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A Former Police Captain Making a Difference through Communication

From a young age, Cassandra Libal ’19 knew she wanted to create change in her community. Growing up in inner-city Milwaukee, she was raised by a single mother who wasn’t able to provide financial support for higher education.

To pursue her dream, she applied for a paid apprenticeship right out of high school: Milwaukee’s Police Aide program. Earning an income while she developed useful skills for a career in law enforcement, she performed clerical and support work for two years. When she turned 21, she joined the Police Academy to complete training.

Since becoming an officer in 1997, Libal has worked in nearly every aspect of law enforcement, from general patrol to narcotics. Rising through the ranks to captain and serving as the commander of community outreach and education, she helped bridge the gap between the Milwaukee community and police officers. “I loved overseeing our community outreach efforts, which circles back to the reason I wanted a career in law enforcement: to pay it forward and make a difference,” she explains.

Because she hadn’t followed a traditional education path—and because of a fluctuating work schedule based on overtime, court hearings, and shift changes—higher education for Libal began at a technical college with an associate degree and two certificate programs. Later, she also enrolled in a few training courses with Northwestern’s Center for Public Safety.

When she felt the time was right for her bachelor’s, she found an online program that let her apply work experiences and existing credits toward a degree. “I spent my career in law enforcement balancing between working full time and going to school,” she explains. “I’m a constant learner and always looking for growth opportunities. I really liked the format and curriculum that Northwestern used when I went through their public safety training. When I decided to pursue my graduate degree, they were high on my list of options.”

Recognizing that communication had been a challenge for her in the past, Libal hoped that learning more about it would help bridge that gap. She also realized she was fast approaching 25 years with the Milwaukee Police Department, anticipating retirement in the near future—and she wanted to be ready for the next step in her career.

As she started researching ways to broaden her horizons, she discovered the MS in Communication’s Hybrid Leadership Program—and liked the idea of completing the majority of coursework online while still having occasional face-to-face interaction. As a full-time employee and mother, the program’s one-year timeline also appealed to her.

“This degree was something I needed,” says Libal. “It was the tool I wanted in my toolbox no matter where I landed professionally or personally. Communication was a challenge I needed to overcome, but the program went so far beyond that.”

She says the diversity of her cohort added another dimension to the experience as she learned alongside medical, business, and marketing professionals. “In addition to helping me establish elegant communication strategies, it also gave me a network that was just as valuable as what I was learning in the classroom,” she says.

A few months after she graduated, Libal retired from the Milwaukee Police Department. Newly equipped with her MS in Communication, she felt confident in her communication abilities—and ready to take on whatever opportunity came her way, whether it was continuing in law enforcement with another agency, teaching, or entering the private sector.

“Northwestern does a great job of cultivating collaboration,” says Libal. “Communication lines were always there. They fostered that spirit of teamwork, even though we were in different time zones and facing other challenges outside the program. I wouldn’t have been as successful if it wasn’t for the way the program was structured—and the staff was there to support us through all of that.”

This June, Libal started down a new path: She joined Milwaukee County’s Office of Emergency Management as deputy director. The organization’s motto is to help people in extraordinary times. In this role, she drives and oversees large-scale change to ensure personal safety for community members.

“The skills I learned at Northwestern have already been very relevant during this time as we all enter our new normal,” she explains. “Business aside, how we conduct ourselves in every arena is going to be impacted by how we communicate. No matter what your profession is, the information you learn here is universal.”

Improving Communication Skills to Better Serve the State of Illinois

Marcus King ’19 has always been a leader—it just came naturally, even as a student.

Before he graduated from Southern Illinois University in 2011 with a journalism/integrated marketing communications degree, he was elected by 18,000+ of his peers to serve as the undergraduate student body president. In this role, he was responsible for representing student views in monthly meetings with the university chancellor.

Recognizing King’s strong performance in leadership and campus involvement, a professor encouraged him to pursue a Dunn Fellowship after graduation: a year-long governmental honors fellowship program that identifies young professionals who have the skills needed for executive-level positions within the Illinois Governor’s Office. Selected from a pool of more than 5,000 students, King had the opportunity to work in the press office to assist the press secretary with releases and media interaction.

With that experience under his belt, he was soon tapped for a new government role: chief of constituent affairs for the State of Illinois, where he was entrusted with significant authority over staff, served as a media spokesperson and handled media inquiries for the Illinois Department of Corrections, and organized and executed Summit of Hope (the No. 1 U.S. re-entry program for ex-offenders).

He had already gained impressive experience in just a few years, climbing the ladder quickly. (Maybe a little bit too quickly, he admits.) With so much of his career left in front of him, King wanted to do more to improve his skills—and realized that a graduate degree might be the answer.

