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A Conversation with Northwestern MSC Alumni, Sanjay Patel

Sanjay Patel graduated from the MSC program in 2000 and also holds an MBA from DePaul University. He is currently the Chief Operating Officer at the Illinois Power Agency. Sanjay is a government, risk, and compliance leader with over 25 years of progressive experience within management consulting, information technology, financial services organizations, and state government.

How did you decide on attending the MSC program?

I was drawn to the MSC program because I knew how important communication is from an individual, relationship, and transactional perspective. I also knew how important it was when thinking about corporate culture and behavior. I connected the dots for every aspect of an organization and found that communication was the foundation. Communication is a lifeline no matter what industry you’re in. I wanted to be in a program that stressed the importance of communication while focusing on leadership, and I knew the name recognition of Northwestern University was important.

I scheduled interviews with the program director as well as a few of the faculty members because I knew I needed to do my due diligence on the program.

Now I’m in the c-suite and I have to tell you that communication has had a profound impact on my career. A lot of people come to me for help with various written communication items and I consider that validation not only of my skills but also what I learned from the program.

Did any specific courses have an effect on your work or personal life?

One that stands out was the Leadership and Decision-Making class taught by Paul Arntson. For me, leadership means you lead by example. I have led many project management teams in my career and every time everyone knew more than me, but no one could manage a relationship as well as me. They were not experienced enough to manage a client like I could – not only when it came to sales but also delivering value.

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

I would say don’t just jump in, but evaluate what you want out of it. What does the MSC degree mean to you? What is its relevance to your professional journey? Is it something that’s going to help you evolve?

They have to ask themselves a critical question which is, ‘What is it going to offer me and, more importantly, what am I going to offer the MSC?’ because the cohort aspect is very important.

They need to understand that communication is the lifeline of every relationship and transaction around the world. For example, why do people shake hands? It consummates a relationship and a transaction – it’s nonverbal communication.

Finally, they have to do a self-reflection about how they are going to get the most out of the program. They will benefit most if they take a deep look at the courses, faculty, and the cohort and understand how they’re going to leverage those attributes toward accelerating or repositioning themselves in their professional journey.  

Mission Vs. Vision Statement. How to Write a Mission Statement You Actually Use

Mission and vision statements are indeed different, and understating the difference is key to developing the most effective statements. A mission statement is basically what defines a company’s business, while a vision statement should be all about the future of the company. “Vision statement is the lodestar that you are following to plot your course. The mission statement is the workhorse that you ride to get you to the destination”, Professor Randall Iden, MSC Faculty Director, explains.

When writing a Mission statement, it is important to recognize what the mission statement should tell you about the company. the mission statement is action-oriented and should let us know 3 important things as describes by Professor Iden:

  • Who we are.
  • What our shared values are.
  • what we are trying to accomplish.
Real-world examples

For example, the mission statement of Northwestern University is: “Northwestern is committed to excellent teaching, innovative research and the personal and intellectual growth of its students in a diverse academic community.”

Mission statements are not only limited to the company as a whole but can also be different depending on each department that makes up the company. “Each department in an organization can have a submission statement that emanates from the larger mission statement. By doing this you ensure that the identity is reinforced, as it is very hard to keep the organization together and link everyone without a strong sense of identity”, Professor Iden emphasizes.

For example, the mission statement of the student affairs department at Northwestern University is:

“The mission of the Northwestern University Division of Student Affairs is to educate students, engage the community, and enrich the Northwestern experience.

We pursue our mission by providing learning programs, services, and mentoring to maximize students’ potential; removing barriers to learning; strengthening readiness to learn; and sustaining a safe and healthy Northwestern community.”

Where do companies go wrong in mission and vision statements?

Professor Iden explains that the most common mistake companies can make is using clichés. “Using clichés and boilerplate language, using language that sounds good to put up on a website but never intending to use it as a text that governs behavior and responsibility.”

Finally, we must not forget that an effective mission statement needs to involve everyone in the company, and that includes valuable stakeholders. Professor Iden stresses: “Those organizations that are dedicated to a larger purpose and aware of the interests of key stakeholders are much more likely to be successful and have fulfilled members than those that are unsure of how today’s task relates to something larger.”

