Merri Jo Bales and her husband Randy Sahajdack were looking for a new way to make an impact at a place that meant so much to both of them: Michigan State University.
As MSU alumni – Bales received her B.A. in Communication in 1977 and Sahajdack received his B.A. in Hotel and Restaurant Management in 1978 – they had supported the College of Communication Arts and Sciences over the years. But, when Bales retired after 27 years from Consumers Energy as executive director of strategy development, communication and integration, they began turning their attention to making a bigger difference.
When Bales heard about the creation of the Strategic Communication Online Master’s program, she and her husband were ready to make a more significant financial commitment. The program, started in January of 2017, is a 100-percent online master’s program geared toward working professionals looking to elevate their careers.
“The marriage between strategy and communication is a great one on many, many fronts,” she said of the program. “The better communicator you are, the more effectively you can help an organization build or implement a strategy. So, StratCom is perfect for many reasons.”
Bales said the program reflected her career in strategy and communication – something she was excited to see take flight within the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, a place that played a special role in her life. In addition to graduating from the college, she served on its alumni board and was named a ComArtSci Outstanding Alumni Award honoree in 2009.
In June 2017, Bales and Sahajdack were early contributors to MSU StratCom establishing the Merri Jo Bales Fund for Strategic Communication, an endowment used to enhance and support the program.
For Bales, it was more than just donating money to MSU StratCom – she wanted to contribute her time to the program, as well. Since the beginning of the program, she has offered her expertise and communications industry know-how to help the program grow into what it is today.
“I have some practical experience that’s grounded in the disciplines of communication and strategy,” she said. “To be able to offer that in a way that makes it important and valuable was really something that interested me.”
And beyond teaching professionals how to be better strategic communicators, Bales is looking forward to the mark students leave on their organizations with all the new knowledge they will gain from the program.
“I think we’re going to provide something really valuable,” she said. “I think we’re on the leading edge and I’m very excited that it’s happening here at Michigan State in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences because I think that approach is going to be what creates the greatest amount of value for our master’s students and the organizations that they work for.”