Making Our Mark

Rachel Racusen ’04

Rachel Racusen '04

Rachel Racusen ’04 studied political science at Union College before becoming director of communications at Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat. Previously, she spent five years doing communications for a congressional committee and seven years working in the Obama administration. In the latter capacity, Rachel ran communications for FEMA, headed communications for Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012 and worked in the White House Press Office. Before the coronavirus pandemic, she traveled regularly for work and spent the weekends with friends, doing errands, taking the dog on long family walks and experiencing many firsts with her young daughter. Rachel has always loved cooking and like many people, has more time to do it while sheltering in place. She’s also diving into lots of new shows (something she loved doing before the pandemic, too).

What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career or volunteer activities?

I think one of the most challenging aspects of communications work is that a lot of your schedule is set by events you have no control over. A crisis that brews, a reporter who is on deadline for a story and needs you to call them at 10 p.m., or a piece of news that breaks at 6 a.m. and affects your company or brand. After doing it for more than 15 years, I’m very used to it – I really only know how to function in a deadline-driven environment now. One of the most rewarding aspects is that communications is a field where you can quickly drive a real impact. You can work with a reporter on a story and immediately see the outcome of that work. There is also a huge amount of variety in the work that I do – the substance of the issues I work on is constantly changing, which I find fascinating. It’s a really interesting time to be working in the nexus of technology, media, and entertainment.

Who inspired/inspires you, both professionally and personally?

I’ve been very lucky to work with and for a lot of amazingly smart, pragmatic and just good people, with a lot of integrity. I’ve worked in some extremely high pressure environments and learned from bosses (who became mentors) who were always able to offer calm, objective, strategic advice. I’d like to think I’ve learned from them. I’ve also worked with some women who set really great examples when they became moms, in part by normalizing how their lives changed. They would make it a point to let everyone know when they were leaving to pick up their kid from daycare, and talk openly about the good and the bad. When I was in my early 20s, I wasn’t exposed to that at all. I wasn’t around it more until my early 30s. I think the more we can do to help show our younger colleagues what the reality of being a working parent is, the better.

What advice would you offer today’s women students, not just at Union, but across the country?

Who you work for really matters. I was really lucky, especially early in my career, to work for extremely strong managers, who I was able to learn from, who empowered me, and who gave me room to grow in a meaningful way. I didn’t realize how unusual it was – not until later having bosses who weren’t like that – and it was very formative for me early in my career. There is no such thing as the perfect job, but having a great boss can make all the difference.

What was your most formative experience at Union?

It’s hard to pick just one. I found both my social and academic experiences at Union to be incredibly formative. But in terms of the path I’ve chosen professionally, I think it was a media and politics class I took with Professor Zoe Oxley, and an ethics of politics class I took with Professor Byron Nichols. All of us in that class absolutely loved it. I think it was the only class I had where we all did a dinner to mark the end of the semester.