“What sold me on the MS in Communication program was when I went to the open house and got to sit through a class taught by Michelle Shumate,” he says. “There was something about her. I was very impressed.”

Given the demands of his job, King couldn’t imagine being in class on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday night. But he also didn’t want to give up his Saturdays for classes. Once he realized he could complete the graduate program in one year, he decided the Saturday sacrifice was worth it.

Only a month after he began the MS in Communication program, King’s career took another step forward. In December 2018, he was offered another senior-level position. He now serves as the State of Illinois’ senior advisor for civic engagement.

“If you’re in any type of leadership or communications position, then this program is for you,” he says. “There’s nothing you can think of that the program doesn’t touch on.”

He says his professors presented information in a way that made him curious about communication; he could relate the curriculum to everything he dealt with at work (and in his personal life, too), which only made him want to learn more.

The lessons were so valuable, in fact, that he saved his class notes—and he’s glad he did. “I was able to reference them later—I still do—and they’re like gold,” he says. “I didn’t always make the connection at the time with some of the things being taught, but I wrote them down. When I started to step away, I was able to start connecting these ideologies and philosophies to advance my career and professional relationships.”

As he works on a personal video project—set for release this fall—he spoke with a Kentucky state representative about ethics and virtue. His ability to talk about those topics in-depth with the legislator is owed to Randy Iden, King says.

“Some of his concepts were so new to me that I became fascinated with them. That’s what this program does. The professors put you on different roads you never would have traveled. Once you start traveling those roads, you get to destinations you never would have thought about on your own.”

Like Mother, Like Daughter: Inspiration Begets Inspiration

As Jessie Pagliari (MSC ’20) was studying communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she often called her mom, Rose Pagliari (MSC ’19), as she walked home from class.

From interpersonal interaction to the mother/daughter dyad, Jessie wanted to share what she was learning—and communication was a topic they were both interested in and loved to discuss.

While Jessie was earning her undergraduate degree, Rose was a few decades into her sales career. A high-level position at an IT services company kept her busy managing a portfolio of high-impact clients, supporting their training and learning initiatives by hiring talent for their IT projects. Whenever she saw Northwestern credentials listed on a résumé, she always took time to interview the applicant. “I knew there was probably something special about that person.”

One weekend in 2018 when Jessie returned home for a quick visit (she had graduated and was working at a media company in a business development role), she found her mother writing a paper as part of prework for admission to Northwestern’s MS in Communication program.

“I had been afraid to apply and didn’t tell many people,” says Rose. “I had worked all these years and accomplished all these things. I could think of a million reasons why I shouldn’t apply, but a voice in my head just kept saying, ‘Keep going. You have to be part of this.’ I wanted to become stronger, smarter, and better. I wanted to be able to share what I learned with other people.”

Rose says her inspiration to return to school had come from her daughter – although Jessie didn’t realize it at the time. “As a parent, to learn from you child is an amazing moment,” Rose says. We spend our whole lives teaching them…and then they turn around and teach us.”

Soon, the phone calls after class started again. But this time it was Rose calling Jessie to share what she was learning: from behavior discussions of high self-monitors vs. low self-monitors to the impacts of working globally and cross-border communication differences.

For Rose, the program was answering questions that had lingered for years. She finally understood why change initiatives sometimes failed, why some people were promoted when they lacked necessary skills, and the impact of assigning overly aggressive goals—and she was excited to share with Jessie what she was discovering.

The more she heard about her mother’s classroom experiences, the more Jessie realized that an MS in Communication might be a valuable tool for her, too. Only a few years into her career, she wanted leadership, persuasion, and communication skills that would set her apart.

“My mom was learning unique things that were directly applicable to the situations I faced as an enterprise salesperson,” says Jessie, who had moved to a role with LinkedIn Learning as a mid-market relationship manager. “She inspired me to want to learn the things she was learning—and to pursue a graduate degree in communication. It was a full-circle moment: inspiration begets inspiration.” 

One year after her mother, Jessie took the leap and enrolled, beginning the MS in Communication program in Fall 2019. “I was so excited for her during the application process,” says Rose. “I knew she had so much to offer. As I took these courses and reflected on my career, I kept thinking, ‘If I only knew then what I know now.’ I’m so happy she has that opportunity.”

Jessie says it’s been helpful to talk to her mom about what she’s learning and compare it to what Rose learned a year earlier. 

“I was pleasantly surprised by the corporate application aspects,” says Jessie. “Once we hear a theory and it resonates, our professors encourage us to try it when it makes sense. If it doesn’t feel like it fits, then challenge it.”

In one class, for example, students are guided through the steps of building their own leadership stories. Jessie enjoyed the process so much that she decided to try it out, sharing the concept with her manager. From there, Jessie led her team through a three-hour storytelling workshop. “It was awesome to learn it and then teach it back to see how much other people loved and enjoyed it, too,” she says.

