Melissa Wagoner, who spent the last eight-plus years working for the late Massachusetts U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy — including the last five as his press secretary — has been hired as USD’s new director of media relations.
Wagoner, who replaces Denise Ward, moved to San Diego in October. Among other areas, she’ll be covering the School of Peace Studies, the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, Continuing Education and some departments within the College of Arts and Sciences.
Prior to accepting the position, she was already on campus teaching a dual political science and communications studies course this semester.
As one of two directors of media relations, Wagoner will be responsible for establishing and maintaining relationships with the media, working to secure positive media attention for university events and promoting USD.
“The faculty, staff and students at USD are incredible,” said Wagoner. “They are passionate about USD, and their enthusiasm is infectious!”
Wagoner began working for Kennedy as an intern her junior year while working towards a degree in communications and political science at Boston University.
“I’ve always admired Senator Kennedy,” Wagoner said. “My dad has a great love of history and I grew up learning about the Kennedy family and their contributions to our country.”
During her senior year at Boston University in 2002, she was offered a job as a congressional aide in Kennedy’s Boston office. Wagoner was named Kennedy’s press secretary in December 2004; she partially attributes her quick rise as a staffer to Kennedy’s emphasis on developing young leaders.
“Senator Kennedy always focused on mentoring young people and expected us to return the favor by mentoring younger staffers,” Wagoner said.
As his press secretary, Wagoner managed Kennedy’s contact with the media. Her daily responsibilities included writing press releases and developing policy. She says that working in Capitol Hill’s high-pressure environment served as a great opportunity to develop the skills her new job at USD requires.
“If you’re working with the media, integrity is essential. At the end of the day, all you have is your reputation,” she said.
Wagoner is also teaching “Politics and Media Inside the Beltway,” an upper-division political science-communications course. She said she combined the knowledge she gained working in Washington with the theories outlined in academia to create the course curriculum.
“While creating the course, I thought backwards on how I learned my skills and then combined what I know with academic texts,” she said.
Senior Elizabeth Hayden, a political science major and one of Wagoner’s students, believes Wagoner’s experience working in Washington D.C. has given her a better understanding of how the press and politics interact.
“She clearly knows what she’s talking about,” Hayden said. “It’s great to hear about firsthand experiences instead of only reading about it in a book. She clearly was very good at the job she did.”
— Anthony Shallat ‘10