USC Online Master of Communication Management Student Spotlight Webinar

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Date: Originally presented, March 2, 2016

Description

This event is a Student Spotlight webinar that details the student experience in the online Master’s in Communication program, program outcomes and curriculum. It also features information about USC and USC Annenberg as well as the online community and also covers admission requirements.

Panelists

Neil Teixeira, Director of Distance Learning USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

Alexis Santoro, Online MCM Student (Graduating Spring 2016). Alexis is a current online MCM student who will be graduating this Spring 2016. In addition to being a student, Alexis is a Marketing Communication Direct at Nike, Inc. where she leads the marketing and communication efforts for a cross-functional global program. Prior to Nike, Inc., she worked at Sephora, Inc. where she engaged with brands to develop educational videos and social media campaigns. She has also spent time working the social media and public relations space, both agency and in-house.

Leyla Seyidzadeh, Online MCM Student (Graduating Spring 2016). Leyla is a current online MCM student who will be graduating this Spring 2016. Now Leyla is leading External Relations function in the biggest logistics & distribution company in Azerbaijan. She mainly focuses on Corporate Communications, Government Relations and Social Media in her current role. Also Leyla is an owner of one of the fastest growing start-ups in the country which is focused on promoting “edutainment” approach to education of children in the age of 4-12 through different events and activities. Leyla started career of communication specialist in her twenty joining Procter & Gamble team in Azerbaijan. Later she also worked for several international companies in Azerbaijan and Turkey. Leyla is certified corporate trainer and consultant.

Transcript

Melissa:
Hello everyone. I will be your moderator for today. Thank you for joining us today for the University of Southern California, online Masters of Communication Management Student Spotlight webinar. We appreciate you taking the time our of your busy schedules to find out more about this online program and our online students. This session will be audio only through your computer speakers. We have reserved time at the close of this presentation to answer all of your questions. During the webinar please feel free to type your questions into the Q&A box as you think of them. We hope you find this session informative and helpful.

Now I’d like to share with you our agenda for today. As you can see here, we will begin with our student section and then we will go onto our presenter, Neil. I’d like and I’m pleased to introduce our panelists. Our first speakers for today will be our two students.

Our first speaker is Alexis. She is a current online student graduating in spring. In addition to being an online student, she’s is the marketing communication director at Nike where she leads the marketing and communication efforts for a cross-functional global program. Prior to Nike, she worked at Sephora where she engaged with brands to develop educational videos and social media campaigns. She has also spent time working in the social media and public relations space, both in agency and in-house.

Our next student speaker today is Leyla Seyidzadeh. She is a current online student graduating in Spring as well. She directs external relations for the largest logistics and distribution company in her home country, overseeing corporate communication, government relations, and social media. She’s also owner of one of the country’s fastest growing startups which focuses on promoting education of children age 4-12 through an “edutainment” approach. Leyla began her communication career with Procter & Gamble and has worked for several international companies in both Azerbaijan and Turkey. Leyla is a certified corporate trainer and consultant.

Now for our third speaker and last speaker for today is Neil. He is the director of distance learning at USC Annenberg school for communication and journalist. He has worked in the field of distance learning for over 14 years developing online education programs with USC and Google. He is an alumnus of the USC Annenberg Master of Communication Management program. I’m pleased to pass along to Neil who will be moderating our student panel section. Neil.

Neil:
Thanks so much Melissa. I really appreciate it and thank you so much to Leyla and Alexis for joining us today. I know that they are busy wrapping up their final semester in the online program. Leyla is actually calling from the 12 hours difference time from Azerbaijan. I really appreciate both of them taking time out of the schedules to be involved in our student’s spotlight panel. I’m going to begin by asking them both why they wanted to pursue a masters of communication management degree. I’ll ask Alexis to answer first.

Alexis:
Sure. I began the process of evaluating if I wanted to go back to school or not knowing that I was ready to further my career and take it to the next level. I knew that I wanted to pursue a higher level of education. For me it was looking between an MBA in some sort of communication degree. Specifically I wanted to go to a school that had a top reputation and that I knew I would get top tier professors and quality out of the work. Then I started looking a lit bit closer and knew that I really wanted to focus on communication versus going for a traditional MBA and then came across the MCM program which was perfect for my need. I was based in San Francisco and wasn’t willing or able to leave my job of before at the time and so really needed something that was respectable with my professional career as well as giving me accessibility to obtain my masters degree. Knowing that I had the goal of getting the high level education plus I really was looking for a prestigious school and reputation it just all came together with this program. That’s kind of why I pursued it and how I chose it.

Neil:
Thanks Alexis. Before I move onto Leyla I just want to ask a follow-up question. What parts of the MCM degree appealed to you over say the MBA?

Alexis:
I really am focused on marketing communication and I knew I was going to be needing or was interested in some of the courses that were in a traditional MBA, and what I found and loved about the MCM program was it took the best of the best within the marketing space plus journalism/communication and they were the perfect blend of what I was looking for that I could apply to my career. I’d been in marketing communication long enough to know the skill I needed, the activities, the programs, et cetera. When looking through the different courses that would be offered to me it was more valuable to me than a traditional MBA, that’s why I went with that.

Neil:
That’s great. Leyla, why did you want to pursue a Master of Communication Management degree?

Leyla:
Actually I had my first master’s and bachelor’s degree as a lawyer but I started my communication career very early at my [inaudible 00:06:19] from P&G, Procter and Gamble, and from that time communication became my real passion. That’s why all the time I wanted to learn more and P&G was a great experience but still I believed that having some degree on communication management from one of the top and actually the top programs would grow my capacity more and will help me to become a really independent specialist. Not like the specialists with some specific corporate experience and corporate style of one organization or company, but more general. That’s why I decided to give a try and to get the degree.