In the past year, while Jessie has been working and studying, Rose has been reflecting on what she learned and the confidence the program gave her. Last July, to re-focus, she decided to resign from her high-level sales position. “I have all these resources and knowledge now,” she says. “I can do whatever I put my mind to. Now I just want to think about what that is.”

After she graduated in 2019, Rose combined the lessons she learned in one of her MS in Communication courses with her own research and presented at an ATD Chicagoland Chapter Conference about the power of networks. She loved the experience so much that she plans to continue sharing her knowledge this way in the future. “Your network truly determines the opportunities that cross your desk,” she says. “There are small things you can do to increase the power of your network. I want to share that with people.”

Finding Career Clarity and Focus

Transportation, aerospace, and even U.S. Congress: Gabrielle Torina ’19 had gained impressive work experience across a wide variety of fields—but she was ready to focus her work and build her career.

Even before she earned her undergraduate degree at Judson University in 2017, Torina was attending open houses for Northwestern’s MS in Communication program. She worked hard to develop the focus and drive to go to college and wanted to keep the momentum going.

“I knew I had potential,” she says, “but the lack of higher education was limiting me. I was a little confused about my experiences. How was anyone going to look at my résumé and understand me and where I was trying to go if I didn’t know myself?”

As she started to think about career goals and make sense of her work experiences, she noticed some common threads: marketing, communications, and working with people. She started charting her journey, asking those around her for feedback on what she does well and focusing on experiences and skills she enjoys.

“I ultimately chose to earn a master’s at Northwestern because I needed something that was going to make me stand out,” explains Torina. “This field can become saturated, so I wanted to show that I was different. I wanted something that was going to stretch me and give me that big sense of pride afterwards.”

Living nearly two hours away in Rockford, IL, didn’t stop her from moving forward with that dream. She got up at 4 am so she could be one of the first to arrive, making the most of the experience while she could. This also allowed her to spend one-on-one time with Pat Messina, associate director of career management for the MS in Communication program (Messina arrived early on class days, too).

“She helped me reformat my résumé and look at my experiences in a different way, crafting a strong value proposition using what I already had. I took advantage of that time to ask questions and get advice.” Combined with the curriculum, these services helped her find value in the diverse career experiences she had—and how to apply them moving forward. Torina still keeps in touch with the career services team, recently reaching out for tips on refreshing her personal brand to better align it with who she is today.

Another program highlight for Torina was her mastermind group, formed by a classmate and made up of seven individuals who represented different career phases and industries. “It was so valuable—not just from a relationship standpoint, but also keeping each other on track. We were intentional about getting large assignments and capstone projects done early so we weren’t stressed at the end. We helped one another when it was time to come up with topics for papers and assignments.”

Torina says the program paid off almost immediately in the form of a new job—her dream job. Even during the interview process, she used what she learned from the MS in Communication program to answer in-depth questions in front of a panel and create a presentation in response to a specific situation.

Five weeks into her new job, the United States was suddenly faced with COVID-19. “I was immediately able to start crisis communications,” she says. “It just hit me: ‘Wow, I’m using my degree right away!’ ”

She currently works as the engagement and communications manager for Transform Rockford, a social innovation incubator. Formed seven years ago to improve living and working conditions in Rockford, this grassroots movement improves social and economic well-being for people in the Rockford area by following a transformation plan that promotes healing and fixing the community’s problems from within. Torina and her team have an ambitious goal: to transform Rockford into a top 25 community by 2025.

“I’m not the same person I was before the program,” she says. “I’m still using the resources that are available to us—for myself, for my career, and to guide others. I learned more than what I thought I was going to. They instilled a desire to always be in pursuit of information and truth. I left knowing my value and what I’m able to offer the world.”

Transforming Students into Powerful Communicators

Growing up, Jason DeSanto, senior lecturer at Northwestern University, enjoyed getting up in front of a classroom full of his peers. Part of the Illinois high school forensics circuit, he looked forward to the thrill of participating in organized public speaking events.

“I enjoyed the process of thinking about what allowed people to connect with each other,” he explains.

Attending Northwestern University and studying rhetoric as an undergraduate was a natural choice for him—and one that helped pinpoint specific areas of interest: law, political debates, and public policy speechwriting.

After graduating, he led communications for a U.S. Senate campaign. He was doing work he had dreamed about—but he also dreamed of something else. “I always thought becoming a practicing attorney would be exciting,” he says, so he returned to school to earn a JD and practiced law for more than a decade.

“I realized I used communication in my daily practice of law,” he says, “but also used it beyond that. I was still working on political campaigns, doing speechwriting, and debate coaching. While I was doing this, I was running on related yet parallel paths of law and advocacy.” For DeSanto, this brought to light the innate intersection of law, public policy, and communication.

