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A Conversation with Northwestern MSC Alumnus Brandon Oelling

Brandon is the founder and CEO of Woobot.io. He previously spent 6 years at Appirio.com in the sales and technology industry where he played a pivotal role in helping customers adopt and implement cloud technologies like Salesforce.com and G Suite by Google Cloud. Brandon is currently on the Northwestern MSC alumni executive board and assists with event communications.

At what point in your career did you enter the MSC program?

I had been out of school for about 16 years, but I was surprisingly excited about a graduate degree. I had never thought about a master’s program, but I was working with a previous graduate of the Northwestern MSC program from the early ‘90s, who suggested the program to me and thought I’d be a good fit.

Before I entered the program, I was a consultant, and while I was very interested in the role communications played in my current position, I wanted more. I’ve always been in the technology and product space, but I was feeling stuck, and I wanted to move from an individual contributor focused role to a leadership focused one.

Why was Northwestern MSC the right program for you?

Since I was working in a global organization and leading people over large distances, there was a lot of content in the MSC program that was relevant to me. The coursework is very applied and timely, which I like. Also, I came to the program to fill in a gap of skills I didn’t have – having found that soft skills are just as important now as the standard technical ones.

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

I’ve learned that supervision, management, and leadership go hand in hand, and I am now able to better delegate and collaborate with a team that spans the globe. The Northwestern MSC has a unique academic and applied curriculum that really helped me target and improve myself and my relationships with others in a way that has influenced both my personal and professional life.

It all comes down to the way we communicate with others professionally and in our personal relationships that sets the table for how we view and navigate the world.

How have you grown from the program?

I came out of the MSC program with what was a renewed sense of empathy for others. In a leadership heavy role, you have to build trust with the people you work with. It’s easy to want to take over and fall back on the skills and habits you have, but a good leader works to make sure that people are supported and have the resources they need to succeed. I also see this in other MSC alumni that I talk to. We’re convinced that the reason the Northwestern MSC is so successful is how it’s delivered. Empathy is a skill that is difficult to foster, and this is a program that helps you identify and grow it.

What helped foster this empathy?

The content and the quality of the lecturers, case studies, and assigned readings was a phenomenal start. We were also asked to interact with our cohort to work through this content to examine and understand the myriad examples of leadership styles and apply it to our own work. It was a great way to see what the theory says and how that actually translated within our various workplaces, which is unique to the Northwestern MSC program.

What was your favorite aspect of MSC at Northwestern?

The way the program is set up brings each cohort together in various settings – especially outside the classroom. Being together every Saturday is especially helpful, but everyone also stays in touch during the week as well, so we could always pick right back up where we left off. We all leaned on each other and in turn created some great memories and relationships that will last a lifetime.

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

Ask a lot of questions and make sure you seek out a conversation or two with an alumnus. Our alumni network continues to grow, and we always have opportunities for prospective students to engage with and get the support they need while they make such an important decision to further their careers and their lives.

Friday Roundup – 5/12/17


Our weekly roundup highlights links to articles and talks to help you be a more effective leader.
  1. When “thank you” wears out (Smart Brief)
    “The words are great equalizers, and graciousness makes an excellent foundation for any relationship… Yet there is a very important principle to keep in mind when engaging employees through feedback recognition: the law of diminishing returns.”


  2. “Special Forces” Innovation: How DARPA Attacks Problems (HBR)
    Our purpose is to demonstrate that DARPA’s approach to breakthrough innovation is a viable and compelling alternative to the traditional models common in large, captive research organizations.”



  3. The beauty of data visualization (TED)
    “David McCandless turns complex data sets (like worldwide military spending, media buzz, Facebook status updates) into beautiful, simple diagrams that tease out unseen patterns and connections. Good design, he suggests, is the best way to navigate information glut — and it may just change the way we see the world.”

    Friday Roundup: 5/5/2017


    Our weekly roundup highlights links to articles and talks to help you be a more effective leader.
    1. Reza Aslan Thinks TV Can End Bigotry (NY Times)
      “On your new show, “Believer,” you examine niche, sometimes extreme, global religious traditions. Do you think this is the best time for a show like this?”
      “It is the most perfect time possible. There is no medium on this earth that has more power to transform the way that people think about others than television.”

    Friday Roundup: 4/28/17


    Our weekly roundup highlights links to articles and talks to help you be a more effective leader.
    1. 4 Ways Startups Can Harness Innovation and Disruption (Entrepreneur)
      “Both Harvard Business Review and McKinsey found that diverse companies out-innovate and out-perform their peers.” 