A Conversation with Northwestern MSC Alumni, Denise Halverson

Denise Halverson is a Records Grades Specialist in the registration and records department at Elgin Community College. She works with students, instructors and deans to provide accurate, timely and consistent grade records. For many of her students, they are the first in their families to go to college, and it can take three or four years to get their associates degree, and she truly enjoys letting them know they have met all the requirements to graduate. Denise graduated from MSC in 2018, and previously completed her bachelor’s in journalism at Boston University. She felt that Northwestern was the right choice for numerous reasons.

“I wanted a degree of substance that was accelerated. Given the amount of time I had been out of an academic environment, I didn’t want to have to take the GRE. I was particularly attracted to the structure under the core curricular themes. I could visualize the takeaways and what was possible.”

Halverson also added how meeting the faculty and staff confirmed her decision even more.” A critical factor, for anyone thinking of getting an advanced degree, is trying to determine how it will better your career. No other master’s program comes close to the refined structure or the excellence of faculty that the MSC offers. Add in the support of career counseling, personal brand development, the library resources, and the choice for me was quite simple.”


How has your personal and professional life changed after MSC?

I am definitely more of a risk taker in my work now. I thank Professor Mike Roloff for this. Mike’s idea about best practices changed the way I think about managing the complexity of process. “Throw the concept out the window,” is my paraphrase of his idea. The thought that managing change could be done with a road map of what has worked in the past, seems ridiculous to me now. It might be safe, but it fails. Critically assessing the moving parts and acting on those gives you a chance for success. In short, best practices are the death of innovation.


Did any courses or content have a specific effect on your work or personal life? 

Communication, management, and ethics with Professor Iden was the class that provided a platform for me to critically think about how I want to go forward. Structuring an ethical framework was not just an academic exercise. I use it frequently to make sure I sit back and think critically about ethical dilemmas before acting. When I do act, it is with a reasoned approach that I can validate. I voice my decisions, my virtues, with more confidence as a result. Additionally, engaging in decision making through an ethical panel each week, made me appreciate the value of this very specific style of teamwork.


What advice do you have for prospective students?

Attend an open house and ask questions. Look at the structure of the curriculum and the options for the capstone component of the program. I would encourage anyone who wants to leverage the degree for a transition to think about the case development option. It is an opportunity to show how your past work experience and the MSC can help you transform your career path. If you want more information, ask to contact an alumnus to discuss how the MSC has helped them.

The MSC is only a year, so have a plan going in. The more you prepare, the more you can achieve. MSC has exceptional faculty, administrators and staff but you are the key to your own success. This is especially true if you want to do a case development. You will need to narrow your topic and begin the process of research in the first quarter.

Finally, remember to enjoy yourself. The MSC provides an opportunity to dig deeper into areas of interest with guest speakers and additional seminars. Take advantage, you are not just getting a degree; you are embarking on a journey of discovery.

Glad To Be a Purple Grad!

By Patricia Bandar, MSC ’18

Graduation is usually the end of a journey, but ours was just the beginning. Overwhelmed with emotions was an understatement as to how I felt when the class of 2018 MSC students were all gathered, waiting for our queue to enter the Alice Millar Chapel. Looking around me, seeing everyone’s faces, and knowing that this is the end of a Saturday streak that we had going on made it a bittersweet moment. I was thrilled but at the same time I felt like I was saying goodbye to friends that have become more like family.

As I entered the chapel and looked around, I realized that I was celebrating a union of knowledge and power with front row seats! We said farewell to the faculty director, Michelle Schumate, and welcomed the new faculty director our very own professor Randall Iden. To top it off, we heard and enriching speech by our keynote speaker Tim Kazurinsky. At that moment I knew that my whole future was ahead of me, I felt proud and unstoppable.