Turning Practice into Teachable Lessons

Given this unique perspective, he jumped at the chance to teach students about freedom of expression and the First Amendment when he was asked to serve as an adjunct professor at Northwestern.

His passion for the subject—and the passion he instilled in students as a result—eventually led him to a full-time education role, where he teaches MS in Communication students while also serving as faculty for Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law.

“In some ways, this was a return to things I’ve loved and had a passion for since I was young—and a return to things I had studied at Northwestern,” he says. “I was still doing consulting in the politics, business, and not-for-profit worlds, but now I was reinforcing it by working with students in the MS in Communication program.”

Crafting Powerful Communicators

His popular Public Persuasion course—offered to Custom Leadership Program students—is an intensive workshop that showcases how to develop policy ideas, powerfully articulate them, and secure commitment and action. In other words, he helps future leaders become better public communicators in settings that range from leading meetings and giving speeches to producing internal memos.

His goal is to build conviction and connection among communicators. “When we ask people what they remember about the most impactful presentation or speech they’ve ever heard, they ordinarily identify someone who has passion—and who obviously cared about what they were talking about. They seem committed to us as audience members.”

Part of building that conviction and connection involves personal reflection. DeSanto’s class supports this through free writing and the use of prompts that encourage students to think about what it means to put convictions out into the world.

“In class, we think about the first thing we identify as broken—whether it’s within our workplace or somewhere else—and then how we might fix it,” he explains. “Spending time thinking about this helps you identify the real problem you want to solve, the possible solution, and your personal attachment to the problem.”

The next step involves thinking about what motivates and persuades others—and ways to break through to them. “We talk about the tools we have as writers or speakers to do this so students walk away with a set of highly portable skills to influence and motivate,” he says.

For Hybrid Leadership Program students, he also helps facilitate a Crisis Communication Management course by leading the Q&A portion of the class.

DeSanto’s lasting impact on the MS in Communication students is obvious: He’s one of the highest-rated lecturers at Northwestern, has received the Dean’s Teaching Award, and was voted to deliver the annual last Lecture by three consecutive Pritzker School of Law graduating classes.

“Teaching and learning are reciprocal,” he says. “David Zarefsky, professor emeritus, taught me that. Whatever enjoyment and knowledge students gain from my courses, they repay me beyond anything I could provide to them. Helping other people find the powerful communicator inside themselves has become an animating force in my life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Five tips for managing virtual teams in the age of coronavirus

David Bernal is a business strategist, management consultant, and entrepreneur. He teaches a course on Managing Global teams in the MSC program.

As a management consultant working constantly with virtual and geographically dispersed teams, I have experienced firsthand how, in the last few weeks, being an effective virtual team manager has become more crucial than ever. Many companies have had to accommodate and transition to become almost 100% virtual organizations overnight, having to modify processes and operations while having to respond to a very uncertain and rapidly-changing business climate. On top of that, we have also the serious responsibility and personal challenge to protect the health of ourselves, families and communities during this time.

There are multiple things that managers can do now to transform this situation into an opportunity for growth, find new ways to relate and work and contribute to building more effective organizations for now and into the future. Many opportunities will come from this challenge: First, it will force us to focus on keeping quality relationships, interactions, and productivity with our coworkers while working 100% via virtual means. Second, it will challenge us to find ways to still be “human” when our interaction will be mostly via screens, emails, and phone. Lastly, this will transform our organizations focusing on servicing our teams, customers and society by improving the team management approach by fully leveraging accessible, easy-to-use and widely available technologies, management approaches, and web-based tools.

There are five broad tips I would recommend to a manager today to achieve the above:

1. Start with yourself:
The start to being productive in times of extreme uncertainty is to create what I call a “bubble of control and certainty”. Yes, we know that the news is crazy. Yes, we know that the management of most organizations is blindsided by the situation. However, as managers, we can ensure our “little world” is under control.

  • If you work from home, create a comfortable, bright, happy space where you can work and concentrate. Find a good chair, a comfortable desk and a bright spot where you know you may be able to work during your workday.
  • Create a routine. Even if you are at home, ensure you have a repeatable schedule. Use your calendar to plan your day and do not forget to take little breaks to ensure your energy is high and you keep your focus up. Eat well, exercise, and sleep. This crisis may last for several months so think of it a marathon not a sprint. 
  • Control your exposure to the news. I know we want to keep up to date about how the pandemic is evolving. However, if we spent too much time dwelling on what is beyond our influence, anxiety will increase and productivity will suffer.
  • Building on all the above, focus on what you can control. Map all your worries and focus on those where YOU can have a positive impact and try to put out of your mind those where you don’t. Build a plan around areas of control and ensure you focus your energy every day in moving those things forward.