    2. What Creativity in Marketing Looks Like Today (Harvard Business Review)

      “The measurability of digital engagement means we can now know exactly what’s working and not working. This gives marketing an opportunity to measure and manage itself in new ways. In the past, marketing measured success by sticking to budgets and winning creative awards. Today, the ability to measure data and adjust strategies in real-time enables marketing to prove its value to the business in entirely new ways.”
    3. Got a meeting? Take a walk (TED)
      “…there’s this amazing thing that leads to out-of-the-box thinking. Whether it’s nature or the exercise itself, it certainly works.”
    4. Three Overlooked Negotiation Skills Entrepreneurs Need To Master (Forbes)

      “Of course, trends come and go, and it is only normal for people to jump on the bandwagon of the moment. Usually, behaviors revert back to normal after a few weeks and the repercussions are few and far between.

      When it comes to negotiation, however, it’s a very different story. Entrepreneurs who enter into negotiations with a simplistic, one-size-fits-all approach, the fallout can have long-lasting effects.”


      A Conversation with Northwestern MSC Alumna, Adriana Leyva

      Adriana currently works as a consultant at Ernst & Young in Chicago, consulting with organizations in the financial sector. In addition to working in change management services, she works within people advisory services, specializing in human beings. As a consultant, she enjoys the collaborative environment of bouncing ideas off each other in a team.

      At what point in your career did you enter the Northwestern MSC program?

      Before I entered the MSC program, I was back home in Colombia, working as a strategic planning vice president and head of the project management office for the insurance broker Marsh. I was in charge of communications and change management for all strategic initiatives.

      Why was this the right time and program for you?

      I started to feel like my brain was getting into a comfort zone that I didn’t like. I needed to activate it. When you’re a consultant you’re learning all the time and always changing clients, projects, teams, and subjects. In my old job, however, because the strategic planning process was very long, and I would usually get very comfortable in every project. I asked for opportunities that made me uncomfortable, but they didn’t have anything for me in the country. I thought to myself, I can either change jobs or go study. My heart told me I needed to go study so I decided to come here.

      What were the more challenging parts of the program and were these different being an international student?

      For me, the program was such a shock at first because I had been out of school for a while. Before I was a working woman, now I was a student on a budget. I wanted to prove to myself that I could manage in a different setting. It also was a culture shock. Colombians are very open and here it is more individualistic.

      Being the oldest international student from Latin America was originally challenging, but I learned to leverage my differences to connect with others. It was a team effort. My classmates, who were from diverse cultures and backgrounds, taught me to have a fresh perspective and opened me up to their outlooks of the world. In turn, they were able to leverage the longer work experience I had in our classes.

      I also realized that my accent was an asset, rather than a liability and I was proud of it. My accent is a blend of British, Australian, and Colombian (American influenced English).  I used to be concerned that people wouldn’t understand what I was saying, but I learned that people not only could understand me, but also found my accent interesting and memorable, and paid more attention.  

      What was your favorite aspect of MSC at Northwestern?

      You will meet amazing people while you learn amazing stuff. I met people who will be my friends forever. Sometimes when you enter a master’s program you have the idea of just networking, but these are genuinely good people. I was longing to connect with people when I got here, and that made me go out of my comfort zone. I think it’s amazing that these relationships will grow and become very meaningful for the rest of your life.

      Can you talk about the value of the MSC network?

      The first day orientation, I sat next to this woman named Victoria Priola and we talked about the six degrees of separation. I didn’t think we were connected because I am from Colombia and I didn’t know a single soul in Chicago. I told her I loved doing yoga and was a yoga teacher. She told me she got certified by a Colombian yoga teacher in New York, who it turns out was the same teacher who certified me! We became friends right away and took a class together and got to work together.

      One day I went to lunch with Victoria, and she asked me what I wanted to do. I told her I’d love to stay in Chicago and go back into consulting. She told me she could introduce me to one of her good friends who was a partner at Ernst & Young. What happened to me was a sign that what my MSC professor, Nosh Contractor, who teaches networking, said was true. It was through my network that I became friends with Victoria and have my job now. 

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

      If you are an international student, ask for the program to connect you to other international students who have finished the program. It’s helpful to have different perspectives of what it’s like being an international student. If you can, try and go to one of the classes and ask people about their experiences. Definitely by all means, build your network and build a group of friends that will be there for you. Go outside of your comfort zone and reach out to people. Don’t be afraid to leverage the people you know to explore opportunities to get to where you want to go. Build a network, but don’t just view it as a network; see it as a support system. Finally, I would say study and do something with your degree – make your investment at Northwestern worth it.

      Faculty Spotlight: A Conversation with MSC Professor Alexis Lauricella

      Alexis Lauricella’s research examines the impact of media technology on children and adolescents with a focus on the educational potential of media experiences. She has conducted survey research that studies parents’ and teachers’ attitudes towards young children’s media use and she is currently studying the effects of food marketing on children under the age of 12. She is also the founder of www.PlayLearnParent.com, a website dedicated to translating child-development research for parents.

