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A Conversation with Northwestern MSC Alumni Ashley Polk

Ashley Polk currently works for Northwestern Memorial Hospital in the corporate building and supply chain as a purchasing agent in charge of cardiology and radiology. She entered the program in January of 2017, five years after completing her undergraduate degree in communications from the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign.

Why did you choose to attend the Master of Science in Communication program at Northwestern?

One day at lunch I was introduced to an alumni of the MSC program, Brandi Snodgrass, by a mutual friend in Kellogg. I was originally looking into the getting an MBA, and while our mutual friend was telling me about the program at Kellogg, she was telling me all about the MSC program. She talked about how it’s made her a better leader and how she was more confident in her position and got a better job with this degree. She has a communications background, and so do I, so I related to her. 

The best part, however, was that she was in class with people that had totally different backgrounds than us. She emphasized that the program was open to everybody including people in engineering, some who specialize in medicine, and entrepreneurs. After our conversation, the MSC Open House completely sold me on the program.

Why did you decide to pursue a degree at this point in your career?

I’ve wanted a master’s degree for a while, but I’ve always been very busy with work. The more I learned about MSC, the more I saw how beneficial it would be to my career. I wanted to become a better, more valuable leader. I am looking for a management role when I graduate and I want to feel confident in taking that role. After being introduced to the program, it changed my mind and I realized I just had to prioritize my time and go for it.

What is your favorite aspect of MSC at Northwestern?

I really value the fact that I can apply the material from the program to real life situations and everyday work challenges. That started after the very first class I took – Change Management with Mike Roloff. I found myself thinking about class, and practicing the strategies we talked about, the very next day at work. Because the classes are small, I have more freedom to ask questions and to gain a better understanding of material. Also, I’ve found that because students are from very different backgrounds, everyone has their own experiences. We are able to relate and come up with different solutions based on our diverse perspectives.

What is something you’ve learned so far that you’ve been able to apply to your career?

The highly interactive curriculum has really challenged me to think outside the box and the skills I’ve learned in the program have already made me more confident in my workplace. For example, I used some material from the change management course to negotiate things with my boss in terms of compensation. The class helped me learn how to put exactly what I want on the table and go for it.

Can you talk about your cohort?

I’m already forming great relationships with a lot of my classmates. They are just as curious and driven as I am, so they are willing to work together and talk about material so we can all gain a deeper understanding. There is a lot of open communication in the program, so you feel a sense of family. I felt this almost immediately, but the program just has great people. People are very supportive because everybody is there for the same reason. We study together and we help each other out.

What was your first impression of the program?

I was very nervous because I thought the first day we would immediately begin challenging each other, like a debate. I immediately, however, felt comfortable. The challenges were about ideas, not personal. The professors and my classmates were very open, so they made it very easy. Once I walked into class, and got a feel for things, my nervousness went away.

What advice would you have for anyone considering the MSC program?

Be proactive and always look for opportunities to better your brand. This program can definitely help you improve yourself with the different seminars, workshops, and guest speakers who can help with your development, along with the career advising team.

Join at a time when you’re willing to sacrifice some time and things you enjoy. I knew this program would require dedication and hard work. I’m happy about cutting down on things I enjoy because I know in the end it will be rewarding to my future.