2. Be patient with yourself and your team:
Unfortunately, this is not a hurricane that will pass in a few days. Nobody knows for certain, but it is very likely that the situation is going to have a long-term impact on the way companies work for the foreseeable future. This means that not only you, but also everybody around you are also adjusting to the new reality. In that sense, be patient with yourself, your team and your organization during this adjustment period.

3. Exercise your leadership muscles:

Ensure that project objectives, teams and team processes are well defined and clearly explained so you can work efficiently as a virtual team. 

  • Define and communicate your team charter properly:for any given project, team leaders should craft the team charter and should have very solid project management, planning, and communications skills. Ask yourself 3 key questions:  1) Is the charter defined correctly? Explicitly discuss the team’s agenda to ensure that the right problem is being solved.  2) Is it framed correctly? Work with your team about the way and scope in which the problem is formulated. 3) Is it clearly understood? It is critical that EVERY person on the team understands the charter and how they fit into overall team objectives including roles and expectations.
  • Assemble the right team for new projects: virtual team members by definition come from diverse cultural and work backgrounds. They may also represent different organizations whose agendas may not be congruent or different functional units with varying priorities and perspectives. Assembling the right virtual team is part science and part art ensuring that complementary skills, work styles, and background are included but also that also potential frictions caused by such diversity are under control. Part of this is defining effective team size and who should occupy leadership positions.
  • Define, lead and manage team processes:  Teams need a process that facilitates open, information-rich communication among the team members to build a culture of trust especially when working virtually: Focus on 3 areas: 1)  Language and culture via language education and cross-cultural awareness if that applies to your team, 2)  agree and communicate norms of behavior by defining ground rules of interaction, acceptable behavior, and expectations; and 3) adopt data-driven decisions to prevent reliance on opinions in the absence of facts. By bringing facts to the table, conflicting ideas can be evaluated more objectively. Data-driven decisions enable alignment and drive performance.
4. Distance doesn’t mean disengaged: virtual teams need to focus on developing successful remote working relationships, maintaining open communication and managing employees and team performance to ensure that results are achieved.
    • Establish clear goals and expectations at the beginning of new relationships or projects: Work with your direct reports to create clear goals and expectations at the beginning of your working relationship. Establishing goals and expectations will help you both know where to focus efforts, even if you have few opportunities to interact in-person in the following months to come. 
    • Consider work styles, abilities, and preferences when setting ground rules: You and your direct reports will have different working styles that will affect how you work together, especially since you are not in the same location. Partner with your remote direct reports to discuss each of your work styles, abilities, and preferences, and use the information gathered to inform the ground rules you set for your remote working relationship.
    • Meet one-on-one even virtually as often as possible: While lockdowns and lack of physical interaction for you and your employees may mean scattered opportunities to chat in person, nothing can help you build a strong relationship better than working together one-on-one when possible. Make a special effort for one-on-one coaching with those resources that require special support, training or are part of critical tasks or activities. 
    5. Communicate, communicate and communicate… but smartly: overcommunicate if possible using the multiple methods at hand, however, please be very concise, deliberate, with clear points and direction. Although additional communication can compensate for the lack of physical interaction, don’t overdo it wasting people’s time or focus.
    • Make communication a shared responsibility for you and your direct report: Open lines of communication are critical to a successful partnership with your direct reports, but particularly when you work in different locations and have few face-to-face interactions. While you, as a manager, must take responsibility for communication, let your direct report know they share responsibility and that you expect them to approach you with anything that needs to be discussed.
    • Establish ground rules for how and when you will communicate: Communication can be especially difficult when you and your direct report don’t work in the same location, so work together to create ground rules about how and when you will communicate with one another. Focus on 4 things: 
      • Methods you will use to communicate. Discuss methods you will use to communicate, such as telephone, e-mail, instant messaging, social networking sites, and videoconferencing., 
      • Timeframe for responding to communications: Determine an appropriate timeframe for responding to avoid “virtual silence”, which can cause confusion and damage remote working relationships 
      • Methods for sharing sensitive issues. Impersonal communication methods are not as appropriate for sensitive issues and can hurt relations with your direct report. Instead, use private telephone calls or face-to-face methods such as videoconferencing, 
      • Reaching each other outside of regular business hours. Employees in remote working relationships often work in different time zones, so your normal work hours may not always overlap. Agree on acceptable hours for communication and decide how you and your employees can reach one another outside of normal working hours in case of an emergency.
    • Use a mix of structured and informal communications methods: To have a trusting, collaborative relationship with your team use a blend of structured communications approaches – such as weekly telephone “check-ins” – and informal, real-time communication methods – such as instant messaging. Structured approaches make sure you reserve time to discuss ongoing needs, such as performance or vacation schedules, while informal, real-time communication methods allow immediate needs to be addressed.
    • Identify methods for sharing knowledge and work: Determine how you and your direct reports will share information and work so it is easily accessible. Use technologies that can be accessed remotely and on-demand, such as project rooms, databases and intranet portals. If you or your direct reports are not able to access knowledge and work as needed, you risk slowing productivity and missing deadlines.