Also actually I enjoy every minute at work and while learning and all this too challenging here actually. One of my dreams, the plan, is to teach communication management at one of the universities in Azerbaijan, in another country, and for this I definitely need a degree.

Neil:
That’s great. I also wanted to ask a follow-up question about that. Why was it important to you to get a degree that let’s you be more of a generalist when it comes to your work and not so much a specific part of an element of an organization? It seems to me like you’re saying you wanted to do more broad consulting, is that correct?

Leyla:
Actually I started with P&G and Procter and Gamble is a great school and great experience but at some point you just become “PG-arized” as we used to say and I didn’t want to be based only on P&G experience and P&G knowledge, because then I moved to brewer’s company, international beer company, and then to one of the best clinics in Turkey. Then I realized that I just need more general approach and more general knowledge about communications which I can apply in any field I work, because at some point I started to look at communications and [inaudible 00:08:57] only as if P&G employee and I felt that it somehow limited me, but the program grew my capacity significantly.

Neil:
Great. Thank you so much for answering that. I appreciate it. I’m going to move onto the next question. Sorry. Why did you decide to attend USC Annenberg’s online MCM program given that there are other online program in communication out there? Alexis?

Alexis:
For me it was pretty simple. I received my undergraduate degree from, it was Pac-10 back then back then, but Pac-12 school and I knew the reputation of USC already so I had been dialed into the various graduate programs you then offered, and knew going into my search that I needed something online and something flexible. I would suggest to all of you to think about whether or not you have the flexibility to go on campus or if you need something online. I think with our busy schedules and with today’s technology we are more apt to learning online, so I was very much open to online education. You’re not getting the in-person as you would be going to a classroom and I knew that going into looking for this online program, and again it just came down to really looking at the curriculum. Did it hit my needs, was it something that I was going to be furthering my career with, could I apply it, was it interesting to me? I knew going in that I was willing to try this online method and what I will say too is you have to be prepared to decide to hold yourself even more accountable versus going into a sit down classroom.

Leyla and I both, we honestly can’t attend any of the classes, even though they were offered up, to go and sit in and meet the professors. You have to have that level of discipline and drive to know that doing something online means deadlines and timelines aren’t going to be as hard as going to an actual classroom and sitting and hearing the lecture, but it’s on your own time and then you know you have assignments due. I knew going in there’d be group work and you have to be flexible. For me the decision was easy because I needed that flexibility and I knew going in that I was excited about doing my graduate degree online and having the flexibility for my life. That’s why I decided.

Neil:
That’s great. How did the program live up to what you thought it was going to be for being USB Annenberg and online?

Alexis:
It’s completely exceeded all expectations. I’m sure you know my story but working at Nike was always a dream to be at a corporation like this, and working Nike for me was big. Half way through the program I was given the opportunity to apply and actually received the position I’m in now because ultimately people were interested int he fact that I was receiving a master’s from USC, so very, very pleased with that and the experiences again exceed all expectations. Some of my best friends I get to meet when I walk in spring, and Leyla, I get to meet her. I think all around I thought it would be a little bit more siloed when in fact it is not. There’s a huge community. Like I said, some of my best friends that I’ll have for life I’ve met through this program and I’ve yet to even meet them in person. If that gives you some perspective of how close you will be with these people and same with the professors. Some of them are mentors to me now, I talk to them quite frequently. It’s this wonderful community that actually beyond the curriculum and the learning that was something surprising to me that I’m taking away with the experience.

Neil:
Thank you so much Alexis I really appreciate that. Leyla, how did you even hear about USC Annenberg in Azerbaijan and how did you make the decision to come to USC?

Leyla:
Actually as I said, when I decided that I have to get a degree I started to search over the internet actually, because I don’t have any peers or colleagues in Azerbaijan who are in my, let’s say communication and who really have some degree. It’s all people who moved from some other field and et cetera. Actually what I did is I was just searching over the internet and I realized that I wanted to have only communication degree and not MBA, not anything else. I just really typed like, top 3 programs for communications specialist, because I wanted the best one and of course USC popped up immediately in Google search, in the first line. Then I made some research on 2, 3 programs and I realized that the content which USC has it’s exactly for the practicing specialist.

Azerbaijan is a very dynamic and developing market, every time something happens, so you really need a very strong experience and knowledge. That’s why I decided that USC will be the best choice for me. Also I strongly believe after P&G and after I’ve worked in some other companies that overall United States I believe is the cradle of communication and management, and that’s why I was really looking over some programs in the United States only. I also needed online program because of the family and all other circumstances, but what I learnt about USC online program that this is a very dynamic program and you really feel yourself in the classroom. It’s not really distant learning it’s online program everyday in your life, and I wanted exactly this kind of challenge that’s why USC was the best choice for me.

Neil:
Thanks so much Leyla and I really appreciate you staying on with us even though it’s after midnight you time. I really, really thank you for that.

Leyla:
Thank you.

Neil:
Next question. How has this degree helped your career path, the opportunities that you have right now as well as your future career path, Alexis? I know you touched on it briefly but maybe you might want to tell that story.

Alexis:
Yeah, sure. I think what I can say is that it’s helped me both when I was at Sephora and now that I’m at Nike, just conceptualizing speaking theory, applying it, and now I can apply it right now to Nike. I’ve learnt to communicate with numbers which is not something I enjoyed and was quite fearful of, and now I dig right in with it. That is something that a lot of people don’t know how to do and to be able to do that without any fear and know what I’m talking about has been really helpful.

Running the global program I have to say is quite a challenge. Taking classes about integrative marketing and knowing the different levers that you have and knowing how to keep your finger on the pulse has been very helpful. Knowing how to communicate with different countries that have different preferences and speak and maybe prefer images versus words and knowing what colors to use an et cetera, that’s been very, very helpful. It’s been helpful in terms of execution and like Leyla has said, capacity. My capabilities has just completely accelerated through the roof and I feel like I have a toolkit, a very unique marketing communication toolkit that at any time in my current position and then looking forward to the future I know that I can excel and I can succeed. I think that’s a very great thing to have, that kind of confidence in yourself and knowing that you have the backing and the tools to do well in your current position and kind of push the limits, but then also looking forward to the future using the skills I have to get me to where I want to be.

