Cally Larsen

Cally Larsen

Corporate Social Media Specialist, HDR
Sioux Falls, SD
Contemporary Media & Journalism - Public Relations, 2011

"Don’t feel pressured to choose a major right away or accept your first job offer. Take it all in, learn as much as you can and be patient. And when you’ve submitted countless job applications and only see rejection emails, don’t lose hope. Wait for the opportunity that will set you up for success, teach you the most and will give you the best experience."

Q&A with Cally:

Describe your current educational or professional pursuits.

Shortly after graduating from USD in 2011, I moved to Omaha, Nebraska, on a whim. My thought was a bigger city, while still close to home, would provide more opportunity. After a few months I had to take a job in retail while I continued applying for jobs that would hopefully put my degree to work. I started to lose hope and thought I made the wrong decision to move away with no plan in place. But then I got lucky. Through my retail job I made a connection with a woman who worked at the Omaha Children’s Museum, a small nonprofit. They needed help in their marketing department and hired me as a part-time marketing assistant. It wasn’t the full-time, money-making position I wanted, but it was a foot in the door, and I was thrilled. I was quickly brought onto the team full-time and then became the marketing manager of the department.

After a few years in that role, I was hungry for a new challenge and began seeking a new opportunity. In 2016 I accepted a position with HDR, a global engineering and architecture firm headquartered in Omaha, as a communications specialist supporting their architecture business group. Things fell into place and I quickly moved up the ladder and am now on HDR’s corporate team leading social media efforts for the firm. I love my job and am passionate about the work HDR does in our communities and around the world. HDR has given me the flexibility to relocate to Chicago, Illinois, where I spent the past few years until just recently moving back to South Dakota.

Now that I’m back home, I have been working to be reacquainted with Sioux Falls. I joined the Sioux Empire United Way’s (SEUW) Emerging Leaders program that allows me to tour and volunteer with various organizations funded by the SEUW, and I also sit on the Marketing Division board for the SEUW to help with their marketing efforts. I’m also very active in my hometown church where I assist with various roles, lead communications efforts and am a member of the board.

How did your USD experience influence your career path?

When I started at USD I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Thankfully, I had an incredible student advisor that suggested courses that opened my mind to new possibilities. Later in my freshman year I took a speech class, and to this day it is still one of my favorite classes. The professor made a big impact on me and I often went to her for advice. She suggested I take a few classes in communications and the following year I decided that would be my major. A year later I realized communications was a very broad area, so I decided to minor in communications and major in contemporary media & journalism where I specialized in public relations. It took a while for me to figure out what my major would be, but the staff at USD steered me down the right path.

Tell us about your proudest achievement.

I’m very proud of my career path and the fact that I never became complacent. With a little hard work and a lot of luck, I’ve quickly moved up the ladder into some challenging and exciting roles. I’m also proud that I’ve always been willing to step out of my comfort zone. After college I moved to Omaha with no plan in place and after starting with HDR I relocated to their office in Chicago without knowing a person in the city. It’s a great way to discover new things life has to offer. I’m proud of all of that, and the fact that I passed infinite math in college – math is not my strength.

What was your USD experience like? Were you involved in any campus organizations or activities?

My four years at USD were filled with memories I will never forget…and I wish I could go back. The first two years in the dorms were a blast because you meet so many new people and without realizing it, you make new, lifelong friends. I participated in intramural sports playing basketball and volleyball as often as I could. I’m a big sports fan, so I frequently attended football and basketball games at the DakotaDome as well as club baseball games in the spring. The fraternity and sorority houses always had fun events going on such as the annual haunted house, and I always looked forward to the Strollers show each year.

Once I finally declared a major, I got involved in my department. I worked at the university newspaper The Volante, got involved with the USD Foundation and joined various PR and communications-related organizations. Through those organizations I was able to meet Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, and news journalist Katie Couric. I had incredible professors to guide me, supportive classmates and made friendships and memories that will last a lifetime.

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