Combining politics and communication with study abroad prepared Zach Runge ’19 for a career in human rights
Zach Runge ’19 has long been interested in politics and communication. His experience at Towson University, however, solidified his passion and intended career path: advocating for LGBTQ+ rights around the world, especially in developing countries.
“It was really through the coursework here that I honed in on the specific human rights, LGBTQ rights [interest],” Runge says, pointing to classes like Politics of the Developing World and Intercultural Communications. “And a lot of the projects and papers that I've written for classes center on that topic. So it gives me a really firm understanding of it.”
Runge arrived on campus with an open mind and a willingness to try new things. During the 2018 summer session he traveled out of the country for the first time on a study abroad program in Barcelona offered through the Department of Communication Studies.
“It wasn’t something that was even on my radar when I was applying and looking at schools,” Runge says of studying abroad. But, he decided to take the opportunity to develop his intercultural skills and get outside of his comfort zone while earning credit toward his degree.
When he saw that one of his favorite teachers, Assistant Professor Michaela Frischherz, was leading a trip to Scotland focused on social action during the winter minimester of 2019, he signed up again.
“My study-abroad trips were probably some of the most impactful experiences that I had at Towson,” Runge says. “It helps you develop intercultural skills and know yourself better to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. I didn’t know anyone that was on my study-abroad trips, but I developed really strong friendships and built connections with the professor, too.”
When he returned, Runge presented about the experience with Frischherz at the National Communication Association’s 2019 convention, where the theme was “Communication for Survival.”
Being part of the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Fine Arts and Communication, as well as a member of the Honors College, offered Runge a well-rounded and interdisciplinary academic experience.
“I’ve taken some really interesting Honors classes,” Runge says. “This semester, I’m in a Multicultural Psychology class. While psychology isn’t my main interest, with the multicultural aspect of it there’s a lot of overlap with my [major] classes. So that’s been really great.”
He also became a peer mentor at the Public Communication Center, joined communication honor society Pi Kappa Delta, served as the community service and fundraising chair for the National Society of Leadership and Success, and worked as a marketing assistant for the Office of Partnerships and Outreach.
“I got way more involved than I ever thought that I would,” Runge says. “But being a mentor has probably been my favorite thing. I just love being able to connect with different students from different backgrounds, different majors. I’ve gotten more involved with professors, too, because I’m a part of the PCC. So that’s been one of the major benefits of Towson.”
During his final term, Runge embarked on independent research studying the impact that international organizations have on the spread of LGBTQ+ rights, particularly within Latin America. “It really aligns with exactly what I want to do for my career,” he says.
He’s conducting research under the guidance of his faculty advisor, Assistant Professor Gorana Draguljic. “We’ve worked together a lot throughout this semester, and she’s been really encouraging,” Runge says. “She wants me to present my research at conferences and try to get it published.”
He thinks the opportunity to conduct this type of research as an undergraduate will be an advantage in graduate school, where faculty look for students to assist in research projects.
“This research helps me be more concrete in my career goals,” Runge says. “But it also helps me be more comfortable going into grad school.”
Next fall, he plans to begin a graduate program in global affairs and human security at the University of Baltimore with the vision of one day working for an international NGO like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International.
For now, though, Runge is focused on graduating. “I’m excited for Commencement. It’ll be a really great feeling to walk across the stage.” As the only of his siblings to graduate from college, he adds, “I’m most excited probably for my mom to see me walk across the stage. I’m excited for her to have that moment for herself as well.”