I have to say again I use everything that I’ve ever learned and touched upon in every class. Every class has been applicable to my job and looking forward I know I’m going to be applying it. I’ve been receiving great response. Running the global program, that’s cross-functional across a huge enterprise. I don’t know if I could do it without the skills that I have today from this program, so very, very helpful.

Neil:
Thank you Alexis. Leyla, did you also find the program to be applicable to what you were trying to do with your career?

Leyla:
Actually yes and that’s amazing because literally there were some days where I just learnt something or read something and went at work and applied it. That’s why I really loved the program and especially the puzzle, communication puzzle. It was really useful and I even implemented some projects based on that.

Neil:
The strategic corporate communication puzzle?

Leyla:
Yes. Yes, the puzzle. It was at the time when I was invited to some crisis communication group on the garment level, because there was some big event on the garment level, and they failed in communication. I was invited to make a strategic communication plan for them and I really used puzzle. It was exactly at the time when we were starting this. Overall it helped me. What I learned during the program helped me a lot because when we came close to the end of the program I was confident enough to start my own business. Now it’s one of the fastest growing startups and I’m really grateful for USC for that, because I feel more confident, I know how to shape our organization overall, not just the communication part. It’s really very helpful and in terms of future career path, now I feel like there are no borders and I don’t have only experience in Azerbaijan because now I have this international outlook and I really plan to move to another country to work like in a couple of years.

Neil:
Fantastic. Just to tack onto an idea you both expressed which is the global outlook, both in the curriculum and then also your career outlooks. Alexis could you touch on that? You lead a global group, how has the program helped you develop that global outlook not only for what you do professionally but your career?

Alexis:
I think it’s opened a lot of doors for me and expanded my idea of what my career could even be in terms of just the program itself. You’re working cross-functionally within the enterprise, and Nike’s headquarters are actually here in America but we have headquarters also in China and we have headquarters in Europe. You’re now dealing cross borders and to be able to deliver a global program and get buy-in seems like it would be an easy feat, it is not.

I think that the program itself helped to open my eyes to how big the world really is, and in marketing communications it can get very focused on where we are at or just on a specific target audience, but understanding what localization means, center led means, and how to communicate and be persuasive with your cross-functional partners that are very critical to the success of a program and ultimately the company’s holistic goal. Keeping your mind on that bigger picture. It’s really about the bigger picture and what that looks like and how to navigate in the global arena is a lot different than not being exposed to that. You might think you know but when you’re actually going through these courses and really getting a look see and doing research on expanding into a new country and what it means, et cetera it makes a huge difference. I’m very grateful for the global experience especially in the role that I’m in right now, doing this global program, because there’s one thing to do something country specific but the hoops you have to jump through become that much greater when you go global. You have to be prepared for that.

Then looking forward to the future, it would be wonderful to be ale to do what I do somewhere else and to have that experience and knowledge to go to Europe for a year or 2 and lead the global program there. I just feel like my world got that much bigger because you begin to think globally and for me that has been a wonderful thing and a huge asset.

Neil:
Thank you so much Alexis. Leyla, what’s next for your company, your startup? Is it going global or you’re going to keep on expanding within Azerbaijan?

Leyla:
No I plan to register it for the franchising and it definitely will go global. I will start with closer countries. I’m thinking now about Georgia and Kazakhstan. Who knows maybe next Turkey and Dubai. Working in international companies with USC degree, as I said, there are no borders, no limits in the mind anymore. What I believe, that the sky is the limit and why to stay in a small market like Azerbaijan when you can do more? It’s really possible.

Neil:
I love the ambition. That’s so awesome, that’s really great. That’s actually one of the 5 attributes of a Trojan is ambition and I definitely see it in both of you, so really excited about your future. The next question I’d like to ask is a bit about your experience. You can talk about any elements that you find you want to share with our student population, or potential student population, today. I did want to mention one thing that came up in your conversation just a minute ago Alexis which was the idea of leading a diverse team. If you can briefly, among other things, touch on the idea of how you worked with other students in the program and maybe how that may have helped prepare you for working on a distributed virtualized team.

Alexis:
I think that’s a great question. I think that this program itself and having to do everything online and collaborate. For instance, Leyla and I had the pleasure of working together as a team and after working with somebody who’s in a completely different country, and working with professors online and everything is virtual, overseeing a global program where literally I have maybe 20 people here but the rest are dispersed all over the global it has been very, very helpful in terms of patience, listening. These are fundamental things. I’m a better communicator I would say in terms of what needs to be said and when and how, if we’re having a call versus email. I think that the exposure and the day-to-day as Leyla was saying, this program is not just an online program where you can go on when you want type of thing this is part of your life. It’s part of your everyday life and it’s wonderful and you get really immersed into it.

For me specifically the transition going from being country specific at Sephora to now a global team and running the global program it was a very, very seamless transition for me, it’s like nothing. I can collaborate, I’ve built cross border relationships with my teams because you have no choice, but I know what it’s like. I’ve been doing this now for some time so it’s been very, very helpful in building those relationships when all you have is phone or webinar, or video, et cetera. Yeah, for me it’s been very helpful in my career and moving forward I think a lot of companies are moving to virtual. If you are working on a global project or program, or company, or even if you’ve got locations within the country but you’ve got one in the west coast versus east coast, it’s very important to be familiar with the process of online communication. That is something that is not part of the curriculum of the program but it’s something that you will get out of it and be very happy that you’re familiar and comfortable with.

