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A Conversation with Northwestern MSC Student Holly Jones

Holly Jones is the Director of Alumni & Parent Relations at Iowa Wesleyan University, where she is responsible for engagement, development, and communication. She received her undergraduate degree in history from the University of Iowa in 2010 and just completed her second quarter in the MSC program.

Why the MSC program at Northwestern, and why at this point in your career?

Immediately after completing my undergraduate degree, I started working on a university campus, which introduced me to the field of higher education. Flash forward several years later and I found myself working in the university advancement office, focusing on fundraising and alumni and donor relations. A little over a year ago I felt like it was time to advance my career by advancing my studies. I always knew I wanted to get a master’s degree, but at the time I hadn’t decided on the best route to get there. I considered studying nonprofit management, going to law school, or getting a degree in higher education, but eventually I decided on communication because it encompassed all the things I loved about my professional work up to that point. A communication program was the right choice not only for me but also the work that I was doing in higher education philanthropy.

I did a lot of research on the programs that I was looking at and when it came to the MSC program, I remember reading through the blog and interviews of current and past students and they captured my attention. The MSC program stood out to me because of it’s theory-based and practical application approach to learning. As a working professional, it was important to me to enter a program that was rooted in communication theory but also fostered learning through discussions with classmates and the opportunity to immediately apply knowledge.

Also, the program was broad yet specific. It was broad in that it wasn’t just focused on digital communication or something narrow in the field, like many communication programs. The program offered a true taste of different elements of communication, which is what I was looking for. However, the specific learning themes of the program, managing complexity, collaborative leadership, and elegant communication, informed me what I could expect to learn as a student in the program.

What is something you’ve learned so far that you’ve been able to apply in the “real world”?

In Professor Leslie DeChurch’s class, Leading Collaboration, we studied teams. Every week I was able to go back to my team at Iowa Wesleyan and think about lessons I had learned in class, how they applied to me and how I could be a better team member. The class pushed me to reexamine leadership skills and strengths in myself and in my team members. I find myself pausing and reflecting more about the broader context in a situation and how I communicate with my teammates, and as a result, strive to be a more thoughtful leader.

What is your favorite aspect of MSC at Northwestern?

The relationships I’ve formed, both with classmates and professors. I’ve had so many a-ha moments in class and enjoy discussing those moments with professors. We had a lecture on rhetoric one week in Professor Randy Iden’s class, Foundations of Strategic Communication Management, and I realized my interest in studying rhetoric. After class, he recommended books on rhetoric as well as future classes in the MSC program that I would enjoy. All the professors are approachable and are eager to support you in taking your learning as far as possible.

As for my classmates, we have a fantastic cohort. I find, both inside and outside of the classroom, that we have meaningful and engaging conversations that I really value. They’re so much fun and I look forward to seeing them every week. The relationships that I have formed have defined and positively shaped my experience in the MSC program.  

Can you speak to the importance of diversity in your cohort?

The diversity of the cohort truly gives us depth. We all come from different professional backgrounds, regions, and positions. Every person has a distinct quality that they bring to the cohort and it’s really amazing to see how all those qualities come together. But, we have the common thread that we’re all learning and going through an experience together. The way our classes are set up, we have the opportunity to interact with all of our classmates, which only highlights further the diverse strengths of our cohort.

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

In deciding to do this I knew it would be a commitment, especially as I’m commuting 4.5 hours one way from Iowa every weekend, but I am that passionate about advancing my career and my knowledge. I knew it would be one very intense but rewarding year and it’s been so worth it. I don’t even mind the commute because I know that I’m going to learn something interesting every week.

Go into the MSC program with excitement and mindful preparation for the year ahead, because it goes by really fast! I can’t believe we’re already through our second quarter. The program has been really transformational for me. It came to me at the right time in my life, and the impact of the learning and relationships are truly invaluable.