joyce gao holds victory sign and smiles in graduation robe
Photo courtesy of Joyce Gao

Higher education inspires PR grad to learn, lead and transform

As a USC Annenberg Ambassador, public relations major Joyce Gao represents the school’s diverse student body by helping the next generation of Trojans learn what it’s like to study, learn and play at USC. She takes her duties seriously because she knows the importance of a campus visit.
“My visit to USC's campus swayed me toward coming here for undergrad,” Gao said. “I'm so thankful that it ended up happening. I loved being a tour guide and being able to talk about my own experience.”
Growing up in Beijing, China, Gao moved to Los Angeles in the sixth grade. Adjusting to a new culture wasn’t always easy but it helped prepare her for big transitions. She used her experiences and insights and worked at AcceptED USC, a nonprofit focused on addressing education inequality. Leading a group of local high schooler, she  provided a tailored curriculum and guided them through the college application process.
“It was very rewarding to assist students with their higher education Gaols and see them get accepted into their dream schools,” she said. “Interacting with them reminded me of the importance of giving back and helped me become a stronger leader.”
Gao is excited about commencement and what lies ahead. As president of the intramural tennis team, she is especially looking forward to hearing what sports icon and equality champion Billie Jean King says when she delivers the keynote address at USC Annenberg’s ceremony on May 10.
“Billie Jean King not only embodies what it means to be a world-class athlete, but she also is a beacon for progress and equality, inspiring women like me all over the world,” Gao said. 

Can you tell us a little about your journey and why you chose to study at USC Annenberg?

During my junior year of high school, we visited a bunch of different colleges in the greater Los Angeles area. At that time, I was very committed to my education and going to a good college, but I didn't know where that would be for me.  
I always had this dream of going to the East Coast and experiencing that, but upon arriving at the USC campus I noticed how vibrant it is. I was so touched by students having picnics together between classes and walking to classes together. In comparison to the other campuses I visited, I could feel that the students here seemed genuinely happy to be here and that it was a very collaborative-spirited environment.
I actually applied as a political science major. I thought I wanted to go to law school and go down that path. I quickly realized that I don't think that lifestyle is necessarily for me. I knew that USC Annenberg is very established and has an amazing reputation, and students from Annenberg go on to do great things, and I wanted to be a part of that. So I looked at the majors that Annenberg offered and chose public relations.
Now that I’m taking PR 498: Honors Seminar for PR I can confirm that I’m right where I need to be. Fred Cook is our instructor and he's taught us some very real-life applicable skill sets, like negotiating your salary. We got to pitch an idea for a startup to the founder of Let Ful and Blaze. It was great to get feedback from a successful entrepreneur. We also do a lot of fun activities. For example, Fred is bringing in one of his friends who does improv, and we're all going to do improvisational exercises together.

What do you hope to do after graduation?

I feel like this is a time of a lot of change and self-discovery. I don't know exactly what I want to pursue as a career, but I am in the USC Progressive Degree Program (PDP) studying communication management and still have time to decide. A lot of my involvement at USC over the past three and a half years has been very education-focused. So, I can see myself either pursuing administration Gaols in higher education or even going into education consulting.
I've also always wanted to become a professor. I don't know if a PhD is in my near future, but my instructors have made such a positive impact by being willing to meet with me outside of class and helping guide me as I make important decisions about my future. I wasn’t necessarily expecting just how approachable and supportive the professors are.

Do you have advice for other students or anyone who may be thinking about studying at USC Annenberg?

My biggest regret is not trying more things and getting involved more. If I could redo my experience or give advice to students, it would be even if you're not so sure of your interest in something, if you have the capacity, try it out. You're not committed to anything by just trying it. So don't be scared to experience new opportunities because if you find out it's not for you can try something else.
Take advantage of your time here because it passes by so fast and just to give everything a shot. The students here at USC are some of the most passionate and kind people that I've met. I've had the opportunity to visit other college campuses and I feel like maybe I'm very biased as a USC student, but I never felt such a strong sense of community and having it be so welcoming. Everyone I've interacted with at USC is very passionate about the fields that they're studying.
I liked being in Annenberg because it pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone and taught me necessary life skills. A lot of our projects have to do with randomly going up to people and interviewing. The fact that I can just walk up to a random student here on campus, and they're more than willing to talk, help, grab a coffee or whatever is very special. I hope other students take advantage of time with their peers and get to know as many people as they can.