Neil:
Thanks so much Alexis. How about you Leyla, what are some of your experiences being in the USC online program?

Leyla:
Actually first it was challenging. It was challenging but it’s an unforgettable experience and if I were asked in what way I wanted to study I would do it again. It’s not only about the content but it’s all about the design of the program. It’s about challenging deadlines, it’s about the teamwork, so you learn a lot from this point of view as well and with teamwork especially. Before online program of course I worked in a team, in a big team, multi-functional teams, even multi-national teams; but it was never as challenging as here when you really, really depend on each other because if someone will not write his part at the time you will have to do that or it will create big problems for you and the whole team.

Accountability, responsibility, ownership, all this really was experienced here in online program but at the same time I had the great pleasure to work with and to collaborate with really awesome people like Alexis and many others. I really found real friends and at some point we found out, like during one of the courseworks I think, we found out that we were invited in Google online chat like 24 hours in reality. To stay in a stressful situation 24 hours in a chat, in a Google video chat, is really stressful but you learn a lot from this kind of experience. You really learn how to stand for this kind of situations and for communications specialists to stay calm during the stressful times is a key. That’s the best experience. Not talking about excellent experience in terms of the content, professors, et cetera.

Neil:
Great. Can you talk a little bit about what it was like to work with fault and other students online? I think our audience probably is wondering in an online program do I get to know my peers well or do I get to know my faculty well like I would on campus. This is open to … We’ll go Alexis first if you don’t mind.

Leyla:
Sorry.

Alexis:
I actually to be quite honest had that concern myself going into that because that was something I wanted to get out of this, that hands-on experience with these knowledgeable professors and my classmates. I’d have to say that they’ve gone above and beyond to make themselves available whether it be whatever online platform we use to do video chats, to jump on a phone call. One of my classes it is really stressful up until the end, getting the finals completed, and I had a call with my professor I would say probably everyday just to make sure it was perfect and I was on the right track. They really make themselves available. I felt like I almost got more attention because I wasn’t in-person so I couldn’t go into specific office hours. It was like, okay let’s go ahead and what times works for you. I never had an issues of getting in touch with any of them whatsoever. Of course they hosted their own office hours that you could jump into but I felt like it was very personalized and I got to know them. It’s kind of they’ve available to you all the time. I never didn’t hear back. The longest I waited to hear back on an email was maybe a day but I sent it at night, so I got a response the next morning. They’re very tapped in and very connected.

I do feel that you have to utilize. I was a little timid in the first semester, to be honest, about reaching out because I wasn’t there, I didn’t know them, I didn’t see them, but the more I got comfortable with the program and some of my team member and classmates I just started reaching out more; and the more that I reached out the more I got back from them. Again, it was just jumping on a call and having conversations. The professors scheduled live sessions that were very, very helpful, that if you could attend live, which was wonderful, and they answered any questions you had. It was very open to being in your life and helping you through the course. Then it’s wonderful having everything recorded, so if you couldn’t attend you could still watch the video of the live sessions and then call in or email some questions. I feel really connected to the professors and I actually cannot wait to meet them in person because they have been so overly helpful because of the online atmosphere.

Neil:
Thanks Alexis, and Leyla you mentioned you made what you consider lifelong friends which impresses me. Not only were you able to successfully complete the program from Azerbaijan but actually make lifelong connections with people that you haven’t yet met.

Leyla:
Yes, that’s true. Actually in terms of the faculty I totally agree with Alexis. I totally support all she said, it all the time felt like you were in real class and instructors are really connected, and student support is really connected so you always can knock the door and talk. It feels like that. In terms of the making friends, yes indeed. Now we are planning our trip, like 4 or 5 of us. With some people maybe I was in one course like 2 semesters ago, but still we are all the time in Blackboard sharing something with each other. Actually I got my second baby we called her, because it was during USC time, we were calling her Baby USC. That’s why I’m coming with her because the girls from the program they are waiting.

Neil:
They want to meet Baby USC. That’s fantastic.

Leyla:
Yes, Baby USC, so I’m bringing her. Overall, even at this challenging time for every woman, it’s normal. I would say that faculty and peers they were so supportive. I was so impressed because during this 2 years I lived a couple of challenging moments, when I moved to Turkey, back; I had the the pregnancy. It was not easy years in terms of personal life as well but I really could overcome that because of the great support. The program is not only great in terms of the status and the content but it’s also great in terms of personal experience with people. Also, I will not disclose all the details, but I would tell that there were several situations when I told instructors and professors that I really learned from them how to be a great person not just a great specialist.

Neil:
Thank you so much Leyla I really appreciate that, it’s great. Finally, what advice would you each give to a perspective student who’s looking at the online MCM program? Go ahead Alexis.

Alexis:
Oh that’s a good one. That’s a good one to end with. I would say my advice to anybody looking into this program is to first and foremost do your homework, explore the program inside and out, really look at the courses, identify what your needs are and really think about what you’re trying to get out of this because it is a very accelerated program, it’s very challenging. I would be lying to say it wasn’t but at the end of the day it is completely worth it, but I would advise you to really think about what you’re willing to, I don’t want to say the word sacrifice, but what you’re willing to gain out of 2 years of extremely hard work. You will be working very hard. Just really look to see does the program offer you what you’re looking for outside of just getting the master’s degree because it’s very useful when you can take what you’re learning and apply them in your everyday life, and it will advance your career if you apply it and it is something that you feel will propel you forward.

If it doesn’t match up to your needs you might want to think about that because again it is very challenging, it is not a cakewalk, but it is still ultimately rewarding on both personal and professional levels. What you’re going to put in you’re going to get 10 times more when you’re finished with this program, but really think about the next 2 years of years life, what that looks like, and then beyond. Where do you want to be and what are the core capabilities that you need to get you to those places because if the course line up to what capabilities you need to get there go full in and go for it. If it doesn’t line up and 2 years seems a little scary think about it because once you hit go and you get out of those get it is full steam ahead for the 2 years, but it’s so great.

