Rachael Zaluzec, Senior Vice President, Customer Experience & Brand Marketing for Volkswagen of America, got her start at Ball State University studying telecommunications management and exploring the world through a study abroad program in London, England.
Time at Ball State
Rachael came to Ball State excited and ready to learn with a chosen course of study in theater and German. Quickly through her classes, Rachael came to the understanding that although these topics were things she was passionate about, they would not provide her with the career path she envisioned for herself. From there, she decided to switch to telecommunications management (TCOMM) and added a double minor in public relations (PR) and German. Her new program was huge, allowing her to be introduced to a wide variety of peers and professors that helped her explore what she wanted to do with such a versatile degree. Her favorite classes were those that explored what media truly was and different ways to relate to customers.
Despite moving away from theater, Rachael began to see how TCOMM, PR, and theater had a lot more in common than she thought. “My coursework in both programs was all about production and storytelling. I had to learn about all the different elements that play into production and how to compel my intended audience to be interested in my product, whether that be a stage performance or physical product I was selling.” As she continued to take classes at Ball State, Rachael realized that she could combine all of her passions into what would end up being an amazing career.
Rachael’s other passion, the German language, was also something she pursued in school. For her, being able to speak multiple languages helped give Rachael an understanding of how people see and consume media and marketing differently on a global scale. It also showed her how to be intentional with international messaging and how to have a product resonate with the broadest audience possible. “Everyone has different experiences, so being able to understand different ways to relate to people across the world was a huge bonus of studying German.”
When it came to her time at Ball State, one experience stood out above the rest. During her second year at BSU, Rachael received the opportunity to spend a semester in London studying abroad and traveling all around Europe with other students. This experience for her was life changing and incredibly memorable.
“Studying abroad opens your mind and perspective about what it means to be a global citizen. It opened me up to the possibility of being an employee for a multinational corporation and removed a lot of mental barriers I would have had if I didn’t participate in this adventure.” – Rachael Zaluzec
Some of Rachael’s favorite moments were traveling by train around Europe with other students on the weekends. They were able to explore places like Paris and Dublin. For her, learning how to navigate these new places with other students was a huge learning experience. She learned a great deal about teamwork, communication, and how to be independent. Presently, Rachael’s job involves a lot of international travel, something she now feels confident doing due to her experience at Ball State.
After graduation, Rachael went back to her hometown of Chicago. Her first job was in human resources at a firm that managed the relocation of employees of huge businesses, such as Volkswagen. Due to her ability to speak fluent German, Rachael was given the Volkswagen account to manage. Rachael worked in this position for six years before moving to work for Volkswagen directly at their headquarters outside of Washington DC. In her new role, she worked in the human relations department and was more directly involved in certain business aspects of the company. After five years in in human resources, Rachael was asked to move to Michigan where she took over responsibility for customer relations. In July of 2020, Rachael was promoted to Vice President of Customer Experience and Digital Experience, which allowed her to revisit her PR background from Ball State. Specific projects she worked on during this time included brand apps and websites that served customers whether they were in the actual vehicle or just browsing possible purchases online.
After two years in that role, Rachael was promoted to Senior Vice President of Customer Experience and Brand Marketing. In this role, she is responsible for everything that is customer facing for Volkswagen of America. Stated another way, Rachael is responsible for defining and designing the end to end customer journey for any Volkswagen customer inside the United States. This includes the purchase experience in dealerships or online, other digital platforms, and even what customers experience while they are in their own vehicles after purchase. She also oversees teams in charge of brand marketing, which includes commercials, advertising, loyalty and retention, and explores the question of how to reach new customers. Rachael’s current role allows her to be creative and lean on her interest in storytelling.
Advice for Students
“Study abroad and study a second language.” – Rachael Zaluzec
Rachael believes that all students should take advantage of the opportunity Ball State gives its students to explore their interests across the world. Understanding how to work with people that are different from you, especially in a day and age where many companies are multinational corporations, is crucial in the professional world and will give you an advantage in your job hunt. Pursuing a second language is beneficial for similar reasons. “You learn so much more than just a language. You learn how to understand and be intentional in how you communicate with and relate to people from all backgrounds.” Most careers involve working with people, whether that be locally or internationally, but taking steps to try to understand others will always be helpful no matter your field.
“Ball State has been so influential in my career and I am so grateful for the opportunities it gave me.” – Rachael Zaluzec