      Lauricella taught at Georgetown as a graduate student and her work there was  interdisciplinary, focusing on communication and media. It is her second year teaching for Northwestern MSC.   

      Can you talk a little bit about the MSC class you teach and the main takeaways for students?

      I teach a research methods class, which is something I was really excited about and believe is a very important class to take. Teaching students how to read and apply research is something I’m really passionate about on the graduate and undergraduate level.

      My class is very applied and industry focused. There’s a lot of attention on how to interpret reports of research to understand what really happened and to use and communicate that wisely. For example, knowing how to conduct market research other organizations would want to use, as well as how to approach your boss with ideas of doing research in the best possible way.

      The research methods class is only for the international students, so it’s definitely a unique subpopulation and a really good learning environment for me. I study children’s media in the U.S., so I learn a whole lot about other cultures and countries. For example, a lot of my adolescent work is on Facebook, which is not used in places like China.

      How did you get into this part of communications (research methods)?

      I’m a developmental psychologist by training, so research methods were very much a key focus and something I really liked. I study children and how they learn and use media. When studying children, you have to be very creative in methodologies. For example, surveys aren’t the best for toddlers. Similarly, I feel that parents and health practitioners get too much of their research from the news and press articles, and then use those findings wildly. I believe it’s really important for everyone to understand the research methods that are behind the findings they rely on. I focus on this applied concept in my undergraduate and graduate class. For example, how far you can expand findings based on the way a study was conducted or how to put pieces back together backward as a consumer of research.

      Is there a difference between MSC students and the undergraduate students you teach?

      In my undergraduate class, it is often students’ first exposure to research methods. So it has more of an academic bend, along with a very applied focus.

      In my MSC class, the curriculum is more industry focused. Many MSC students have already had a research course, so expectations are higher and more challenging. I definitely encourage students to pick topics that are relevant to them. A lot of students in my MSC class are still working, so I want students to target their research for a proposal they can give a new employer or related to an industry they are working in.

      What would you say is the difference between organizational/industrial research and academic research?

      I study children’s media, so often times TV producers and app or toy producers want research to back up claims that their app works. Often those research projects are turned around pretty quickly, whereas most of our national science grants are 3 to 5 year grants. So the time frame is big limitation for industry relevant research.

      You’re also asking different research questions in those two environments. With products or industry, you know who your audience is and who you’re communicating your research to. Thus, you don’t necessarily need a diverse population or sample. With academic research, you have to start from scratch to identify these people.

      What makes Northwestern MSC different from other Masters in Communications programs?

      Northwestern MSC is a professional program for people who want to learn timeless concepts relatively quickly and use them in whatever field they are in or want to enter. The faculty is very strong and the staff is extremely organized. Plus, the students get an interesting and diverse set of classes and experiences.

      Any interesting and unique research or projects that you have been working on through the program?

      We are doing work for Common Sense Media, an organization and big research hub that focuses on educating parents and educators.

      We are currently leading research for them from start to finish. So we’re developing the questionnaire, working with the survey company, doing the analyses, and writing the report once the data comes in. They are creating a large nationally representative survey of parents of age eight to 18 with the purpose of understanding parent perspectives of youth media use. We want to understand the larger context of media use at home and what parents do about it.

      We also collaborate with groups that take our descriptive research and do something more applied with it. We’ve been working with Anne Marie Piper, who does human computer interaction research and works with computer scientists who develop applications.

      Cuba – A trip of a lifetime

      Current MSC Student Joe Martin enjoyed a trip to Cuba over the holiday break – his reflections are below.  Enjoy!
      _______

      Cuba, A trip of a lifetime, yes! Being able to visit a country where the United States had limited access was life changing. President Obama had opened up the doors to a new relationship with Cuba and I thought that this would be a great opportunity to take part in on my father’s Legacy and 10th anniversary of The Joe “Butch” Martin Fund. During my winter break from Graduate school at Northwestern, I decide to create a Humanitarian project where I would visit a world unknown. It was kind of scary because going to Cuba was so new, and no one knew what I needed to do, and I didn’t know what to expect while I was there. If It wasn’t for my high school counselor at E.T.H.S Roz Pollack, a NU alumni, who guided me to the right people, they were able to take care of me from the beginning to the end of the trip. Being in Cuba, my experience was like I was a native, even though I was a tourist. I learned so much about what life was like there and how living there seemed as if you stepped back in time. I couldn’t believe how much Spanish I understood while not practicing for years. I hope Cuba gets everything they need to restore a country that ha een without for so long. Cuba was defiantly a great experience and I hope to go back in the future. I also hope many of you go and visit and see how you can help Cuba too.  This humanitarian trip to Cuba was an inspiration with the help of our family fund The Joe “Butch” Martin Fund managed by the Evanston Community Foundation. My Family linked up with Th EFC after my father died because we wanted to do something to honor him and help the Evanston Community.  I am glad the foundation was able to help with the process of entering Cuba and help our family fulfill our global responsibility. As a graduate student, I wanted to visit the University of Havana to see what others student’s campus life was like. At Northwestern, we are so fortunate to have so many resources and a world renounced education. The experience was moving to see other student fulling their dreams to have a great education as well.  I was also able to donate some items to the people of Cuba, through my sister and Oakton Community College, which they were thrilled to receive as well.

