also do a lot of writing for them. We send out weekly newsletters to our investors and to different community leaders. I help maintain the BRAC website and another website called Live Capitalized, which is a hub of local events, job postings, and different organizations that targets Baton Rouge newcomers.

Do you have a favorite Honors class that you’ve taken?

I took a political communication writing class with an Honors Option. Joel DiGrado, who was [Republican U.S. Senator] Bill Cassidy’s campaign manager, taught the class. The class itself was a lot of work because it’s a writing class—we had papers due three times a week—and my Honors project was to do a paper on examining Obama’s media strategy. That was a great class. I also took the Honors version of Media Law, taught by Erin Coyle, that same semester. It was extremely rigorous, but really fun and reaffirmed my desire to go to law school. That was my favorite Honors class.

Do you have any advice for Ogden Honors College freshmen, or high school students who are currently considering applying to the Honors College?

I would tell them to not be afraid because it’s extremely beneficial—beyond the reputation of becoming an Honors student—you learn things you had no idea you were going to learn. For example, I learned what I’m passionate about through narrowing my thesis focus and deciding what I was going to research. It helped me find myself. You don’t have to enter the Honors College knowing what you’re going to do. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure what I was really passionate about until I got here. I like the soul-searching aspect. So, don’t be afraid because a lot of people, especially freshmen, come in thinking they need to know their entire life’s plan. It’s okay to explore. Don’t worry if you don’t know what you’re doing before you get here. Just apply!