Leyla and I are both so close to walking and getting our diplomas, I couldn’t be more excited and so proud of myself and all of my classmates and whatnot, and it’s a huge achievement. I would just advise really do your homework, vet it out as best you can and really think about what you want to get out of the program and how you will apply it. Then I truly belief it’s worth it if you can check the box yes and answer all those questions and be willing to have a challenge for the next 2 years I say 100 percent go for it, but do you r homework before you jump in.

Neil:
Alexis, real quick before I move onto Leyla, how many terms did you take to finish the program, was it 4 or 5?

Alexis:
I think I did 4. I did not stop.

Neil:
You took 2 courses a term?

Alexis:
Yeah.

Neil:
Okay, so you finished in 16 months. Just to clarify for some of our attendees, you can finish the program as quickly as 16 months, which is 4 USC terms. Some students take 5 terms but most students finished under 2 years, so when Alexis mentions 2 years those 2 year can go by pretty fast if you’re only going to finish the program in 16 months. How about you Leyla?

Alexis:
Yeah and at that point-

Neil:
Oh. Go ahead.

Alexis:
I’m sorry.

Neil:
No, go ahead.

Alexis:
I was just going to say to that point, I made the decision that I wanted to power through it and then there were definitely moments where I thought about taking a little bit longer, having the flexibility to do that. My advice for if you want to do the route that I did and just push through it’s very challenging but you get through a little bit quicker. That’s all I can say.

Neil:
Great. Leyla, how about you, advice for a prospective student?

Leyla:
Again, I totally echo Alexis because she said almost everything but what I would like to emphasize once more, yes the program is very rewarding but really very challenging. I also took 2 courses per semester and I would say that I started my business, first time, when I really finally got one course, like in the past semester and I had this free time and I immediately started something else. It is challenging but very rewarding, so if you go through it then it feels like you can do everything and you became so capable that you really can do many, many things. That’s why yes it is challenging but it’s worth it.

To really go through it and live it, and get good results you need to prepare overall, to plan your life and the life of your family because going through online program it’s not about you it’s about whole family. You stay at home during weekends, at night, Friday night, and you just study. It was like one status on Facebook close to now, close to the finish of the program, one of our peers were asking, “guys what we will be doing at the weekends now?” The life totally changes.

Neil:
What are you going to do with your free time now?

Leyla:
Now I don’t have free time anymore because I started a business and I work even harder than the past 2 years, but the flowers go to USC actually because before that I was not so ready for the challenge. Of course being a Trojan what I can say, get ready to fight on.

Neil:
Awesome. Thank you so much Leyla. I want to go ahead and thank both Alexis Santoro and Leyla Seyidzadeh so much for being our student panelists today. I’m going to ask them to go ahead and mute themselves and hold on for Q&A in just a moment. Before that I’m going to go through a very brief presentation about the online Master’s in Communication Management right before the Q&A.

I’m going to start off by talking a little bit about USC. USC and Annenberg are one school. USC is the main school, Annenberg is the … USC is the university and Annenberg is the School of Communication and Journalism within the University of Southern California. USC was founded in 1880, back when LA was a dust village that had welcomed the arrival of the railroad only 4 year prior. USC has grown to become one of the world’s leading private research universities. It’s been a pioneer in distance education offering master’s level classes to professional engineers via satellite in as early as 1972 and the USC Annenberg School is proud to continue that position by offering a fully online MCM degree to communication professionals all over the world.

USC Annenberg School was founded in 1971 through the generosity and leadership of Ambassador Walter H. Annenberg. Today, Annenberg is renowned for it’s innovative approach to communication teaching and research and serves as a hub for discussion among scholars and professionals in communication, journalism, public diplomacy, media, and education. The online Master’s in Communication Management enables USC Annenberg to deliver the same high quality educational experience in a rigorous, engaging and collaborative way.

Now, let me briefly touch on accreditation before I discuss the rest of the program. USC and the online Master’s of Communication Management program have both been reviewed and accredited by WASC, that’s the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and USC is currently ranked in the top 25 among national universities by US. News and World Report. An important thing to ask yourself when you’re looking at programs is, are they regionally accredited, USC’s is, and also what kind of position and status do they hold within maybe the national rankings or within specific school rankings.

Now we’ll talk about the program, it’s curriculum, faculty, and some of the advantages that you’ll have as an online USC student. This program has been designed for both early and mid-career working professionals, so everybody you’ll be taking classes with will play a role in your learning. You will share your work experience, you will talk about issues that are facing the jobs that you’re in, and you will get as much out of the people you are going to classes with as you will from your instructors. The program’s also done in a cohort style which means that you will go through the program with the same group of people over the course of your classes, and each class is divided into sections of no more than about 20 people. That doesn’t mean that you’ll have the same 20 people all the time but everyone will have gone through some of the same courses that you’ve gone through and at certain points of the program you’ll mix with other cohorts and you’ll get to meet a whole lot of new people. I think Alexis and Leyla can attest to the fact that they’ve met a lot of different people and not just people form their cohort.

You can complete the program in less than 2 years, about 16 months to be exact, and this is important because we’ve found for working professionals you have a lot on your plate, you have a lot of responsibilities at work, at home, and your taking classes will add a bit to your workload, so we know it’s important for you to get through it as quickly as possible and we think that doing the program 2 classes per term in about 16 months is the best way for you to get that very important master’s degree. It’s going to be a really rigorous online curriculum. We don’t want you to think that online and easy are synonymous, we want you to think that online is valuable and rigorous. It’s challenging you to think and expand your perspectives. We have a state of the art course design and learning platform integrated with social media tools that encourage personal and professional networking. The feedback we receive from our hundreds of students and our graduates has been terrific, they’re really enjoying the program.