Tim Kazurinsky, the keynote speaker, inspired us with an uplifting speech about his personal experiences and admired our diverse backgrounds:

“It turns out you’re a wonderfully diverse bunch, you hail from ten different countries, you range in age from 22 to 60, you represent twenty-four different job industries, seventy percent of you have chosen the gender female!”

Ending his speech, he reminded us of the resonating footprints we should leave as Northwestern graduates:

“What about you? What part do you want to play? Who is it you really want to be? Where are you headed? What is it you want to achieve? And how exactly do you want to leave your life?”

With that being said, I wanted to share some thoughts about graduation from the many different perspectives that helped shape our 2018 MSC cohort, and where their footprints will take them next.

How do you feel after Graduating?

“It was truly a rewarding experience, I am excited to meet the new challenges, and MSC has given me the skills I need to succeed.” – Denise Halverson

“I have to admit I had some post-graduation depression. Bittersweet, while I got my Saturdays back I did not get to see some of my favorite people every week” – Melissa Meyer

“After graduation, I feel both a sense of calm and a newfound confidence within myself.” – Sean Campe

“I feel accomplished, relieved, and utterly unsure of where the time went! But most of all, I feel excited about the ways in which this education will surely serve me in the future.” –  Sion Owen

3 words that sum up your MSC experience?

Rewarding, challenging, valuable”– Lauren Wilkins

“Encouraging, enjoyable, enriching” – Naomi Shay

Any resonating words from professors?

“I remember Professor Iden told me to forget about grades and put my real thoughts into my papers” – Berry Yue Zhong

“I clearly remember the advice from Andy Crestodina when he told me that No good response should ever be wasted in an email, view them as opportunities to produce and share content. Share your content with the world” – Robert Stein.

How do you plan on giving back to the MSC Community?

“I want to make sure that I take the experience of the MSC with me and spread it. Being a positive force in my community and representing MSC with distinction is something I feel strongly about. MSC has shaped me and I will honor that.” – Denise Halverson

“I plan to give back to the MS Community by participating in alumni events and possibly serving on supplemental panels like lunch and learn” – Kayla Jay

“I plan on giving back to the MSC program by attending alumni events and hopefully contributing to panels in the future.” – Elaina Kritikos

So many encounters, conversations and friendships helped shape my journey through the MSC program. From the beginning, I was welcomed by everyone and felt like I belonged at Northwestern. That alone was just the tip of the iceberg of what this program had to offer. Now, the most important question is, what am I going to do with my Saturdays? What can be more productive than attending classes for a master’s degree at Northwestern University? I guess I will have to figure this one out!

Introducing Randall Iden as the MSC Program’s New Faculty Director

The MSC Program is excited to share that Professor Randall Iden is the program’s new Faculty Director. The Faculty Director is responsible for supervision of the entire MSC program from admissions through alumni relations. He is also the main liaison with the Department of Communication Studies and the School of Communication, making sure that we have the physical resources and academic talent to maintain the excellence of the program.

A History with MSC

As many of you know, Professor Iden has a long history with the program. He graduated from the program in 2002, began teaching for the program in 2009, and became the first full-time faculty member the MSC program has had last year.

“When I was 39 years old I was at a career crossroads. I heard about the MSC program and thought it was a great opportunity to go back to school after being out for a while,” Iden said thinking back to his first experience in MSC. “I enjoyed studying communication which had not been on my radar previously.”

After graduating from the program, ‘Randy’ to those who know him, continued at Northwestern to earn his Ph.D. in rhetoric.

In 2009 he began teaching what had previously been Irv Rein’s course in Public Speaking and Crisis Management. “It was a huge honor and huge shoes to fill,” says Iden. “It was great to be on the other side of the classroom.”

In 2013 Randy began to teach Corporate Citizenship. “It was a topic that was close to my heart, and putting the course together was a labor of love.”

Maintaining Momentum

“Under the direction of Michelle Shumate [Iden’s predecessor] the MSC program has been updated and transformed keeping the best elements and adding several courses designed to address the changing landscape of communication,” Iden said, pointing specifically to the launch of the Hybrid Leadership Program in 2016 that has allowed the MSC program to reach a broader geographic audience.

