A competitor in Quest's 3-Minute Thesis competition for graduate research presentations, Australian student Rachelle Hills anticipates soon earning a master's degree in strategic communication, having made a return trip to SUNY Oswego on the advice of a friend. 

Where in Australia are you from?

Sydney, in a place called Crows Nest. I went to a private all-girls school. Private schools are a lot more prevalent in Australia than they are here. The elementary schools are quite public, but the high schools are all private.

Where did you go for your bachelor's degree?

I went inland, to country Australia, in a place called Bathurst -- Charles Sturt University. I studied commercial radio in a group of 15 students.

Why did you choose SUNY Oswego for graduate school, all the way from Australia?

I came to SUNY Oswego on an exchange in 2015 during my undergrad junior year, for eight months from July to February. I came here for broadcasting. I met a number of people, and one of them was named Matt (McCabe), who went into the strategic communication program. (Afterward) I got a job in Australia, I worked for two years, I realized I didn't want to stay in radio long-term, and I called Matt. I asked, "Is it worth coming halfway around the world to do this (graduate program)?" And he said yes. From Australia, it takes 28 hours to get here. I thought if I'm going to take a trip to see the people I met here, I might as well stay here for two years and travel around America while I can. 

What did Matt say about the strengths of strategic communication at SUNY Oswego?

He said that all the profs really want to see you succeed, they want to see you break ground in communication, they want you to make a difference in the industry, as well as letting you follow your own creative path. They don't force you down one track, where you have to go into research or you have to go into management. You can use what they're teaching you to chip away your own niche in the communication field. He said, "It's a lot of work, but you'll feel your work is going toward something rather than doing work for work's sake." I started in January 2018.

What have you liked best about the program?

They really do trust you to take the knowledge you're receiving and translate it into your own projects. They'll give you the knowledge for what you need to do, then throw a task at you and say, "You have to make the bridge to connect them. You need to rely on each other, rely on yourself and have the confidence in what you are doing." That's given me a lot of confidence to go into the workforce. I've been doing interviews (for jobs) where they asked, "Do you think you could do x, y, zed?" and I said, "Yes, I know I can."

What has been your research focus at SUNY Oswego?

I've focused on carrying positive messages through social media. It's coming to the point where social media is being attacked for taking up too much of our time. I don't think so -- I think social media can be a tool rather than a taxation on our lives. I've been moving along the lines of endorsing things like accepting our diversity and accepting differences and multiculturalism -- a project I did last semester. This semester, my project is all about carrying messages of personal strength, overcoming, positive mindset, being healthy, which has been personal to me and to the woman I'm working with. It's been really fun to take a passion and turn it into something that's inspiring to other people. 

So you're presenting your current research at Quest, in the 3-Minute Thesis competition. 

I thought giving myself the challenge of three minutes would be fun. I also think it's a good way to really understand my project, and I think people would be interested in it, because it's something about managing social media and getting more likes and things we're all generally interested in anyway. The big challenge is just one visual. I love a good PowerPoint (slide deck), so that's going be interesting. We’ll make it work. (Laughs.)

This is a scholarly competition. Are you competitive?

I'd like to say I'm not competitive, but when I get into an environment where I know I can outdo someone, then I get competitive. I know a couple of other girls (in strategic communication) who are doing the 3-Minute Thesis with me. I know their research and their communication styles. I'm going to get competitive against them! In the end, if I lose, I lose; I don't get that upset.

It sounds as if you've made good friends in strategic communication.

I love my graduate program. I did not think we were going to get so close as we did. I came in a semester after everyone else had started. I was behind on meeting people. There's a group of girls who've just been so supportive and so fantastic, and I love them all as individuals and I love them all as a group. I'm going to miss them so much. We make jokes that we're going to write each other's names on the backs of our degrees, because we've all had each other's backs so much. You can call someone at two in the morning, and they'll wake up and answer your call: "I have no idea what this is!" and the response is "I don't either, but this is what I did." (Laughs.) We hang out socially, as well, and we're all involved in each other's lives.

What have you thought of your professors at SUNY Oswego?

In a general sense, I'd say they're tough but they care. They will push you, but they will be very supportive of you when you feel you're actually losing your mind. They stretch us, but they're entirely behind you during the process. They encourage this support network, whilst always making sure we each do the best we can possibly do. You get an assignment back and say, "Wow, I can do this!"

What else have you done while you've been here?

I graduate in May, so I've done a two-year program in 18 months. I've pushed myself very hard. Last year, I took five graduate level subjects, while at the same time trying to hold down two jobs, one as a grad assistant in the strategic communication office and the other at a gym downtown called Amnesty CrossFit. I still have those jobs. One of the biggest things I've learned again and again -- because apparently I have to keep relearning the lesson -- is that I over-push myself to reach some kind of standard of achievement that I set for myself. What I would say about the strategic communication program is take your time and really embrace the learning. 

What work do you do at Amnesty CrossFit? 

I've taken over their social media and their photography. They're wonderful. They focus on the holistic -- being healthy, nutrition, keeping control of your life, not just CrossFit, which can be kind of crazy. (Owner) Rachel Harvey has got a wonderful mindset, and she's become kind of a second parent to me.

Are you intent on returning to Australia?

I think eventually I will. I think I'm going to try to stay here for a couple of years and get a job. I miss all of my family in Australia. My sister moved to London and is moving back to Australia in a couple of years.

What are you aiming to do for work?

I want to go into social media marketing, and I want to do it for a large corporation such as Coca-Cola, HBO, Steve Madden, Jimmy Fallon -- these are the places I've been applying. A big company that changes what content they have constantly. I want to work for a company where I can really understand the brand, understand the messaging behind it and really get a sense of where I'm working. I want to see new things and be innovative and be creative, while not having to move from client to client to client. 

What do you like to do to relax?

I play a lot of video games. I find them really fun. I really do enjoy watching other people playing video games, especially when you're with people you know and like -- it's just a way of distracting myself. I've been playing the Uncharted series and Super Mario Odyssey. I've found a new interest in indie games that are like a movie, but you have to do stuff in the middle. I do listen to music, but I'm not musically inclined. Rob (Sgroi) is a blessing in my life. We've been best friends despite two years apart in separate countries. Rob will go to the gym consistently and will drag me by my heels. (Laughs.) I've been enjoying it. I like running when I'm not forced to run. I'm doing yoga, but I'm the type that does laughing yoga. Like if a friend is struggling to put her foot over her head, it's a funny thing to see -- you have to laugh.

What can you tell us about your family?

I have an older sister who's married. My parents have been married for 40 years and are hilarious. I am pretty much a carbon copy of my mother. It's terrifying -- I kind of thought that would happen at 40, but it's been happening since I was about 16. (Laughs.) They hate being so far away from me. Both of their kids moved out to different countries. They've kicked it up a notch on being supportive -- they're wonderful. My mother is an events manager, very much a jack-of-all-trades. My dad is a property developer. 

If you were a tour guide in Sydney, what would you like to show visitors?

Stay in Circular Quay and go to The Rocks. Try your best to find a rooftop bar, and you will get the best view of the harbor -- Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, Darling Harbour -- that you could possibly find. The Rocks are so overlooked. It's this heritage area where there's tons of food, tons of gorgeous shops. You have to walk through it because there's no cars allowed in there. It's right next to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Also, catch a ferry somewhere -- you'll love it, especially if it's storming. If it's windy and you think it's too choppy out there, still go out on the ferry -- it's fun!