The learning measure system that we use makes connecting with others in your class and your professors very easy and you’ll have a network of people all around the country, and in some occasions around the world as part of your classmates; and you’ll be able to maintain that network long after you’ve completed the program. We’re finding that student are really making strong connections, the connections we thought they would, even though they may come in thinking that online means I’m not going to necessarily make connections we’re really finding that they are and we’re really pleased with that.

I want to talk very quickly about curriculum. These are the classes that you’ll be taking as part of the curriculum you’ll engage in. The way the program is set up students take two classes per semester and everybody begins with core classes CMGT 500, which is managing communication, and a research methodology course called CMGT 540, uses of communication research. Due to our limited time I’ll refrain from going through each and every course here but I will point out that our curriculum is designed to give you an advanced applied skill set in the areas of strategic organizational communication, marketing and PR communication, and data drive analysis for decision making. These are essential skills you can employ to your advantage anywhere your career takes you. Please follow up with one of our enrollment advisors at the end for more information about our curriculum.

The faculty at USC Annenberg are leading communication researchers and practitioners. It’s great you’ll be learning from the same folks who teach on campus. Almost all the faculty you see here have some combination of academic and professional experience including decades long careers in industry and consulting. Additionally, all of your instructors have either a PhD or a terminal degree which makes our online program truly different from the competition. But there’s more to USC, and being a USC Trojan, than just our innovative degree program and our outstanding faculty. When you join USC you become part of the Trojan family. We have an alumni organization in every major city in most countries and wherever you are you’ll be able to find an alumni network to join. I like to say that you’ll have a Trojan in your corner no matter what corner of the world you find yourself in. The Trojan family is really an amazing connection to have and I’m willing to bet that you’ll enjoy watching college sports a little more wearing your USC colors.

Finally, before we get to the admissions process I’ll talk about the capstone experience. Students in our program have an option to either conduct a capstone research practicum, which is a 2-semester long study of their choosing with a faculty advisor. You look at some maybe issue in your industry or you place of work and you get to really dig deep and conduct a 2-term research project using all the tools that you’ve built up in the program to uncover some truth or some issue at the core of that matter. A lot of people take this away as a portfolio piece. You also have the option of taking one of our capstone courses in your final term. Instead of doing research practicum over 2 semesters, which is 2 2-unit courses for a total of 4 units, you can take a 4-unit capstone class course in one semester. Students who want to finish really fast, in 16 months, choose the capstone class option so they can get that course out of the way. Otherwise, you can finish the program in 20 months by taking the capstone practicum and doing that research over 2 semesters. We find that the reason why you need 2 semesters to do that is so you can do quality research. You can apply some focus groups, build a survey, get the data you need to analyze and work with that faculty to really delve deep into the issue.

Let’s talk about admissions real quick. Before I briefly touch on the items that our faculty admission committees look for on your application I’d like to mention that there’s still plenty of time to get your application started and submitted for either the summer or fall term. Hopefully each of you will touch base with an enrollment advisor today after our call. What’s going to differentiate you from all the other applicants? First, I think a well thought out, grammatically correct, absolutely flawless statement of purpose indicating why the USC Annenberg Master’s of Communication Management program is a right fit for you personally and professionally; strong letters of recommendation from your supervisor or former faculty members are also very important. We know that some of you might have had quite a bit of fun in your undergraduate years and your GPA might not be right where you want it to be, well that’s where a well written statement of purpose, strong letters of recommendation and a healthy professional resume will come in. Also, if you are an experienced professional with over 5 years of experience, talk to one of our enrollment advisors about a possible GRE waiver. We’re also going to ask you to submit a writing sample. In addition to an updated resume we’re going to ask you for all of your college transcripts so we can calculate a GPA.

What I’d like to do is leave this up here so you can contact our admissions team today to find out about starting an application, learn more about the program, and have any questions that don’t get answered in the Q&A answered at your convenience. I’ll leave this up here right now and open up the Q&A. Melissa, any questions we have.

Melissa:
Yes. Thanks Neil. I actually have a question here that I’d like to pose to you. The question is, if you were to break the program down into percentages what percent would you say is communication skills, what percent is theory, and what percent is leadership? Then a second part to this particular question is, is there a finance and budgeting component as well?

Neil:
That’s a real good question. The first part, I would have to say that every course addresses issues of theory, practice, and leadership. We like to combine those things together and say, well there’s an element of theory, practice, and leadership in any proven and successful strategy. If you’re learning strategic communication for a corporate audience you’re going to use theories based in research that are going to translate into practices that you apply and we’re going to show you how to apply them in leadership situations or management situations. That’s a component of every single one of our courses whether you’re talking about marketing communication, global communication, strategic corporate communication, change management, any of our courses they all feature those elements.

Questions about budgeting and finance, none of our courses specifically focus on budgeting and finance but we do ask students in their very first core courses to become very comfortable using numerical data and that data is used for decision making. The focus, again, is not on budgets or finances but it is on how to gather data, analyze it, interpret it and use it for decision making.

Melissa:
Great. Thanks Neil. I do have a quick question here for our student panel and I’ll pose the question first to Alexis. Can you please describe what are your favorite assignments that you had in the program?

Alexis:
That’s a hard one, there’s so many. I would say that there were 2 that I just absolutely loved doing. One was the international communication course, I had a project you got to pick the brand that you wanted and then basically come up with a marketing communication plan to employ in a new country. At the time I was working at Sephora and I chose a brand that I love working with, Dry Bar, I don’t know if some of you are familiar with that, maybe not. It was really wonderful working on a brand that I loved and working on a project that was expanding into a new country and getting literally hands-on experience of what it would be to think about a marketing communication plan to deploy into a completely new country. I loved that project. I thought it was amazing and I use it today.

