Mentorship and values-driven leadership key to graduate student’s success

Udeitha Srimushnam originally came to graduate school seeking to create impactful communication advocacy work and that same motivation still drives her today. Graduating in 2013 with a master’s degree from the Communication Management program, Srimushnam cites mentorship by Rebecca Weintraub, the program’s director and clinical professor of communication, as having a transformative effect on her career path.

“She really imbued in me a sense of confidence and a sense of inquiry and curiosity when it came to my work,” Srimushnam said. “She challenged me. She continually pushed me to go further and then encouraged me to do more. It really made a difference and continues to make a difference to me.” 

We recently caught up with Srimushnam, who now runs her own Washington, D.C.-based strategic communication consultancy, CommonGround Communications, LLC.

Udeitha Srimushnam
What attracted you to the field of communication?

I love the big picture stuff. The sort of nuts to bolts of what it means to look at a policy and figure out how to communicate something complicated and be persuasive about it. There’s something really exciting about bringing people together to create shared meaning and then leveraging it. In order to do that, I have to really understand you, I have to get to know you and what matters to you and how you move through the world. I find that fascinating. I've been lucky enough to be working in issues management, so I get to dive into a specific area that is of interest to me and help work toward its outcome. 

In communication you are dealing with narratives and data, which do you prefer? 

Both. The qualitative research helps to figure out how a client is doing, how they are perceived, and this informs how a narrative should be crafted for a specific initiative. Once the narrative has been constructed, we have to circle back to rigorous data collection. Was the narrative effective? Did it accomplish the things that we needed it to accomplish? The only way to really answer those questions is to track metrics and engage in data assessment to figure out what folks are responding to or not. Data is a really compelling way to push yourself to be a much more effective communicator.

What is one tip that you learned at USC Annenberg that has helped you navigate the communication world? 

Patience. In this line of work, it's very easy to want to jump immediately to a conclusion, a solution or a recommendation. I want to be helpful and I want to have the answer! But, you have to ask a lot of questions and keep asking questions over and over again until you start to hear the same things repeatedly. That patience is one of the things that was reiterated in a lot of the classes I took here. 

I did a lot of group work at USC Annenberg with really smart, competent people and I learned that when something is very important to you, you’re willing to compromise and step back a little bit. 

USC Annenberg was a transformative experience for me. I came in thinking I knew certain things about myself. By the time I left, some things I knew about myself were even more true; and some things surprised me and changed my mind. Let grad school work its magic on you.

What hopes do you have for your career moving forward? 

It has been my experience in my career so far, that when I see an opportunity that I think is exciting or could be interesting, I tend to just jump into it. Being in it helps to figure out what works for me and what doesn’t. That’s allowed me to work nationally and domestically, in both urban and rural environments, across many different issue spaces and many different communication practices. So, part of what I hope for in the next couple of years is that this really rich type of discovery continues. I’d like to see about branching out beyond D.C., where I continue working deeply in the education space, but also expand into other social issue areas.

What advice would you give Communication Management students post-graduation?

Your network is incredibly important. The folks you’re in class with are going to be the heavy hitters 15 years from now. Building relationships with classmates, faculty, or other people in the community and feeding those relationships is going to be really important. 

One more thing I would say, based on advice from one of my own mentors, is to be really thoughtful about values-driven leadership. Really know yourself and what matters to you and who you are in the world and what you want to do. It’s okay for that answer to be different from what you, or others, expect. Find a way to have impact in the world as a way to push yourself toward leadership and as a way to really grow in your own work and in your own life. I think that’s a really great framework for how to think about the long-term project that is your career.