“The program is fortunate to have a fabulous team in place who are incredibly talented and hard-working people in every position. They pull together to serve the needs of our student population.”


Looking Forward

Professor Iden is excited that he will still be able to teach his Strategic Communication course in the fall as well as the core course in the summer. Teaching enables him to keep his finger on the pulse of the cohort that makes up the heart of the MSC.

“After all these years, the people who choose MSC are interested in learning about themselves, their professions, and the subject of communication. I find it to be endlessly fascinating.”

Please feel free to reach out to Professor Iden with any congratulations or questions about the program at

The Capstone is Back

Most master’s programs have a final project or thesis, and the MSC program is no different. The MSC Capstone Project integrates all of the coursework and practical experience of the MSC program.  Students will demonstrate that they have achieved all of the learning outcomes of the program through a three-part class that extends the entire duration of their program. First, using an ePortfolio format, students will reflect on the knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies they gained in the MSC program and provide tangible samples of work as substantial evidence of these accomplishments. Second, students will demonstrate that they can apply their knowledge and skills to new problems through case interview or through developing a written case. Third, students will demonstrate their communication skills through a public presentation about the added value their MSC degree confers.

Elizabeth Kollross, class of 2011, has sat in on parts of the new Capstone project. “There were three practica we had to complete during my program,” Kollross said. “They were beneficial and important but felt a little separate from the overall program. The capstone project does a better job of having students draw in the experiences throughout the program.”

Annotated Bibliography

We hear time and again about alumni turning to their “MSC Box” when facing a new challenge at work or simply looking to refresh on some material from their time in the program. Now, students collect the papers, research, notes, and other materials they find useful and annotate those so that they will have a living resource available to them when they graduate.

In addition to simply creating an index of materials, it also helps students think about the throughlines in the program and investigate the topics they have encountered throughout the fast-paced year.

Case Interview or Case Development

If the Annotated Bibliography is about collecting information in a meaningful way, this section is about using the things students have learned to solve a problem.

Students choosing to conduct a Case Interview, sign up for a time and are emailed a case 24 hours in advance. That case is closely related to the core course and the student is expected to present a brief diagnosis of the case’s problem as well as their suggested solution, relying on what they have learned in the program.

Kollross has been a part of the panel giving feedback to students completing the case interview. “The MSC has done a great job in developing an assignment that shows what students have learned and is very much a real-world type of exercise. There is also great value in the immediate feedback. Most students (or people for that matter) aren’t used to this level of analysis/critique of their work. It’s a good opportunity for reflection and feedback.”

Students choosing to do a Case Development have a different experience. These students use data and experiences from a real-life situation and conduct an in-depth study of the underlying causes of the problem and their recommendations for a solution.

Both of these options give students a place to put the lessons they have learned into practice and begin to think about how they will transition their knowledge out of the classroom and into the workplace.

Value Proposition Statement

Most students in the MSC program are looking to leverage the degree to change careers, jobs, or become more confident in their current role. In order to help them make sense of their journey, we have introduced the Value Proposition Video.

Students record a brief statement about themselves where they create a concrete description of who they are, what skills they have, and what they bring to the table.

This video helps students understand that they are more than just the sum of their job titles and experiences and that it is up to each person to tell their own story. This section of the Capstone also gives students yet another opportunity to practice their presentation skills as well as reaching a tailored audience of their choosing.

The MSC program is excited to offer students these new opportunities that enable them to explore and share the value of their time in the program.

Career Services

When joining a professional master’s program one of the most significant and obvious drivers is career impact. For many years the MSC program had little to no formal Career Services…until 2016 that is. The MSC now has a full-time staff person focused solely on offering career services to our students.

The MSC program’s career advisor is a part of the School of Communication’s EPICS team (External Programs, Internships, and Career Services). EPICS offers a variety of resources for MSC students including a communication-focused job portal, one-on-one career coaching, career treks to relevant local businesses, and connecting students with internship opportunities.

