A Capitol Career: Former Coms Student Has a Bird’s Eye View of Political History In The Making

September 30, 2021
Jenna's head shot

It’s been a tumultuous time in U.S. politics, and a Communication and Media Studies graduate has had a front row seat for all of the drama.

Jenna Valle-Riestra, class of 2018 and former GM for the student public relations media outlet Primitivo, is the press secretary for the U.S. Senate Committee for the Judiciary. That’s the same high-profile committee that recently hosted powerful testimony from Olympic gymnasts such as Simone Biles who were sexually abused by a team doctor.

“I could not have imagined during my first semester doing this job,” said Valle-Riestra. “I came into Sonoma State very shy.”

Valle-Riestra always had a passion for politics, so it was dream come true when she was awarded a Panetta Institute for Public Policy scholarship during her senior year, which landed her an internship with a California congressman.

The skill sets she had developed while in the Coms Department made an impression on the staff, and she was offered an entry level job with the congressman upon graduation.

“A lot of the (needed) skills involve things I learned at SSU such as writing media releases, branding, and other experiential things we would do in Primitivo PR,” she said.

Those skills positioned Valle-Riestra for her next Capitol Hill job: the head of social media management and digital operations for Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey. She held that position for a year and a half before landing with the Judiciary Committee.

People often ask her how she was able to get such a high-profile job coming from a smaller northern California university.

“I found that there were folks who went to more famous schools, Ivy league schools, who graduated with no work samples,” she said. “Because Coms is such an experiential program, I got to actually do the work, so when it came time to apply for these jobs, I had work experience, I had samples, I had done these things they were hiring for and these other students hadn’t.”

Valle-Riestra has seen a lot during her young career in D.C., from divisive politics to two impeachments and, of course, the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol building (she was fortunate to have had that day off from work). But despite all the political tension, she loves the experience.

“It’s a historic time in our government with all of these fascinating events happening... and I get to be in the middle of it,” said Valle-Riestra.

As for current Coms students, she has one piece of important advice.

“Don’t be afraid to try things…By trying different things, you’ll start narrowing down what you want to do with your life. And pay attention to what sparks your passion. Put yourself out there.”