female college graduate stands in front of large globe.
Photo courtesy of Karly Zrake

Alumna aspires to be a bridge between corporations and communities

Leaving her full-time job to pursue a higher degree was a bit of a risk for Karly Zrake.

“There were moments before classes started when I was like, ‘Uh oh, did I make the right decision?’” she said. “It's scary to leave something certain, but I knew it was the right decision from the minute I saw the program.”

Having earned her bachelor’s in anthropology and human rights from Southern Methodist University, Zrake was working as a recruiter when she applied to USC Annenberg and the London School of Economics and Political Science’s joint master’s degree program in global media and communication. She couldn’t pass up the opportunity to study the impact of globalization on communication, society, culture, politics and media practices in two of the world’s most important media capitals: Los Angeles and London. 

“I am very people-focused,” said Zrake, who received the Global Communication Development Network’s Robert A. Peterson Scholarship in Global Media and Communications. “I have always been passionate about helping my community, hearing stories, and making sure others feel like they have a voice, and that their voice matters. I was looking to build a greater understanding of what it means to be a global citizen.”

In what ways did your upbringing influence who you are today?
female college graduate stands in front of USC Annenberg mural
Photo courtesy of Karly Zrake

I have two older brothers who are five and 10 years older than I am. I think having older brothers definitely shaped who I am, and a lot of younger siblings, especially younger girls of brothers, would probably say the same thing. They made me strong, persistent and gave me the confidence to go for my goals.

I'm very close to my mom who is my absolute best friend and inspiration. She is such a strong woman and has her own business working in healthcare management. She works with a lot of people who have Alzheimer's and dementia and have suffered strokes. I kind of grew up in nursing homes and around the elderly, and it gave me an appreciation for hearing the stories of the people who came before me. I love history and humanities, and I think my experiences growing up around my mom’s work contributed to that. 

During elementary and middle school, my schools were across the street from one of the communities where she worked. I would go there after school and play my clarinet or ukulele or just talk to people, which gave me an appreciation for being able to relate to people of different backgrounds. That's absolutely something that played a big factor in who I am today. 

Can you tell us a bit about your career path and what interested you in studying global communication at USC?

Communication is something that has always underlined the work that I've done. I previously worked in higher education consulting and recruiting. Through those roles, I saw the importance of being able to connect with people, meet people where they're at and communicate with them in a way that will reach them. I worked in higher education consulting right out of college, which was an amazing opportunity. It was a year-long contracted position with Alpha Chi Omega Fraternity and I worked with 17 different chapters across the country consulting on policies for risk management, recruitment, communications, marketing, and other operations. During that year, I got to see so much of the country and meet people from all over the U.S. 

Then I transitioned to recruiting with Southern Methodist University’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. I worked very closely with admissions, but primarily recruited students who were interested in the humanities, social sciences and natural and mathematical sciences. I loved that role, specifically because I was able to meet with people from different walks of life. My favorite part was being able to hear what these students were interested in and connect them to the opportunities that are relevant to them. But after much reflection during COVID, I knew that it was time to look for the next opportunity.

I've always wanted to go to grad school and pursue higher education. Through my work, I saw and experienced the good and bad of communication and knew I wanted to pursue some type of master's degree related to the field. Not to mention, Annenberg is a huge name and has top-tier communication programs, which drew me to global communication at USC. I’m originally from California, so I was also excited to get back to my home state. 

What was your favorite thing about studying at the London School of Economics and USC Annenberg?

The global media and communications program is so culturally diverse and different from anything I have ever experienced. One really cool thing was getting to know my classmates and professors, and hearing stories from people who lived all over the world, including China, Egypt, India and so many other places. It was also incredible how much everybody at both universities wants you to succeed and find that thing that's going to light your fire. 

Plus, living abroad and figuring out housing, banking and everything that goes with it was an amazing opportunity for growth.

I loved all of the classes I took, but one of my favorites was Methodological Fundamentals of Big Data. I learned how to analyze data sets, apply findings to business strategy and communicate it in a way that is understandable for people who are not data scientists or data analysts. I also enjoyed courses in business strategy, global marketing, and conflict management where I  gained valuable skills in negotiation, mediation and resolution. 

At USC Annenberg, I had professors who were working at Paramount in data analysis and strategy, the global head of creators for YouTube Shorts and former Disney execs. I never in a million years thought I would have connections with these people. Dean [Willow] Bay and USC Annenberg’s administration do a great job of cultivating an environment where there are these incredible leaders in their industry and they are there to help students and to connect us to opportunities. Overall, USC Annenberg offers a great culture of success that’s very motivating and inspiring.