The second one, kind of similar to that, is in integrative marketing class we got to pair up as a group and we had a brand given to us and the goal there was to come up with this whole new integrative marketing plan for them. Pick the levers that you’re going to choose and go out with and we ended up creating this long video presentation that was a lot of hard work and I was tasked with … I put together the final presentation video and I wasn’t used to doing that but learning how to create a presentation on video was amazing. We just laughed and had so much fun, and worked really, really, really hard but it was just so cool and wonderful. It was one of my favorite memories and favorite assignments that I had was doing that big integrative marketing plan and execution, and actually seeing it come to life. Those are probably my 2 favorite out of the whole program.

Melissa:
Great. Thanks Alexis those sounds wonderful. How about you Leyla, what was one of your favorite assignments from your time so far in the program?

Leyla:
As I said already and when Alexis was talking I was thinking about it, actually my favorite assignment was designing a strategic communication plan based on their strategic communication puzzle because I strongly believe that this is very applicable and this is the working model and this helps a lot. Each time I was doing this, because we had several assignments where we were asked to apply this, I really learned and advanced a lot and this was one of my favorite assignments though. Also, that would be maybe strange and actually I didn’t know. When I am analyzing I am also surprised by myself, but I think that one of my favorite assignments were SPSS assignments. It’s unexpected maybe from a communication specialist.

Neil:
That is very unexpected Leyla. It’s funny you say that. Most students are terrified of SPSS.

Leyla:
That looked horrible at that time but now when I’m doing marketing research at work, when I’m analyzing I really enjoy it now and when I am going back I understand that at that time I enjoyed, because it was a big challenge and it was totally different from what we are usually doing as communication specialists. Actually when I was doing it right, in the right way, the level I enjoyed it was much more than when I just got A on some let’s say paper, because it was like taking limits from something else which is usually accepted, like communications people are bad in figures. That’s why this was let’s say the second assignment I loved.

Neil:
Fantastic. Thank you so much Leyla. SPSS, which is a statistical software program for people who aren’t familiar with it, is one of the key foundational assignments in the very first uses in communication course, CMGT 540. Most students have statistics anxiety, especially communications students or social sciences students in general but we try to remind everyone, including our current students who are in the class right now, that we’re not asking you to learn how to do statistics we’re asking you to learn how to apply statistic theory to decision making. The software runs the statistics for you but we’re enabling you to use a tool now, not only for your personal use or research use but most especially for your practice, to help inform decision making so that instead of having to necessarily hire a consultant to develop a survey for any questions you may have at your company you know what to do when it comes to developing a very good survey and developing good questions. How to analyze reliability and validity and your measures, how to do a good focus group, and then of course take all that data, code it, put it into a program like SPSS and say, what is it telling me, how can I make a better decision using this data. I’m really impressed that you highlight SPSS assignment as one of your top 2 favorites. Thanks Leyla.

There’s a couple of questions here mostly that I see about the GRE program waiver and also tuition of the program. I had mentioned very briefly that students who have 5 or more years of post-baccalaureate full time professional work can speak with an enrollment advisor at the end of this call, or when they want to reach out to an enrollment advisor about the program, and discuss the GRE waiver. Essentially there are certain requirements folks with a lot of professional experience we understand, who have been out of school for a very long time, tend not to do as well on the GRE because you’ve been out of school very long and taking that kind of test is much more difficult. Therefore, for us we found it doesn’t really inform us as well as it does for students who are very recently out of undergrad, it doesn’t give us as information about the applicant as it would in that scenario. If you have an extraordinary number of years of professional experience with the absolute minimum being 5 you can speak to an enrollment advisor today about whether or not you’re eligible for a GRE waiver.

The other question was about tuition for the program. Tuition for our program is $1602 per unit. That’s tuition for this coming summer and we are a 32-unit program, so 8 courses, 32-units total that comes out to just a little over $50,000 for the entire program. Any other questions Melissa?

Melissa:
Yes. It looks like we have a question here that kind of focuses on the curriculum. “With field of communication changing so rapidly, such as social media and technology advancements, is this program constantly being updated with the latest case studies, class and courses on different new social media channels, and can you kind of address how the program keeps up with those new trends?”

Neil:
That’s a great question. The answer is yes. These courses are revised and updated at least every other time they’re offered. You can imagine for some of these courses that are offered every term that means sometimes twice a year they’ve been revised, or have been updated, or have been looked at by the faculty committee that oversees that course. New implementations of the theory or practice, or new technologies, or new case studies are being swapped in constantly. Now, our students don’t necessarily know that but they’ll know that some of the stuff they look at is probably very seminal work, maybe dating back to the 70s and 80s and 90s, very important foundational work, and then a lot of stuff about new practice. Like we have a course called CMTG 508 that is a change management course and we’re looking at case studies that are as recent as things like movies like the Shrek series and Cirque du Soleil. These are case studies that are borne out of recently enacted change protocols at various organizations so you’re really looking at stuff that’s happening right now or stuff that’s very relevant to what you’re doing and stuff that you can very easily relate to.

When it comes to technology we’re constantly also addressing that through our learning management system. Improving it, upgrading it, making it easier for students to communicate. Social media, as someone says, is rapidly changing or rapidly growing as different channels, but I would also caution students to think whether or not it is critical for any program to really address specific communication and social media channels. I think it’s more important, and I think our faculty would say it’s more important, for us to understand the strategies behind our communication and how to apply different strategies to different distribution methods as opposed to teaching you how to use a specific technology. That’s probably not the best use of your time or your money to spend $50,000 to learn how to use a social media channel. It’s best to use that money to understand and work with other professionals who’ve done consulting, who’ve done change management, who’ve done top corporate communication. Learning from those folks who teaching you on how to apply strategy and how to use data to affect decision making not only in your own management position but potentially even in the boardroom.