The current MSC Associate Director of Career Services is Pat Messina. Pat has over 20 years of recruiting and HR experience. She has previously owned her own recruiting agency and worked with everyone from Fortune 100 companies to startups. “I love starting people on a new career path,” she said.

Pat works with MSC students on a wide range of aspects of the job search including resumes and cover letters; LinkedIn help; practice interviews; salary and benefits negotiation; and more.

What does this mean for you?

Lately, Pat has had great success pairing MSC students with new roles in companies with MSC alumni. Whether it’s filling a new role, temp to hire, or consulting, her knowledge of the talent that exists in the program, as well as the skills each student brings, could be a valuable resource to MSC alumni looking to fill roles.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact Pat directly at

A Conversation with Northwestern MSC Alumni, Bob Lueders

Bob is the CEO of Radicom, Inc. and a Co-Founder of VOCEON Chicago, LLC,  companies that work in advanced communications technology for public safety agencies and commercial clients. Radicom, Inc. is currently installing the 911 communications system at O’Hare and Midway International Airports. While furthering his career at Digital Equipment Corporation, he completed his undergraduate studies at Roosevelt University before moving on to the Master of Science in Communication program at Northwestern.

Why was MSC the right program for you?

Well, I was working full time at Digital Equipment Corporation at the time, so I was definitely looking for close proximity as I needed to stay in the area and I was also definitely looking for an executive graduate program. There are a few of them, at Elmhurst College and Lake Forest College, for example. However, the reputation at Northwestern was a significant draw for me.

I went to some information sessions for various programs, including for the Kellogg MBA Program, but I didn’t care for the atmosphere of Kellogg. It was significantly bigger and definitely a more dog-eat-dog and hyper-competitive environment. When I came to the information session for MSC, I knew I preferred the size, the curriculum, and the culture.

Despite the fact that I’ve been with tech companies for 40 years, I am not very technical in my skills. I’ve worked primarily in finance, administration, operations – people skills sort of things. When I came to the MSC program, I was responsible for the management of 20 to 30 employees and I was far more interested in how best to lead and communicate well with each of them to foster their growth and productivity, than to advance my knowledge of corporate finance or marketing, such as you’d gain from traditional MBA programs. What you find is that 80% of your time and energy, if you hold a management position, is spent managing people, so finding how to best communicate, motivate, and work well with them is critical. The other stuff you can learn on the job. That’s why this degree worked better for me — my role was never technical, it was more operational. 


What is something you’ve learned that has made an impact on your professional and/or personal life?

Everything in life I’ve learned boils down to problem solving and decision making. One of the most important things I learned in the program was ‘equifinality’, which loosely translates to ‘there are lots of ways to skin a cat’.  It contends that there is no single correct answer or method to tackle a problem. In a team situation, the faster you come to the conclusion that your way isn’t the only way, the better off you’ll be, and that’s when you get into really collaborative types of thinking. We tend to look at things and think we know the correct solution…that we naturally have the right perspective on it, but oftentimes that thinking leads to less than optimal results than might be gained by stepping back and getting more viewpoints from teammates.

I’ve developed a more collaborative working style, which the MSC program has always encouraged. In addition to personal assignments, we had group projects which allowed for perspective sharing and new ways of approaching a problem. Because I’m not technical in a very technical company, that’s been very valuable for me to have. I often need to rely on people who have a more thorough understanding of the product.

What was your favorite aspect of MSC at Northwestern?

Definitely my classmates. They’re something you take with you. I have very close friends from the MSC program that I continue to see regularly. When I got into this program, I realized interacting with my classmates was going to be very different than as an undergrad. In the MSC program everyone wanted to be there in every class, everyone was smart as hell, and their experiences were fascinating so it made for an exceptionally stimulating experience. I learned as much from my classmates as I did from my professors, just in the way they approached things.

Also, as a member of the board of the alumni association, I get to be involved with all things that go on with MSC and constantly meet new people throughout the MSC community, locally and abroad. We organize regular events and get together three to four times a year.


