First-generation graduate student receives College of Communications position

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Graduate student Anakaren Cardenas Ureño, takes on a new position for the College of Communications. As Digital Communications specialist, Ureno helps boost the university’s social media presence.
(Gretchen Davey / Daily Titan)

Balancing time between social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn can be overwhelming for anyone.

For Anakaren Cárdenas Ureño, spending time on social media takes on a whole new level of responsibility. While still finishing graduate school at Cal State Fullerton, she has also been hired on as the Digital Communications Specialist for the College of Communications.

“Right now, our social media pages are like babies … They had basically been abandoned or not frequented or used,” Ureño said.  “During my time here, I’d like to make sure that our digital platforms mature to the point that they’re consistently and constantly pushing our information and content.”

Ureño hopes to bolster the College of Communication’s social media presence and student engagement by taking a bottom-up approach – having the student body and organizations on campus send information to her so she can post it.

“That’s one of my biggest things: making sure we’re putting out information that students care about,” Ureño said.

Michael Mahi, the director for online and social media engagement at CSUF, feels that having social media directors for each college can be beneficial for both current and prospective students.

“Social media can take me places that I can’t get into because I’m not in the program,” Mahi said.  “That’s the beauty for me of really engaging social media.”

One of the things Mahi is in charge of is the university’s Social Media Working Group, in which 52 people that deal with social media from every college come together quarterly to discuss and collaborate on determining the best and worst practices for different social media platforms.

“If there’s any one best practice I’ve learned from that whole thing, it’s that using a network of social media coordinators and your followers can really help you push that information out.” Mahi said.

Since she started working for the College of Communications in September, Ureño has been a part of this group.

“Before they hired her, the sites were kind of dormant,” Mahi said.  “What that means to me is a great opportunity to start fresh and do some new and exciting stuff.”

“She’s adopted a lot of things we’ve been doing, and her dean is really interested in social media,” Mahi said.  “I always tell people that the best way to use your social media is to give them a daily snapshot of what it means to be, say, a communications student, and I think Anakaren understands that.”

Ureño heard about the position through Andi Stein, the Graduate Advisor for the Communications department.

Part of Ureño’s interview for the position centered around her plans for the future and her previous work in the field. Her experience includes work for a public relations and social media management agency in Orange County. Ureño said the job had her splitting her time with a wide range of fields including health and fitness, technology and restaurants, dealing with start-up companies and clients such as Elbows Mac n’ Cheese in Downtown Brea.

I worked as an assistant account executive, managing at one point up to 15 different clients in the industry, and I did everything from media relations and outreach for them to community engagement,” Ureño said.

Many of the clients that Ureño worked with were in different time zones, and she had to work with each of them on an individual basis, so she is enthusiastic about her new and centralized position at CSUF.

“This change has definitely been very exciting and very welcome,” Ureño said.

Although her experience in the field of public relations helped her obtain her current position, Ureño had no idea what she wanted to do until she started her higher education journey at Orange Coast College (OCC) in Costa Mesa.

“I had gotten accepted into a few four-years, so I had that option, but I was definitely the kind of student that had no idea what she wanted to major in. So I opted for the community college route,” Ureño said.  

OCC not only introduced Ureño to the communications field, it also introduced her to CSUF, where she would later transfer to finish her undergraduate studies.

“I just kept hearing more and more about Cal State Fullerton’s communications program and how amazing it was, so that made it really exciting,” Ureño said. “It was the perfect opportunity to come somewhere where I would have access to all these amazing faculty, and the cost wasn’t something compared to say a USC.”

Ureño is a first-generation Mexican-American and the third oldest of nine children. Although one of her older siblings has finished an undergraduate program as well, she is the first in her family to pursue a master’s degree.

“It’s been scary, but it’s what has motivated me most,” Ureño said. “It’s a path nobody in my family has taken before, and maybe if I go down it and accomplish it successfully, maybe for my younger siblings or cousins or relatives or anyone who hasn’t gone down that path yet, it will be less scary and more accessible.”

Ureño said two professors she has taken classes with at CSUF have made an impact on her life and career choice beyond Andi Stein, who initially pointed her to the open Digital Communications specialist position.  

One is Dennis Gaschen, a communications professor that taught her undergraduate capstone course and really motivated an interest in the field of public relations.

“Prior to Anakaren, there was no dedicated person or effort to make our online presence felt,” Gaschen said.  “She’s trying to find connections online, and giving a sense of welcome (to prospective students) is great.”

The other was communications professor and director of the Maxwell Center for International Communications Dean Kazoleas, Ph.D., who Ureño said encouraged her to think more about the future.

She asks very good questions, and when I throw a discussion topic out, she’s thoughtful and articulate,” Kazoleas said. “She’s a very intelligent woman.”

Kazoleas often encourages his students to think about possibilities such as Ph.D. programs and graduate school.

However, as a Greek first-generation American and college graduate himself, Kazoleas knows there are challenges to balancing school and family obligations. He called Ureño a natural leader with the potential to be a good professor or Ph.D. candidate.

“I understand that because I’m in the same boat,” Kazoleas said.  “We do want that diverse student population to be inclusive. We have very, very good students. But I think if you get someone in her position–someone who’s a first-generation student–she understands that perspective.”

After earning her undergraduate degree, Ureño applied to only one graduate program: the program at Cal State Fullerton.

“I took a gamble there, but I think it worked out,” Ureño said. “I really like this campus and the faculty here.”

Currently in her fourth semester of the program, Ureño is working on her final thesis and expects to be done after the coming spring semester.

Though she is still considering going for a Ph.D., Ureño has thought about one day working on Capitol Hill.

“I love the idea of working for government. Not necessarily in politics but almost like in an office where you’re working for the better good,” Ureño said.

However, as a part of the CSUF staff, Ureño hopes to be able to provide better digital information dissemination and access to events for the largely commuter campus.

“Right now, we’re focused on social media management and management of the website, making sure that our content across all platforms is uniform, speaks to the same thing and is all encompassing as far as everything that’s going on in the college,” Ureño said.

Her work, so far, has certainly been noticed.

“The idea that the College of Communications and other colleges and departments are bringing on social media coordinators is an outstanding thing,” Mahi said. “I think hiring folks like Anakaren to do this type of work just shows the commitment the university has toward social media and to communicating to students.”

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