Amy Oliver is using her communication degree at the Smithsonian Institution

Written byAshley McClure-French

“UL Lafayette prides itself on being open to other cultures and communities. I had professors from France, Italy, India, and South Korea. These were important experiences to my development as a young adult and ultimately as a professional.”

Amy Oliver graduated from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in advertising.
Amy Oliver
Strategic Communication
West Valley City, Utah

Where I'm From

I’m from West Valley City, Utah, where I was taught that science is for everyone.

Where I Am

I am a visitor and science center manager and public affairs officer at the Smithsonian Institution.

Where I'm Going

I am going to work my way up at the Smithsonian while also building up my public relations firm, AO Public Relations.

Amy Oliver’s journey to the Smithsonian Institution started with the life-changing decision to transfer to UL Lafayette and study advertising

Now, Amy currently holds a dual position with the Smithsonian Institution: She is the visitor and science center manager with the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory and a public affairs officer with the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. 

Shaped by the University Culture

Amy’s favorite part about the University is the culture that the students and professors bring to campus. 

“The learning environment was different because UL Lafayette prides itself on being open to other cultures and communities,” Amy explained. “I had professors from France, Italy, India, and South Korea. These were important experiences to my development as a young adult and ultimately as a professional."

“I was exposed to southern culture and to Acadiana, and to the Cajun way of life while learning about languages and cultures from around the world,” she said. “What seems like the daily norm for Louisianans is not the norm everywhere. I am infinitely better as a result of the cultural diversity of UL Lafayette, and I always look back on the time I spent there fondly, and I miss that culture all the time."

“I grew up in a very tight-laced community,” she continued. “And I grew up in a very competitive environment. My best friend was also my biggest frenemy. It was amazing to move to a place where culturally that just is not ‘the way.’ That experience of living outside of my inborn culture and going to school with people and professors from around the world intrinsically changed me.”

Professional Opportunities in Student Organizations

While Amy was a student, she was involved with Speech and Debate team. In fact, her decision to transfer to UL Lafayette was largely because of the Speech and Debate Team.

“I’d competed (in speech and debate competitions) against UL Lafayette multiple times, and the then-coach of the UL Lafayette Speech and Debate Team helped me make what was, at the time, a very tough decision to transfer schools — but ultimately became one of the best decisions of my life," she said.

“I could have transferred to any one of a number of schools,” she said. “But UL Lafayette’s competitive speech program came with excellent team members and a strong coach.”

She was also involved in honor societies Sigma Gamma Mu and Phi Beta Delta. 

“Most vividly,” she said. “I remember that Phi Beta Delta gave me my first design ‘gig’ and asked me to design the brochure for the society. That was a key piece in my portfolio that landed me my first advertising job and my first advertising agency job.”

Jumpstarting a Career in Communications

Amy took the first steps in her communications career when she was still a senior at UL Lafayette. In a few short years, she served as a director of advertising, a media assistant, a media buyer, and a senior manager of media and public relations. She was moving through a traditional communications career path with agency and independent company experience. 

However, she soon took advantage of an opportunity that she calls a “no-brainer.”

“I love chemistry,” she said. “I love stars. I love museums. So, when a position opened at the Clark Planetarium for an associate manager of marketing and public relations, it was a no-brainer."

“It was a step back in my career progression,” she said. “But one I don’t regret.”

It was this step that lead her to her current career in science communication. She was recruited to work at a big-name advertising and PR firm as a public relations manager and eventually got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Working for the Smithsonian

“When I got the opportunity to pick up and move to Arizona, to become part of the Smithsonian Institution, to work in an observatory that needed someone with top-notch public relations and marketing skills who could also run a museum and do public science education," she said, "how could I say no?”

Amy has two main responsibilities in her current role.

“One, to uplift and promote the positive image of scientific research conducted at the Center for Astrophysics,” she explained. “And two, to provide vision and direction for the Whipple Observatory Science Center."

“My day-to-day is never the same because I am both serving the needs of scientists, media, and the public through press activity,” she said, "as well as managing and executing on the day-to-day of a public science center and museum."

“One of the most important things I do every day is to interface with my volunteers and with the public,” Amy explained, "and ensure that their educational needs are being met with the services and information that we provide.”

She credits the communication program at UL Lafayette and the broad scope offered with giving her a strong foundation to start with opportunities in multiple directions.

“I wasn’t focused on public relations at the time, but I learned how to write a press release," she said. "I wasn’t focused in design, but I learned graphic design anyway. The program was interesting and engaging. And honestly, every step in my career, I have leaned on something I learned at UL Lafayette.”

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