Impact in Profile: Holly Blackwelder

Impact in Profile: Holly Blackwelder

When a long-awaited maternity leave struck USC Shoah Foundation’s communications department, Holly Blackwelder was there to carry the social-media-manager torch, stepping into the position three weeks ago and embracing it with ease. A temporary successor to Deanna Hendrick, Blackwelder will continue to work as social media manager through the summer.

The graduating senior hopes to take what she’s learned at USC as an East Asian Languages and Cultures major and Dance minor, and what she’ll learn working for the Institute regarding social media planning, to travel and work far from her home in Laguna Beach, in Asia.

“My dream work is cultural diplomacy in the arts, combining my studies in dance and Chinese,” Blackwelder said.

Blackwelder has been with the Institute since last spring, starting out as an intern on the communications team and finding and cutting clips for publication. As an intern, Blackwelder gained a lot of opportunities through the program’s many projects, such as sitting in on the filming of a New Dimensions in Testimony interview, a program wherein survivors of genocide are interviewed and taped such that the final product is an interactive educational experience that allows future generations to actually speak with and listen to their life experiences and memories.

“Definitely the coolest thing I’ve done was, I got to sit in on the filming of Madame Xia’s New Dimensions in Testimony interview,” Blackwelder said. “That was of course cool for me because I speak Mandarin and I got to meet her, talk to her and her family and watch. I’d also never been to an NDT filming, so I got to watch how that kind of goes down.”

Having watched and interacted with so much testimony in her time at USC Shoah Foundation, Blackwelder said she’ll walk away at the end of the summer knowing a greater appreciation for the stories of other people’s cultures.

“Testimony can have such a positive impact,” Blackwelder said. “For me, personally, I think that, given what I want to do post-graduation, it’s been cool to realize how powerful testimony can be in bridging cultural gaps and helping to understand someone else’s culture. In many cases, I think that was the issue in these genocides I’ve studied – the inability to reconcile a cultural difference being intimidated by someone who’s different. I think that’s important.”

As for what she’ll take away from her time filling in for Hendrick, Blackwelder said she already better understands the power of social media for spreading a story and awareness.

“I think that, in today’s world, social media can be dangerous, but it’s also really important, especially for an organization like USC Shoah Foundation,” Blackwelder said. “It’s important to get ourselves out there and to share what we’re doing because it’s so valuable, and we have to share it across multiple channels to really have it make an impact. We’ve got the website, of course, and we’ve got people on the communications team doing press releases, etc. But social media is growing, and if we want to get – especially with IWitness – this out there to students, social media will help us get that younger audience.

“For me, it’s been cool to learn how to plan a social media strategy and execute it, because it’s become increasingly important.”

In the spirit of maintaining Hendrick’s strategic vision, Blackwelder day-to-day includes working with content Hendrick couldn’t necessarily plan out ahead of time. She posts content to various forms of the Institute’s social media – a Facebook page, two Twitter accounts and an Instagram – follows how the previous day’s content performed, replies to any messages and mentions from followers, retweets content from partners and schedules updated content.

Although Blackwelder said she misses working under Hendrick and is looking forward to her quick and healthy return, she’s enjoyed working with the communications team and is excited to continue her work for the summer.

“Everyone is so different and unique on the communications team,” Blackwelder said. “It’s just a hoot to be in there. It’s cool because in our office, everyone’s in the same room and we all talk and interact. The team is really close and it’s always fun and educational, because the proximity allows you to always know what other people are working on too, which is important for the social media manager.”