    Remember that like every crisis, this too shall pass. Use this time to turn this crisis into an opportunity to improve the way you manage yourself and others and make your organization more resilient and efficient in the future. By keeping in mind all the above tips, not only you can enhance your skills and improve your team productivity but also build a better and more human-centered organization once the coronavirus crisis is gone.

    David Bernal

    David Bernal is a Business Strategist and Entrepreneur with more than 20 years of experience in growth strategy and planning, market research, marketing, sales, innovation, new products, and ventures with multinationals and leading organizations in the US, Europe, Latin America and Asia. He has successfully conceived, developed, and launched new products and businesses and solved complex growth strategy problems at corporate and SBU levels. Mr. Bernal is Adjunct Lecturer of Management at Northwestern. Mr. Bernal holds an M.B.A. in Management Strategy, Marketing and Technology from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, and an M.S. in Finance and Marketing from University de los Andes. He holds a B.S. in Industrial Engineering with Honors from P.U.J. in Bogotá, Colombia. 

    MSC Admissions response to COVID-19

    We at the MSC program would like to convey our concern for you and your loved ones during this uncertain time. As we are all impacted by the spread of COVID-19, we hope that you are safe, healthy, and taking the necessary precautions to help prevent the spread of this virus. We recognize that many of our best laid plans have been altered by the rapidly changing circumstances.

    At the same time, we are reminded that the pillars of the MSC education (Managing Complexity, Collaborative Leadership, and Elegant Communication) are even more central to our new reality. We remain committed to teaching professionals how to develop communication skills that will help them navigate even the most roiling of waters. It is with that in mind that we fully expect to enroll an excellent cohort for the 2020-21 school year.

    As you continue to consider your plans for graduate education (and we recognize that your priorities may be very different right now), we have taken some short-term steps to ease the process of investigating and applying to the MSC Program:

    • We are waiving all application fees at this time. Logistically, when your application is ready for submission, go to the Review section and click “Finalize and Pay” to submit your application. Upon clicking this button, your application fee will be automatically waived and your application will be submitted.

    • We will be conducting all admission interviews through video conference for the remainder of the admission cycle. The interview remains a critical part of our admission process, but we’ve had excellent experiences doing international interviews virtually, and feel confident that we can get the same connection with applicants using our online tools. 

    • We are also extending the deadline for admitted students to place their admission deposit. At this point, we are extending the date until July 1, 2020, to give all students the opportunity to make the best possible decision about attending graduate school.

    • Application deadlines are remaining the same. Our next application deadline is April, 13th and our final application deadline is June 15th for classes beginning in September.

    If you have any questions about MSC or the admission process, please contact me directly at (224) 406-1855 or by e-mail at toby@northwestern.edu. We look forward to hearing from you. Please take care of yourself and others.

    Revelations from the daily grind of COVID-19 press conferences

    Jeanne Sparrow MSC – communications consultant, specializing in media and presentation training

    Every single day during this COVID-19 pandemic, there’s another press conference to watch… often with dread. Not just because of the dramatic statistics, dire predictions and the concern and fear they cause, but also for the missed opportunities to reach people, deliver the information needed to be safe, or comfort a nation in shock. Those are the times I look at the screen and either roll my eyes or feel the anger rise in my chest… then click off altogether or move on to something else.

    The argument could easily be made that these daily pressers only increase the chances that a leader or expert will make a mistake and create a public relations disaster for themselves and the organizations they represent – or even worse, put people in mortal danger – and some certainly have in my opinion. But that daily grind with such high stakes also presents them with a rare opportunity to create a good practice of communicating well in ways that make the most powerful impact.

    Standing behind that podium day in and day out is a fresh chance every day to learn what works and what doesn’t – a learning curve which, in our current state of affairs, could make a crucial difference in saving more lives. Some leaders and experts are truly succeeding at that and that’s what I choose to focus on, mainly because that’s what I (and my sanity) need right now, but also so we can learn from their examples and repeat their good habits, in any setting where we want to be effective.

    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot are at the top of my list of politicians who are getting it right. And one expert I’d like to see more often is Dr. Emily Landon, lead epidemiologist at University of Chicago Medicine. Her appearance at the joint press conference announcing the shelter-in-place order for the State of Illinois was refreshing and exactly what I needed to see at that moment in time.

