Renee BaharaeenOctober 9, 2018
Renee Baharaeen is currently a Production Assistant for CNN’s Special Events unit. Prior to joining CNN, she served as a Staff Assistant and Coordinator for the Presidential Personnel Office at the White House. She is originally from Kansas City, MO. Outside of work, Renee enjoys traveling, reading, and trying new Pinterest recipes.
What year did you graduate and what was your concentration?
What extra-/co-curricular activities did you do?
Student Government, TMN-Television, Lambda Pi Eta, and Alpha Phi Omega. I studied abroad in Tampere, Finland, during my sophomore year. During my junior and senior years, I had two off-campus internships in Washington, DC.
Did you go to grad school? If so, where? Was it immediately after you left Truman or did you wait? Why?
I haven’t attended grad school. Maybe at some point in the future, but no plans for now.
What was your first job after graduation?
I was a Staff Assistant and Coordinator at the White House in the Presidential Personnel Office (PPO). Our team was responsible for overseeing the recruitment, selection, retention, and professional development process for the Administration’s political appointees.
What work do you do/What are you doing now?
I am currently a Production Assistant for the CNN Special Events unit. Our team handles production for the network’s special coverage, including town halls, election nights, debates, presidential trips abroad, summits, and more. I support the group’s producers, unit managers, and Vice President.
How has your Liberal Arts/COMM education helped you?
The communication program at Truman is excellent because it exposes students to all aspects of the discipline – the well-rounded curriculum offers lessons in public relations, media, journalism, political communication, and communication theory (just to name a few).
When I started out in the major, I was leaning towards pursuing public relations as my career and chose public communication for my concentration; however, I was still required to take courses in other concentrations, which helped me further explore my interests. Now that I am working in journalism, I have tapped the relevant skills and knowledge I acquired in classes like media writing, media law, and political communication. The program is very broad and gives its students a chance to explore the many paths that communication has to offer. I think the same is true of the liberal arts education. It’s wide-ranging and helps students develop solid critical thinking abilities and transferable skills.
What was your greatest accomplishment at Truman?
While serving as the Communication Director for Student Government, I helped run a GOTV campaign to get students involved in campus elections. We turned out over 2,000 students to the polls, breaking the university’s participation record from the previous years.
Which class did you dislike at the time you took it, but now you’re grateful you took it?
I have to admit, I was no fan of communication theory. However, looking back, not only can I say that the theories I learned about are applicable to my work now, but the class also helped me learn to close-read scholarly material, which has been extremely useful in the workplace.
Why is Truman a good place for a student to study?
Two main reasons:
First, it’s a quality education at an affordable rate. Truman’s academic programming is rigorous and challenging and gave me the type of higher education I sought—all at a reasonable price. The university provides several scholarships and is very flexible about accepting transfer credits students may have obtained from high school AP or college-level courses. Additionally, I was able to participate in off-campus programming like study abroad because of Truman’s cost-effective options and financial support.
Second, professors and staff go out of their way to help students. Almost every professor and staff member I interacted with became a mentor to me. For one class project, I had a conversation with my professor about a book I had read that related to my interest in socioeconomics. He ended up connecting me with the author of the book so I could interview her for the assignment. Another professor spent time helping me decide which campus organizations I should invest my time in to meet my professional goals. When applying for internships, the Career Center staff regularly reviewed, and provided feedback on, applications before I submitted them; this helped ensure I had the best chance of getting the opportunities I wanted. These are just a few examples of what sets Truman apart from other universities.
What would you say a COMM student should absolutely do while at Truman?
Take a class in something completely unrelated to the major—something fun or something that just sounds interesting. (Double points if you can get it to count for a graduation requirement!) Shop around before you register. There are some great classes, but you won’t know they are there unless you look (e.g. Horseback Riding, Perspectives in Music: Hollywood & Broadway, Yoga, certain JINS courses, etc.). Some of these “for fun” classes were just a nice break in my schedule; however, a few of them that sparked my interest actually helped me focus my direction within the Communication major itself.
What advice would you give someone who wants to go into the same line of work as you?
For people who are completely sure they want to pursue a career in journalism, I’d suggest joining Truman Media Network in some capacity. It’s an excellent way to gain hands-on experience. I’d recommend working for a few different parts of the network, such as TMN-TV and The Index—it will help you develop a wider skill set, which will make you a more competitive candidate when applying for jobs. I’d also suggest doing an internship or two for a network or paper off campus. Internships give you a chance to practice what you’ve learned in the classroom in a workplace setting. They also teach you how to adjust to a workplace environment.
If you don’t know for sure that you want to pursue a career in journalism (because I definitely didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was a freshman), don’t worry! I was one of those students who knew Communication was the right major but who didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. If you’re anything like me, the best advice I can give is to follow your interests. Sign up for the classes that sound the most interesting to you and start to zero in on what you enjoy. Additionally, start looking for organizations or activities that also meet your interests. I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do with my major until about junior year. And still, I took a roundabout way of getting to the job I have today. I can say that because I focused on my interests, I walked away from Truman with the skills necessary to pursue the opportunities I wanted.
What do you miss most about campus/Kirksville?
That’s tough, because I have a long list! It’s a given that I miss seeing my friends every day. I certainly miss some of my favorite Kirksville restaurants—Nurachi, El Vaq, and China Palace on the square (highly recommended dining options for anyone who hasn’t been). I miss the free workout classes at the Rec Center too. If Hip Hop Cardio is still a class, it’s really fun and worth checking out (that’s coming from someone who can’t dance). And lastly, I miss the programs and events Truman hosted on campus. During my time at Truman, I had the chance to hear the Governor of Missouri and one of Missouri’s U.S. Senators speak. SAB also brought in SNL’s Vanessa Bayer and Phillip Phillips!
What tag line would you create for the COMM department at Truman?
“It’s Communication, not CommunicationS!” (Editor’s note – Somewhat of an inside joke. Come by and we’ll explain.)
If you could come back to Truman and teach a class for a semester, what would be its title and what would it be about?
Practical Life Skills – The class would focus on the various knowledge and skills you should know for your first job and for adjusting to life after college. Things such as buying insurance, filing taxes, and even finding a place to live.
What did we not ask that you think is important for people to know?
If you’re feeling anxious or unsure of what you want to do as you begin your freshman year, it’s totally okay. It may seem like others have it all figured out, but the truth is, a lot of people don’t. I can’t tell you how many of my friends switched their majors at some point and nobody thought anything of it. I had friends who graduated in 3 years, 4 years, and 5 years – again, nobody thought anything of it.
How you craft your college education is completely up to you. It’s not like high school where everybody moved through each grade together and took the same classes. So, try new things; take advantage of the opportunities that are available to you; and invest in your interests. You will find a direction – it may just take some time.
If you would like to learn more of Renee’s story, you can follow her personal LinkedIn account or CNN’s Special Events’ Instagram account.