      My first night in Cuba I ran into Chicago native rapper/actor Common. He was a real nice guy and asked me why I was there and we took a photo together.  I am hoping to attend his foundations gala in Chicago this year as well.

      This was my second international trip on behalf of the Joe “Butch” Martin Fund. Around 5 years ago, I visited the Philippines and traveled to the city of Manila to meet Heily Pagod. She is a young girl which our family sponsors in honor of my father’s mother who is Filipino. On my trip, I bought gifts collected by my family members to show Heily she had a family in Evanston who cared.

      In addition to sponsoring Hailey, our family donates to the safe water drinking act which provides clean water to children all over the world. We donate to organizations that protect the environment and plant trees every year. We volunteer at The Ronald McDonald House of Chicago and enjoy making a difference in children lives. Besides giving grants to Evanston based nonprofit organizations, we also honor two African American men in the community who do so much and our unsung heroes. We as a family embrace our culture and know that the world is of many colors and we make sure that we represent everyone and protect the environment as well.

      On our 10th anniversary this fall with the Joe “Butch” Martin Fund our family still follows the vision we created which is Family, Legacy, & Tradition.  As Evanstonions, we want my father’s legacy to remain so generations from now will benefit from what the Martin family started.  For the 10th anniversary benefit this September we are hoping to raise $35,000 which is what is needed to have the fund going forever.   Being the first African American family to create our fund under the ECF’s umbrella was one of the greatest things we could have ever done. As our 10th year approaches, we have some new projects we are working on that will help maintain our legacy and provide great opportunities for our Evanston community.

      Joseph Martin
       MSC Class of 2017

      Application Recommendations

      Selecting the right people to submit recommendations on your behalf can be a difficult decision.  Let’s take a minute to help you understand the process and maybe provide some insight in to how we use the recommendations in the application evaluation.

      We try to make the recommendation process as painless as possible for the people submitting the recommendation.  We realize these are very busy people and they are also doing you a favor.  Once you fill out the application with the name, email, etc. of your recommender they automatically get an email from us with a link.  The link takes them to a webpage with a list of competencies we consider important to success in the MSC program – things like Professionalism, Self-awareness, Initiative, Integrity.  We ask them to rank you on a scale of 1-6.  Then we ask three short answer questions.  Pretty simple really – this way the recommender doesn’t have to try to guess what we want to know and come up with a letter from scratch.

      So, who do you ask to submit a recommendation?  Many people believe that a recommendation from someone with a big title or significant responsibilities is the best way to go.  That’s not necessarily the case.  We want to hear from people that can speak intelligently about you, people that know you and your work and can comment on your ability to add value to the program.

      My last piece of advice is to spend some time talking to your recommenders about why you are applying to the program.  Talk to them about your essay and how you are hoping to leverage your abilities in your application.  This does two things – first you and your recommender can be consistent in your message and that consistency goes a long way in our evaluation.  Second, you might learn something new from your recommender – they might talk about strengths you hadn’t thought of and help you add even more to your application.

      Last but not least – we get recommendations from all types, bosses, peers, subordinates, clergy, professors – you name it, all are great options.  That said every once in a while, we get a recommendation from a parent – try to avoid that.

      What comes after a Masters in Communication?

      One of the most common questions prospective students ask when they call to learn about our program is, “What comes after a communication master’s degree?” It’s a great question and there’s no one answer because of the wide variety of communication career opportunities. Every year we see graduates either transition into or continue to climb up a diverse range of industries including financial services, healthcare, advertising and marketing, consulting, law, government, nonprofit and more.

      .

      The list of available jobs for communication graduates after a communication masters is equally long and diverse, and it includes strategic planning, brand development, advertising and communications, public relations, human resource and general management.

      Hopefully you’re getting a sense of why that question is so hard to answer. So many of the available jobs for communication graduates depend on where your career has been and more importantly, where you want to go.

      About half of our graduates report to us that in the two years after graduating with a communication masters they have either changed industries or job functions. We attribute that to the fact that first, our students are driven and second, the skills taught in our program apply across the job market.

      So, no matter what you are looking to do after a communication masters, whether its advance where you are or transition into something new, you can be assured that there’s no limit to the communication career opportunities open to Master of Science in Communication graduates from Northwestern University.

      Matt Peyton
      Admissions and Marketing Coordinator
      MSC Program