    What they’re all doing well in their own unique ways help them successfully cut through the cacophony of voices screaming for our attention right now. And we can emulate their approach to make our own voices heard when presented with the opportunity to use them.

    Each of them shows us who they are in the way they carry themselves and speak to us. Governor Cuomo is straightforward and assured with a warm sense of humor and humanity… Mayor Lightfoot is no-nonsense and direct with her concern for Chicago’s safety… and Dr. Landon comes across as caring and passionate about saving lives. Their fearless revelation of their authenticity and emotion show us who they are, what they’re feeling and how they approach this crisis, which opens the door for us to connect with them as individuals – creating a bond that also opens a route to trusting not only them, but what they’re saying.

    They all know how to put their messages into context so we understand why what they’re telling us is important and relevant to us and our particular situations, increasing the chances we’ll do what they’re asking and act on the information we hear. Governor Cuomo is particularly good at using stories to give context – his Sunday dinner memories from this recent press conference drives home his concern for his state’s well-being and gives an example of how to do something he thinks is key in achieving that. (scroll to around the 20:00 mark). Both Mayor Lightfoot and Dr. Landon reference their own families in their remarks, painting indelible pictures in our minds of our own families and the scenarios we could face.

    Perhaps most importantly, all three seem to understand and are focused on what the people they’re speaking to need to hear and how they need to hear it… not just on what they showed up to say. All communication is a two-way street – it’s never just about the speaker, delivering a message, saying their piece. It’s always about making sure that message lands the right way in the ears of those who would receive it. And right now, that part is particularly challenging because the messages being delivered are often not what anyone wants to hear. Mayor Lightfoot does an extraordinary job of conquering that challenge when discussing the prospect of closing Chicago’s lakefront path and parks to enforce social distancing.

    What these three practitioners show us is that if we can find ways to connect with each other as the truest, best versions of ourselves, revealing that and sharing information through stories that stick with our audience and do it in a way that honors each other’s needs, we will be successful at communicating whatever we want to… whether it’s as globally critical as saving lives in a pandemic or as intensely personal as sharing love and care for someone else.

    In these unusual and unprecedented times, nothing we’re doing looks quite the same as it did before. And it likely won’t ever go back to how it was. Let’s work to make sure it’s better going forward.

    ——

    Jeanne Sparrow (’91, MS ’15) is a member of MSC faculty and is a speaker, consultant and 3-time Emmy-winning television and radio personality. Jeanne helps people and organizations find more success by fine tuning the way they tell their stories, express themselves and communicate their value. She believes that words and how we deliver them have power that can change lives – and even the world – when used with intention and purpose. Connect with Jeanne at www.fearlessauthenticity.com and on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.

     

    An MS in Communication Becomes a Path to Self-Discovery

    As the youngest of six, Chris Block ’18 appreciates the fact that his parents were able to provide financial assistance to all of their children to get them through college. With three electrical engineers, a math teacher, and a physics teacher as siblings, Block felt a little out of place since he didn’t share those passions.

    “If my parents were going to put me through school, I wanted to at least major in something that sounded good—like business. I loved creative writing, but I was too afraid to go into it,” he says.

    After earning his undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, one of his brothers introduced him to a California business owner who had a job opening in technology sales. He took advantage of the opportunity and eventually grew into a field sales position there.

    Labeled early on as a “talker,” Block loves interacting with people. This ability lent itself well to sales, making it easy for him to strike up conversations with strangers.

    One day, after listening to a speech by Tom Mendoza, CEO of NetApp, Block felt something click. “Tom got up and said, ‘The reason I’m CEO is because I was the best speaker. I competed with many people, including the technical folks who built the product we sell, but they gave the job to me because I can communicate.’ That resonated with me because that’s what I did, too. I was looking at a guy who was a talker just like me. I realized I did have a skill. I was constantly studying things that people—and my career—told me to,” he says. “But, then, it hit me. Take control. Study something you’re passionate about.

    As he started investigating ways to captivate and energize an audience, he stumbled across Northwestern’s MS in Communication program. “I thought I wanted to be a better speaker,” he explains. “But this program talked about leadership, the science behind relationships, finding your gifts—and I realized I needed all of that, too.”

    He applied and was accepted into the Custom Leadership Program, which allowed him to continue working and attend part time on Saturdays. Although his initial goal was to improve his speaking skills, he says he gained much more.

    “Northwestern stripped me down to the basics,” explains Block. “I entered with a consumer mindset—wanting and expecting to become a better speaker. Instead, I began a self-awareness journey. What are my gifts? What am I passionate about? What does the world need, and how do I move toward finding the intersection of the two?”

    Instead of focusing solely on speaking, his goals transformed: He wanted to become better at his job, open doors to new opportunities and leadership positions, and potentially start his own company to help people identify—and capitalize on—their natural gifts.

