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April 2020 #CommsMom: Catherine Gaa

#COMMSMOMS

April 4, 2020

Catherine and I e-met through my Comms Mom Facebook page and I found her background very similar to mine despite the fact that she lives in Spain. Read on to learn more about this dynamic #CommsMom.

NAME: Catherine Gaa

AGE: 34

JOB TITLE: Admissions Communications Coordinator

YEARS WORKING IN COMMUNICATIONS: 10+

CHILDREN: Enrique (3) and Millán (8 months)

TELL US ABOUT YOUR PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND:
I am a trained journalist who graduated from J-School just before the advent of social media (I didn’t get Facebook on campus until my sophomore year). I decided to forego a job in radio in my native Chicago in favor of heading to Spain to teach English for a year, fully prepared to come armed with stories and Spanish for the market. Instead, I fell in love with Seville and a sevillano. That was nearly 13 years ago.

I have maintained a popular blog and freelanced in the time that I was a salaried teacher, too (this was once the only way to work as a native English speaker in Spain).

After completing a master’s in public relations from a Spanish university (¡en español!), job offers poured in on LinkedIn, but the salaries were garbage. I stuck to teaching until my husband was transferred to Madrid in 2016. I saw this as my, “via de escape” – my exit plan. After four interviews and two offers, I chose to pivot into higher education and work as an admissions counselor for Saint Louis University-Madrid Campus. I was essentially the public face for English speakers – I not only visited schools and represented SLU-Madrid at recruitment events, but I welcome families on campus, answered the phone and liaised with departments.

After a year, I began taking over some of the outgoing communication as the MarComm team got saturated with a web overhaul. This was my moment, and I knew it. What was a fun side project when I wasn’t reading academic credentials spun into a full-time job as the gatekeeper of all outgoing communication. I had to fight not only to get this job on the table, but also my salary and going remote. It took nearly a full year, but I am earning more than twice what those other jobs offered me with my newly minted M.A. A lot of it is new to me, but as my boss once touted: “If we told Cat we were no longer a university, but a table factory, she would finish whatever she’s working on and then join a professional group, watch a YouTube video and read some white pages.”

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE CAREER ACHIEVEMENTS OR SUCCESSES?
I think we’re in it. Working with the changing nature of the COVID-19 virus and how it will impact our students – past and present – as well as the University’s narrative. I get to help form our response and affirm our name among American colleges abroad, Jesuit universities and a higher education institution that adapted and rose to the challenges we are facing.

DID YOUR CAREER GOALS AND/OR OUTLOOK CHANGE ONCE YOU HAD A CHILD? IF SO, HOW?
Yes and no. I really enjoy working in higher ed, so I was looking for a way to continue working in admissions while toning down my commitments outside of the 9 to 5. By switching to a purely communications role, I can be there more for my kids (and my laundry machine). The end goal remains the same – enroll qualified students – but the means are better suited to my family’s needs right now.

WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT WORKING IN COMMUNICATIONS AND WHY DO YOU THINK IT’S A GOOD INDUSTRY FOR MOMS?
Working in the industry has allowed me to examine how intentional I can be with my words with my own children.

WHAT DO YOU DISLIKE ABOUT OUR INDUSTRY AS IT RELATES TO WORKING MOMS?
I became remote when returning from maternity leave and am still navigating the changes – personally and professionally. This means that I am a little too into my phone so that I can show my colleagues I am being accountable. This has been especially true with the COVID-19 virus and the fallout in my sector (higher education). I am pulled between the emotional needs of my family as well as helping other parents navigate this situation for their kids. It’s an industry that truly doesn’t rest, which can blur the lines between working and mom-ing.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE THINGS TO DO AS A FAMILY?
We live in Spain, which is a family-friendly country where children are revered. My kids are at awkward ages, so we don’t always do everything as a family – my elder child is active and loves music, museums and the park. His younger brother is stroller-bound but usually happy to oblige and watch his older “hermano” run crazy. We take long walks, go out for tapas and spend time with the Spanish grandparents.

WHAT’S YOUR BEST ADVICE FOR MOMS WORKING IN COMMUNICATIONS?
I’m still in a new position, but I’d say to lend the same best practices to your home life: intention, flexibility and purpose.

You can follow Catherine’s adventures in Southern Spain–and beyond–on her blog, Sunshine & Siestas.

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