Storytelling, especially around educational issues, has always interested Melanie Marquez Parra, NACAC’s chief communications officer. A communications and public relations professional for 15 years, Parra previously was director of communications and chief spokesperson at the University of Colorado Boulder. She joined the NACAC staff in 2022.
“The way communicators can create connections and understanding drew me to this field,” she said. “I love hearing someone’s story and then being able to share their story in a compelling way. When I began my career as a city government reporter with The Bradenton Herald (FL), I always felt fortunate when strangers opened their doors and their hearts to me to tell me their stories. Reporting taught me how there are always multiple ways to view and interpret an issue, depending on where a person is coming from. Our experiences frame our understanding, and it’s interesting work to connect with varied audiences through storytelling.”
Parra’s shift from reporting to public relations came from her desire “to tell stories on behalf of an organization that works on a cause or issue I believe in. For me, that cause has always been education.”
Priorities outlined in NACAC’s Ad hoc Committee on Leadership in College Admission spurred her to apply for the job. “I was impressed with what the committee identified as priorities for the organization. The report discusses the need to change the national conversation around higher education to have it be viewed and valued by more people as a public good. I agree with that notion and want to contribute to NACAC’s work on this.”
She added, “I was drawn to the efforts underway to engage with members in new, more effective ways. NACAC is asking itself difficult questions and that’s a sign of an organization willing to take on challenging initiatives to serve a greater purpose. My career has benefited through participation in professional associations. Being part of the leadership of an association focused on an area I care about seemed like it could be a fun and exciting chapter of my career…NACAC has lofty ambitions with its new mission and vision, and I feel lucky to be joining the organization at this time in its history.”
Before joining the University of Colorado Boulder as assistant director and spokesperson in 2019, Parra was director of strategic communications (2014-18) and public information officer (2012-14) for Pinellas County Schools in Largo, FL. She also served as assistant director of news and information at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from the University of Florida
Get to know Melanie:
Your parents immigrated to the US from Argentina and place a high value on education. How has that translated to your professional career?
Their story and how it shaped my upbringing has translated to my career in ways I’m still discovering. My father earned his high school diploma as an adult, after moving to the United States in his 30s. He supported our family through various jobs over the years—everything from managing a used furniture store to driving a delivery truck to exporting motorcycles. His example is one of ingenuity, commitment, and hard work without complaint. His intelligence and tenacity would have afforded him many other opportunities if college had been part of his path. He always reminded me, through his words and actions, of the importance of pursuing a college degree. Now he occasionally asks me when I’m going to work on a graduate degree (soon, Dad!).
My mother completed her first college degree in social work in Argentina and then completed a second one (while working full time and raising two kids) after learning English in the United States. A lifelong student who continues to allow her curiosity to guide her, my mother’s example has always been one of trying new things even if they’re hard and never being afraid to ask a question if it means the chance to learn something new. My mother instilled in me a love of learning, and she gave me the space to make my own discoveries along the way. Their experiences taught me to try even if I feel unsure, to say yes to opportunities and to keep moving forward when confronted with obstacles.
When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
I enjoy hiking, cooking, running, and spending time with friends and family. I also like having dance parties with my two daughters. They’re five and seven, so there’s a lot of Kidz Bop getting played.
What are you looking forward to in the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia)?
So much! I love walking down the street and hearing five different languages on one block. I am looking forward to the variety of restaurants, the walkability of so many areas, the easy access to mountains or the coast, and being closer to friends and family. As a Floridian who has spent the last three years in Colorado, I’m also looking forward to having humidity again.
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Compassionate, pensive, adventurous
What do you think others would say?
Dependable, organized, conscientious
Do you have a favorite quote?
The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up. -Paul Valéry
What inspires you?
I’m most inspired by nature. In Colorado, I love a place called Monarch Lake near Rocky Mountain National Park. In Florida, any area along the water is a good spot to reflect on the world and my place in it. I especially love walking along the waterfront parks of downtown St. Petersburg.
If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
It would be interesting to be Nora Seed, the main character in The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. She explores the lives she could have lived if she had made different choices. The whole ordeal was an adventure for her mind and soul that showed her the power of perspective.
What would colleagues be surprised to learn about you?
I performed in three community theater productions in my 20s. Two were with the Island Players on Anna Maria Island and one was with the St. Petersburg City Theater.