Growing up in an Iowa farm town, Mia Roberts ’19 couldn’t have imagined the opportunities waiting for her after graduating from Graceland University: managing magazines for the Women’s National Basketball Association, working for the Olympic Games in Atlanta and Sydney, and helping Encyclopedia Britannica transition to digital content.
The desire for a master’s degree was always in the back of her mind, but the opportunity never seemed to come at the right time.
Shortly after applying to Columbia University for a Master’s in Journalism program, for example, she received a job offer in Sydney and had to decide: move to Australia to work for the Sydney Olympics’ Internet Business Group or go to New York for a graduate degree?
“At the time, I chose to continue my career,” says Roberts. “Living in Australia was a dream. My path so far has been a series of happy accidents—being in the right place at the right time. I’ve had wonderful opportunities and experiences, and I’m very grateful to the people who helped me along the way.”
When she began her family in the early 2000s, she steered her career path toward flexible opportunities that also called for less travel: working for the YMCA of the USA, a group publisher for the Olympics, Feeding America, and the American Egg Board.
A few years after being diagnosed with and recovering from breast cancer, Roberts left the American Egg Board to focus on her family for a year—and decided it was finally the right time to think about her master’s degree.
“The goal of earning a graduate degree had always been there,” says Roberts. “At one point, I even took a few classes at the University of Chicago to begin my path to an MBA. Beating cancer brought into sharp focus the idea of unfinished business—and my master’s degree was one of those things. This time, it was right. I decided to do it.”
Roberts wanted a professional refresh to realize her professional goals, such as taking on additional leadership opportunities. She also wanted to learn more about managing communications complexity, which led her to Northwestern’s MS in Communication Hybrid Leadership Program.
“My job is to stay ahead of industry initiatives and find companies that want to work with us in bringing those initiatives to life. I feel even more prepared with my MS in Communication to face these challenges and lead our members through them.”
“I remember my first day and a discussion about intellectual praxis and fulfillment through deeper levels of understanding,” says Roberts. “That really resonated with me. As soon as I heard that, I knew I was in the right place.”
For Roberts, Michelle Shumate’s Foundations of Strategic Communication Management course was a great way to kickstart the program, beginning with the creation of a stakeholder salience model to better understand who stakeholders are, how they’re legitimized, and how to communicate with each of them. “That exercise blew my hair back. At that point, I knew there was so much more to learn.”
The focus on personal branding throughout the program helped her learn to effectively convey her strengths and weaknesses and communicate the value of her experiences. “After decades of working, you’d think you’d have this stuff down, but it’s an ever-evolving conversation about the benefits you can bring to an organization,” she explains.
Concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion woven into the curriculum also helped Roberts develop the confidence to critically and respectfully challenge and interrupt norms. “I thought I was educated and enlightened, but everything I learned—and continue to learn—is giving me a much deeper understanding of what it means to be inclusive, equitable, and diverse in terms of thought, age, race, gender, and religion. I give all credit to the program for helping bring me along in this area.”
In February 2019—a few months before graduation—Roberts became the director of partnerships and industry affairs for the National Restaurant Association. In this role, Roberts focuses on creating industry partnerships to protect and promote the restaurant industry while helping members find new ways to drive business during and after the pandemic.
“My job is to stay ahead of industry initiatives and find companies that want to work with us in bringing those initiatives to life,” she explains. “I feel even more prepared with my MS in Communication to face these challenges and lead our members through them.”