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

Be a sponge for information from your professors and especially from your classmates. It’s a very high-level student that you’re going to be in the MSC program with and you need to take as much advantage of that as possible. I feel fortunate that I had the class I did. We had such a wide variety of business experiences, from banking to manufacturing to law, and it was really interesting because people would come to the table with a perspective with which you would never have thought.

As an example, there was a woman in our program named Jeanette Yep who was in ministry in Massachusetts. She came at our curriculum from a completely humanistic approach to problem solving, whereas in business the bottom line and economics are often the driving force in any decision being made. Her perspective was unique for me in considering ways to solve problems.

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.

Prof. Leslie DeChurch’s Reading List

Leslie DeChurch’s research investigates teamwork and leadership in organizations. She is Professor of Communication Studies, and holds a courtesy appointment in the Department of Psychology, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences. She is President and Chairperson of the Board of INGRoup, the Interdisciplinary Network for Group Research. She teaches the Leading Collaboratively course for the MSC program. Learn More.

How We’ll Live on Mars, by Stephen Petranek (Simon & Schuster)

In a barren landscape, a little red planet, a third the size of Earth and much colder, orbits the Sun. How We’ll Live on Mars is a fascinating, approachable book that gets down to the basics. How will we breathe on Mars? Turns out we can change the atmosphere, or “terraform” the planet to be more like Earth! How will we avoid dangerous space radiation on Mars? Voila, we can build houses in the lava tubes of inactive volcanoes!

Petranek explains just how close humans really are to becoming an inter-planetary species. Millions of people move between countries every year – seeking jobs or education, or escaping war, poverty, or unrest – Petranek makes a compelling case for just how feasible it is, that in the next few decades, millions of people may be moving between planets for some of these very same reasons.

I picked up Petranek’s book after watching the National Geographic  “Mars” miniseries which references it. You don’t need an interest in science fiction or rockets to love this book. One thing that struck me about this book, that I bet every MSC student can appreciate, is the elegant communication – Petranek takes some very complex science and communicates it in a way that everyone can understand and get excited about.

War in Val d’Orcia: An Italian War Diary 1943-1944, by Iris Origo (Pushkin Press)

Could I interest you in a journey to Tuscany?

Halfway between Rome and Florence, in an estate called La Foce, lived a remarkable woman named Iris Origo. Iris lived during interesting times, born in England in 1902, to an American father and an Irish-Anglican mother. She lived in Europe through both World Wars witnessing the social transformation in between. Origo’s father died of tuberculosis when she was 8, his last wish that Iris be raised somewhere foreign, preferably Italy. Iris’ mother complied, and so young Iris grew up in the Villa Medici in a virtual British colony consorting with Anglo-intellectuals living just outside Florence.

But this book is not about intellectuals and their dinner conversations about art and literature, it is about what life was like on a Tuscan farm as Italy was “switching sides” in the Unnecessary War. War in Val d’Orcia is Iris’ diary, her first-hand account, about the day to day experience of living in the Italian countryside during the war. She was a well-connected insider (her godfather was the American ambassador to Italy), and an outsider (a woman living in a patriarchal Latin society lacking Italian heritage or even the ability to properly roll her “r”). And yet her everyday acts of leadership were extraordinary in their effect.

This is a beautiful book on many levels. One comes away feeling a call to lead (and an aversion to war!). Iris rises to the challenge of her time. She works for the Red Cross in Rome, takes in dozens of children bombed out of their homes, gives secret shelter to escaped war prisoners and soldiers, and provides maps, directions, food rations, and clothing to everyone who turns up on her estate. Italy is under German occupation, witnessing the deportation of its Jewish population; sons and fathers are first called up by the Italian fascist regime, and later sent to German concentration camps. Iris’s estate is just outside the medieval hill town of Montepulciano. This is a sobering yet inspiring story of perseverance, integrity, and especially leadership. It will leave you wanting to know more (much more!) about this remarkable woman and how she came to live on a Tuscan farm.

If after reading it, you are not yet ready to leave the Tuscan journey behind, then you can learn much more about the personal character of Iris in her beautifully written autobiography, Images and Shadows: Part of a Life (Iris Origo, Nonpareil Books).