Melissa:
Great. Thank you Neil. I do have a quick question if you could touch on here, a question about where our students come from. This particular person would like to know if any of our students come from government agencies and if by any chance you have a percentage of the students that are mid-career professionals versus right out of say an undergraduate program or undergraduate school.

Neil:
Sure. The overwhelming majority of students in our program are what we would consider mid-career. Less than 10% of students in our program are what we’d consider new professionals, meaning they have fewer than 3 years of professional experience. Most students are above that. Our average years of work experience is about 10 or 11 years of professional experience across the program. We have some folks who have lots of experience, 20, 25 years so that kind of brings up that number but the reality is that most folks who are in the program have been at their jobs or been out of school for about 8 to 9 years.

The other question I think was about where do we draw students from. We draw students from marketing, from corporate, from NGOs, from people who work in sales, in journalism. We’ve had military folks who are public affairs officers for the army for example and they’re stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Korea. We’ve had students who are all over the world, as Leyla attests to, or coming from different backgrounds. People who work in social media; people who work in public affairs and public relations. A very, very broad audience because we’re dealing with what we think is an essential central component of any business which is communication. At the Annenberg School, fields of communication is at the center of enterprise. You need people who are engineers and you need people who are business people, but there’s another component and that’s communication and communication is at the center of every decision that’s made in corporate America. I know that that doesn’t always seem obvious in many ways but I think all of you who are here today realize that and that’s why you’re interested in this program.

Melissa:
I know we’ve gone a little over time so I just want to address just 2 of the other questions that’s come through. One of the questions I’m going to direct to Alexis. First part of this question is could you give an overview of maybe roughly how many hours a week you devoted to the online program? Then if you can just reiterate how long you’ve been in the program this far.

Alexis:
Yeah. That’s actually a tough one to answer. When there’s projects and deadlines that are approaching, like your midterm or the final, you’re putting in a lot of work. I would say on average a night, and again it’s dependent on the course; like Neil was saying, I didn’t come from a real numbers heavy background so the course where we really dug into the SPSS and numbers classes I spent a little bit more time doing that one versus something that I was a little bit more familiar and comfortable with such as corporate communications, or a class like that. I would say I was averaging about, without a big midterm or final, anywhere between 2 hours a night and then on the weekends because I’m a working professional I would put in anywhere between 3 or 4 hours on the weekends. Again, some of that is having phone calls with your teammates and probably erring on the lighter side of time being spent. Again, it’s a personal thing.

Around midterms or final project now your foots to the pedal and you’re putting in almost a second job basically and that’s kind of how it is, and you don’t stop until it’s done. There was weeks where I’d put in a lot of hours. I can’t give you a solid answer I can just say that I didn’t stop working until it was done, but again I think the way that they structure the course there’s ebbs and flows so you’ve just got to kind of look out in advance and know what’s coming, what’s not coming and prepare for a heavier workload around when projects are due and when big papers are due. I’ve stacked most of my hours on the weekend just because just being a working professional it’s a little bit harder. Expect to put in anywhere between 2 to 3 hours during the week or maybe 4 if it’s a little bit tougher and then you’re spending a good time on the weekend. I will say some course require a lot more time than other courses and I do feel that the setup and …

To answer your second question, I did the accelerated program so I did 2 courses all the way through and I’m only taking one course this semester and I’m graduating. I will finish in April and I’ll walk in May. I did the accelerated, I knew I wanted to get through the program. I’m very happy I did. There were definitely nights that I didn’t sleep but again that wasn’t all the time so if you just can prepare yourself for that I think hopefully that gives you a good idea. Again, if you are going to do what I did and do 2 classes together I felt like the pairing of the 2 were complimentary, where one course was you’re putting a lot of hours so you have to prioritize. You have to learn how to prioritize where your time needs to be. If you’re spending 2 hours on one class and you’re exhausted, the other class hopefully you only have to spend about an hour and just prioritize your time. Hopefully, that answers your question.

Neil:
One more thing if I could add Alexis. One of the ways we’ve designed the program is intentionally for working professionals and that being the case I think one of the really unique features of our online program is what we call a shifted week, where the first day of the week of every semester of every single week in the program is Wednesday and the last day of the week is Tuesday. That means that the middle of the week, when we expect most students to be doing their work is on the weekends. Your assignments are typically due on Sunday night, or sometimes Monday or Tuesday, the idea being that you’ll always have a weekend before your assignments are due, major assignment at least.

That shifted schedule means that not only do you have time to review materials and do your reading, like Alexis said hopefully on a nightly basis you’ll do 1 to 2 hours of reading and work, then the bulk of your work will be done on the weekend when you’re writing your paper, when you’re collaborating with your group, when you’re doing that kind of stuff. Because we know most people are working 9 to 5 or 9 to later Monday through Friday, so the evenings probably should be dedicated to doing some of your prep work, reviewing the materials, watching the multimedia content, reading your books and your articles, and then comes the weekend you do the real hard work, putting everything together. Synthesizing, writing, collaborating with your team, and then stuff is usually due in the later part of the week like Sunday night, or Monday night, or sometimes even Tuesday so that the later part of the week, that Monday or Tuesday, you can actually still have an opportunity to reflect on the content with your instructor. Just part of the way we’ve designed the program because we know our audience is working professionals and that’s how they work.

I think we’ve gone way over time. I want to think Leyla and Alexis very much for attending today and Melissa for hosting. If anyone has any questions I urge everyone to set up a time to speak with an enrollment advisor, to call any of those wonderful people listed on the presentation right now. Shenna, Gerry, Sarah, and Yesenia are all ready and waiting for your phone calls, or you can email them and have them schedule a time to call you back. Thank you very much. I look forward to seeing your applications and I know that our faculty will look forward to reading and learning more about you in that process. Fight on.

Melissa:
Thank you everyone. Good bye.

Leyla:
Thank you.