From CSUB to the White House to Capitol Hill: Young alumna living her dreams in D.C.

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Adrienne Salazar was recently promoted to deputy press secretary for Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass.

BY CHRISTINE BEDELL
Alumni Engagement Specialist
cbedell1@csub.edu

Adrienne Salazar remembers stumbling upon “Real Time with Bill Maher” while channel surfing in the 8th grade and being instantly fascinated by the intersection of media and politics.

Flash forward 14 years and Salazar, as a White House communications intern, was helping coordinate Maher’s first interview with President Barack Obama.

“Talk about a full circle moment,” Salazar said this past week. “I’d been watching that show since I was 13.”

That’s just one memorable moment in what’s already been a memorable-moment filled career for the 28-year-old CSUB alumna working in Washington, D.C.

She just hit another career milestone, being promoted from press assistant to deputy press secretary for Rep. Katherine Clark, a Democrat representing a district in eastern Massachusetts.

The promotion gets her closer to her goal of becoming a press secretary on Capitol Hill or the White House, and then possibly pivoting to a career in news broadcasting.

“My hope is maybe to emulate the career of George Stephanopoulos, to have Hill and White House experience, and then parlay that into a career as a partisan contributor or an anchor someday.”

Adrienne Salazar and Bill Maher

Comedian and television host Bill Maher and Salazar at the taping of Maher’s first interview with President Barack Obama for “Real Time with Bill Maher” in November 2016. 

‘SHE’S A GO-GETTER’

The story of how Salazar got to D.C. is one of hard work, ambition and leaning on the mentors she met at CSUB.

Salazar grew up in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, the third of six children. After her parents divorced and her mom had to go back to school and work, she assumed a lot of responsibility over her three younger siblings, said her mother, Rebeca Salazar.

Still, she managed to excel in everything she did, including band, theatrical arts and school, Rebeca said. In between, she said, Salazar watched a lot of news.

“I remember having to get the dictionary out sometimes because she was always using impressive words,” Rebeca Salazar joked.

Adrienne Salazar i n first grade

Salazar competing in a University Interscholastic League writing competition in the first grade.

Salazar was eager to attend college out of state and so moved to Bakersfield where she had family. She wanted to go to CSUB but couldn’t afford the $8,000 tuition.

So Salazar worked at Best Buy for four years to earn enough money for school.

“I have a whole lot of useless knowledge because I was a TV salesperson,” she quipped. “I can set up a proper home theater.”

Pressed for time and money, Salazar obtained permission to take unusually heavy course loads and graduated from CSUB in three years. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications in 2015.

Salazar’s mom had told her she could lighten her load, but she “wanted to get where she wanted to get,” Rebeca Salazar said.

“‘Are you sure this is what you want to do? You can slow down,’” she recalled telling her daughter. “But when she puts her mind to something, she’s a go-getter.”

Retired CSUB political science professor Kent Price said when he first got to know Salazar, she was like a lot of his students: She had great potential but didn’t know it or what to do with it.

She was hungry for real-world experience and wanted to make a difference, so he helped her get class credit for an internship on the 2014 valley congressional campaign of Democrat Amanda Renteria. He advised her through some of the more intense moments of the campaign.

Renteria lost to incumbent Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford. But Salazar got to see an “amazing” woman from the valley make a run and it gave her a “lift,” Price said. He then encouraged her to go to D.C.

“I thought that’s the place she needed to be because she was just in love with politics and communications and that’s the epicenter,” he said. “I don’t think she would have really been satisfied here.”

Adrienne Salazar with class of White House interns

The fall 2016 Office of Communications Interns class photo with First Lady Michelle Obama. Salazar is to the right of Obama.

Price recommended she apply to multiple graduate schools, he said, but she only applied to American University in D.C. because she knew what she wanted and went for it.

That’s not to say she was completely fearless. She had some anxiety about going and in the beginning was a little overwhelmed by D.C., Price said. But he reminded her what other people from Bakersfield have accomplished and she stayed focused on her goals.

The two keep in touch.

“Whenever she has a decision (to make), she calls and says, ‘What should I do?’” he said. “I say, ‘You know what to do’ and she goes and does it.”

Salazar gives a lot of the credit for that to Price and communications professor Donna Simmons, who gave her guidance and wrote her letters of recommendation, and philosophy professor Christopher Meyers, who encouraged her to listen to a wide range of political voices.

“I went to American University for two years for a master’s degree, but I am where I am because of my Cal State education,” Salazar said.

FROM ‘THIS WEEK’ TO THE WHITE HOUSE

While earning her master’s degree in political communication, Salazar interned at “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” as a booking agent, researcher and writer. Highlights include getting to meet actor and veterans advocate Gary Sinise, whom she grew to admire after seeing him in “Of Mice and Men,” and getting to staff a White House Correspondents Dinner.

Adrienne Salazar and George Stephanopoulos

Salazar with ABC News anchor and host George Stephanopoulos at a taping of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” in New Hampshire in February 2016. 

“This Week” was really welcoming to interns, including soliciting their input during show-preparation meetings, she said.

“You have to suspend your disbelief that you’re contributing to a meeting with someone you’ve admired for so long,” she said of Stephanopoulos.

From there Salazar was an advertising fellow at Revolution Messaging in Washington, where she got to write ad copy for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign during the waning days of it. Then she became a broadcast media intern at the White House.

She monitored news networks for information relevant to the Obama Administration and helped tape interviews with senior staff and the president. That includes Maher’s first interview with Obama, which was so meaningful to her because “Real Time” had sparked her interest in other political shows like “This Week,” “Morning Joe” and “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”

Just two months later she went to work for Clark.

“She’s really good on gun safety reforms and early childhood education and paid family leave,” Salazar said.  

“I didn’t want to take a job with someone I didn’t believe in. This is grueling work. But I identified with her quickly as a congresswoman I could give everything to, and it’s worked out.”



TWO PRESTIGIOUS HONORS

In 2015, Adrienne Salazar and a fellow CSUB student won the national Media Plan Case Competition, preparing a 14-page proposal for how to hypothetically spend $60 million to increase the rate of movie theater attendance by 18- to 34-year-olds.

To win, they had to present their proposal to a panel of judges at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Each received a $5,000 scholarship, which Salazar used to move from Bakersfield to D.C. for graduate school.

Salazar was also the inaugural recipient of the Dotty Lynch Scholarship at American University, named for a communications professor there who’d been a journalist and pollster “who infused students with a love of politics and the political process,” according to the AU website.