In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we caught up with Oriana Piña, MA ’16, a first-generation college and master’s graduate who immigrated from Venezuela as a teenager, to learn how GW and the Elliott School influenced her career.
Piña was recently recognized as a “Rising Star” in PRNEWS’ 2022 Top Women in PR. She has led campaigns and advised clients on engagement practices to reach diverse audiences, including for members of Congress, global organizations, corporations and political campaigns. Prior to her current role, Piña led the creation and execution of communications and public relations plans for multiple legislative campaigns, most recently as part of the senior communications team for the highest-ranking Senator in the United States Senate.
GW: Tell us about what you are doing now and why it matters to you?
OP: I currently lead Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Communications and Public Relations for AT&T, the world’s largest telecommunications company. During a moment in time when we are collectively undergoing a reckoning on social justice issues and organizations are emphasizing the business imperative of DE&I, my role uniquely supports strategies to uplift and amplify diverse voices globally.
This work is near and dear to my heart because I’ve seen firsthand the impact and meaning it brings to communities when we raise awareness around DE&I efforts and help empower people at the local level. Through my work, I get to humanize stories, especially around connectivity and representation, and bring communities of color to the forefront of the national conversation.
GW: What drew you to the Elliott School for your graduate studies?
OP: I will never forget that moment in time during Spring 2013 when I opened my acceptance letter for my dream graduate school: the Elliott School at GWU! At the time, I was living in Seoul, South Korea. I was so impressed that even while living abroad, and as a prospective student, I was invited to a “meet-and greet” reception to network with alumni and professors. I knew then that this would truly be a world-class program and institution, with a strong presence and reputation around the globe.
Besides that personal connection, I was always drawn to the Elliott School because of the practical and real-world focus of the academic curriculum. I loved that the classes would be taught by international affairs practitioners, many of them veterans in the organizations of professional interest to me.
GW: How did the Elliott School influence your professional choices and successes?
OP: I can pinpoint and trace back every one of my professional experiences and successes to the Elliott School – from my first internships to my first job in the industry post-graduation, to seeking guidance from mentors when transitioning to new roles, to even now relying on my academic background as my foundation for strategic and analytical thinking at work. I also wouldn’t be where I am today without the constant moral support throughout the years from the incredible classmates, connections, and friends made during the program. My fellow Colonials have been a strong support system throughout my professional and personal life.
GW: Are there particular classes and professors who stand out in your mind? Who helped you on your career path?
OP: I’ll take this opportunity for gratitude and give my most sincere appreciation to all of the professors and staff with whom I crossed paths while at the Elliott School for having such a profound positive impact on my life. Starting with Marcus King, a great mentor, inspiration, and voice of reason who uplifted and supported me while getting a foot in the door early in my career. Sean Aday from my Global Communications program for always listening, believing, and supporting all of our grandiose ideas, like traveling to Cuba for public diplomacy and policy research. Lynne Weil for the guidance and ongoing support throughout our Capstone project – and for still believing in me years after I graduated. Tara Sonenshine for empowering young women to thrive in their careers by always giving us her honest coaching. Cynthia McClintock for her great insights and instilling in all of her students a profound love for all things Latin America. And every single one of the staff at the Elliott School Graduate Student Services Center for years of guidance, as a student and alumna.
GW: How has diversity and inclusion impacted or influenced your career? How can alumni promote DEI and DEI efforts?
OP: My personal journey is part of the larger immigrant experience that is unique to the American story. I was born and raised in Venezuela and immigrated to the United States with family as a teenager. With the help of my mother’s multiple blue-collar jobs, I became a first-generation college and master’s graduate and began my political career in Washington, D.C. It’s those multicultural experiences that have shaped and influenced my professional career by providing authentic representation in any setting. It’s also fueled my passion for paying it forward.
And that’s what DE&I is all about: treating everyone the same regardless of who they are or their lived experiences and providing equal access to resources and opportunities. The Elliott School community is inherently attuned to recognizing and celebrating diversity given our global and multi-cultural academic interests. But it is up to all of us to continue advancing and promoting these practices in our daily lives.
GW: What would you say to current Elliott School and GW students who want to make a positive difference in the world?
OP: The biggest lesson I’ve learned throughout my career is that no matter the industry, level, or role, YOU CAN make a difference in the world. I’ve worked in the non-profit sector, in government as a public servant, and now at a private corporation. Throughout all these experiences, I can see that I’ve had an important role to play in making an impact in my communities. Even if at a smaller local scale, it makes a difference. It took me being open minded to new opportunities, and sometimes seeking out initiatives on my own, for my day-to-day work to always have a sense of social good.
Also, never stop learning and surround yourself with likeminded colleagues and friends who also want to make a positive difference – there’s power in numbers!