    As an enterprise account manager for Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Block often found himself leading a diverse group. In this role, he needed to be able to motivate and encourage others to work together so he could address the needs of his customers.

    “The Leading Collaboration course taught by Leslie DeChurch changed my leadership approach completely,” says Block. “When you lead people, she talked about the importance of finding out how they perceive their own identity. Let others live their identity. In other words, find out what they like to do and allow them to do it.”

    The more he learned, the more confident he became that this approach might work at HPE. He had already tried divvying up work equally among staff members, as well as an “accountability” approach that held employees responsible for their defined roles. But nothing motivated employees and kept them happy in the ways he imagined. So he tried the approach he learned in class.

    “Someone on my team likes speaking,” says Block. “I let him do more customer presentations, and now he is excited. Someone else likes to do meeting follow-ups, so I let him do that. I literally walked around and found out what people like to do. And let them do it.” The result: By working together, the team achieved 224% of its goal, selling $24 million.

    “I’ve searched for fulfillment on my journey,” says Block. “I chased achievement, titles, and compensation. Going back to school and finding out there’s a home for me at Northwestern—education was the last place I thought I’d find peace of mind and fulfillment. But it was there. Communication has the power to unify and connect. Whether it involves your marriage, career, or something else, communication fixes all.”

    An Inside Look at the MSC Admissions Process

    Sometimes the application process is enough to deter some prospective students from pursuing a master’s degree.

    Time is precious, so we’ve removed many barriers from the Master of Science in Communication application process. We’re shedding light on the subject here so you can see—it’s not as complicated as it may seem.

    How the Process Works

    First, to begin the application, you need just a few basic materials (we don’t expect you to complete the entire applica

    tion at once, so you can revisit at any point to continue):

    1.      A professional résumé that features a snapshot of job responsibilities

    2.      Academic transcripts

    3.      A personal essay that tells a story about how you’ve gone above and beyond, been recognized as a leader, or accomplished a goal

    4.      Contact information for two people who can provide letters of recommendation

    A helpful hint about letters of recommendation: After you enter your recommenders’ contact information into the system, they receive an automatic email containing a link they can use to complete a form.

    “We try to make it very easy,” says Toby Cortelyou, director of enrollment management and strategic initiatives for Northwestern’s MS in Communication program. “They don’t have to create a letter from scratch. They answer a few questions, share feedback, and tell us about their core competencies and how they align with the MSC program. We know they’re busy, and we want to make it as seamless as possible.”

    Once application materials are submitted, you’ll be invited to participate in a one-on-one interview (virtual or in-person) with a member of the admissions committee, which is made up of admissions faculty and staff.

    “During this hour, we want to hear your stories,” says Cortelyou. “Tell us about a time you were part of a challenging team dynamic. Describe a situation where you had to teach something new to someone. We’ll also talk about career goals and aspirations.”

    After the interview is complete, every application is examined independently by each committee member. Then the group comes together to make final decisions, keeping three questions in mind:

    1.      Will you be able to do the work and manage the academic rigor?

    2.      Do we agree with your assessment of what you think you can provide to the program? Are your goals consistent with the experience we provide?

    3.      What value will you be able to add? How are you going to contribute?

    Within a few weeks, you’ll receive word on the decision. “Candidates get a significant amount of evaluation and review,” says Cortelyou. “It’s ultimately a group decision. If we agree, then that’s great. If we disagree, then we discuss openly.”

    Putting Your Best Foot Forward

    As you complete your application, keep these hints in mind to help you stand out.

    1. Essays are Important!

    Personal essays matter (a lot). Instead of trying to guess what the admissions team wants to hear—or what you think the “right” answers are— tell us a genuine, real-world story. We want to experience a piece of your personality so we can learn more about you.

    “It’s less about telling us what components of the program appeal to you and more about telling us why you want to be here, what you hope to contribute, and how you can bring people together,” says Cortelyou. “The people who stand out are those who tell us stories, what they want to do with this program, and what they will bring to the classroom.”

    2. Keep Future Classmates in Mind

    The MS in Communication is a cohort program—you’ll experience everything together. Interactivity and dynamics within the group are important.

    In your application, highlight how you can add unique expertise or experience or serve as a voice of connectivity among classmates. The more we think you can bring with you to the program, the higher your potential of being admitted.

    3. Ask For Insight from People You Trust

    Although you’re working toward your own goals, this isn’t a process you have to complete on your own.

    Have conversations with friends, family members, coworkers, and recommenders. Explain why you’re applying for the program and how you hope to represent yourself. Then ask for feedback on stories you should consider sharing—or strengths you should consider leveraging.

    “Tell us about you and trust the process,” says Cortelyou. “If you share a story that you believe is compelling, then that’s the best you can do. And that’s all we ask for.”