MSU J-School Transforms Career Path for West Point Grad

Steve Naru grew up believing he would spend his career in the military. His great uncle had been to West Point. His favorite teachers in his hometown of Edmore, Mich., had been in the service. So when it came time to pick a college, Naru applied to just one place, ready to take a familiar path.

Naru entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to become a combat arms officer shortly after graduating high school in 1975. His first stop was officer basic training in Fort Bliss, Texas. His second was a five-year stint in the 8th Infantry Division in Germany. He earned his bachelor of science in civil engineering from West Point, and a master's in international relations from the University of Southern California. Then, just as he was deciding what to do next, he received a call that changed the course of his career.

"West Point asked if I wanted to be public affairs officer," said Naru, now head of U.S. media relations and managing director of U.S. corporate and financial practice for Burson-Marsteller in New York. "I thought that sounded good, so I started looking at colleges to pursue a non-combat specialty."

Naru picked the journalism program at Michigan State University. He started full-time in 1984 and graduated in just 11 months with his master's – all while serving as an active duty army officer. While the experience was intense, Naru said he received tremendous support from faculty, particularly from the late Mary Gardner: a retired colonel from the Marine Corps Reserve and the J-School's first woman tenure-stream faculty member.

"She understood the military and what my experience was like," Naru said. "She told me what to expect from MSU, and what journalism and PR were all about. She had lots of life lessons, and she took me under her wing and taught me."

Naru went on to serve as the media relations officer at West Point for four years. He said MSU more than prepared him for duties that involved creating up to 200 publications a year, speaking to the press, and briefing parents and candidates about West Point. He took his first civilian PR job in 1989 at New York's Burson-Marsteller, and later worked in leadership roles for several large PR, educational and communications companies, including FleishmanHillard, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Reuters.

In December 2014, Naru returned to Burson-Marsteller. In the course of 25 years, he's created and implemented media relations programs for leading brands including household names like AT&T, Hyatt, The New York Times Company, Sprint, Perrier, Coca Cola, Panasonic, the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Army.

"Everywhere I've worked has been a wonderful place and given me different types of client experience," Naru says. "It's been a rewarding career. I've met a lot of great people. I can't imagine having more fun, and I am in no hurry to retire."