By Julia Lemke, MSU StratCom's very first graduate in 2017
Years before the ubiquitous virtual graduation ceremonies of 2020, I celebrated in spirit from my desk in Southern California as I became the first graduate of Michigan State University’s StratCom program. In the four years since I first added “Strategic Communications, M.A.'' to my resume, I am profoundly grateful for the doors that opened and charted a path for me to merge my passions and core values with my profession. My MSU StratCom degree and #SpartansWill resilience were in large part to thank for landing me my dream role in 2020. Amid a global pandemic, I became Marketing Director for The Narrative Enneagram, an educational nonprofit dedicated to “transforming lives and creating a more compassionate world.”
After the many late nights honing my graphic design skills in the Packaging computer lab during my undergraduate degree, I served as a Buyer for MSU’s creative services. I acted as the liaison between the university’s rich inner working of creatives and the external network of vendors that support telling the brand’s story. While my job was technically a purchasing role, I approached my responsibilities from the perspective of a strategic marketer and communicator. I implemented strategic campus-wide contracts key to the university’s branding and digital presence. I learned from dozens of graphic designers, videographers, web designers, and world-class marketers and branding teams. As my relationships with creatives grew, so did my desire for a more hands-on role in the creative process.
The day MSU’s College of Communications Arts and Sciences launched stratcom.msu.edu, I knew immediately it was my master’s program. The practicality and the relevance of the curriculum combined digital marketing and strategic communication topics that fit my interests, aptitude and career goals. The fact that the program was specifically designed for working professionals meant I wouldn’t have to juggle work meetings with class schedules and I would learn from a diverse cohort of professionals to help inspire my future. Additionally, my personal and professional life were no longer tied to East Lansing.
In January 2017, I began MSU StratCom’s first cohort, and at the same time moved my life from Lansing to Los Angeles. After 10 weeks in SoCal with zero industry contacts, I secured a full time role as a Marketing Coordinator at a small construction and development firm that housed a rapidly growing community-oriented hospitality brand.
StratCom’s infancy was not dissimilar to my new role in an entrepreneurial “start-up” culture. The relationship between the new MSU StratCom program, myself, and my new firm was incredibly symbiotic. I was encouraged to follow my curiosity. The tactile skills I acquired in the MSU StratCom program, I immediately implemented in real time. The insights I gained from my professional experience helped me become a resource for the faculty and staff as we created a foundation for future MSU StratCom cohorts.
During a year of dramatic transition, MSU StratCom was my anchor to my Michigan home. 2,000 miles away, I felt a deep sense of connection with my cohort and the staff. My ability to manage crises, evolve the graphics and messaging of a brand, dive into Google Analytics, create insightful surveys, and develop strategic marketing and social media plans soon earned me a promotion to Marketing Specialist.
After three invigorating years of being at the forefront of building a brand from one to three multi-million dollar locations, made up of the best small businesses in SoCal, I was ready for the next step in my career and a location change. Early 2020 answered with a global pandemic and a 20.4% unemployment rate in Los Angeles County. In April, I was furloughed and moved my life to San Diego.
I began to look for a new job, but the entire marketing industry, especially in SoCal, looked grim. So, I read fiction. I read the news. I read more books about the Enneagram, a rich personality typing system I’d spent the last few years studying and discussing with family, friends and coworkers. I eyed longingly at The Narrative Enneagram’s classes and stalked page after page on the website, captivated by the organization’s 30-year history and percolating with potential marketing and design ideas.
In July, The Narrative Enneagram posted a job on Twitter for a new Marketing Director. I eagerly clicked on the link.
I had never read a job description more fitting. It was “me.” I felt it in my bones.
The one qualification I had above-and-beyond the job description? My Strategic Communication master's degree. In the midst of the longest crisis in modern history, I couldn’t imagine a more fitting way to stand out.
The job was on a 100% remote team and the first question on the application asked about my remote work experience and comfort level working with people virtually and on my own. During three detailed interviews, my answer to this question would prove to be an influential factor in my hiring decision. Having experienced deep connection with MSU StratCom students all over the world during the program and completing all my classes while working full time, I felt thoroughly prepared to thrive on a remote team.
After a detailed application, three interviews, and creating and showcasing a number of work samples, I was offered the position.
It can be tempting to cheapen the “online master's degree” with countless universities saturating the online education market. However, MSU StratCom has proven nothing but its value in my career. Being able to take my learnings from the program directly from my couch to my desk helped me build a practical skill set and the self-assurance to feel equipped and empowered as a professional.
After four months in my position, I still feel incredibly grateful to have earned a seat at the table with people I admire and who look at the world through the lens of the Enneagram and compassion. 2020 opened a door to a life with a career of authenticity I could not have imagined when I completed the program in 2017. As a communications professional with two degrees from MSU, I will always carry in my heart the themes of the university’s brilliant brand personality, so eloquently defined by MSU’s University Communications: genuine, tenacious, diverse, open, collaborative, bold and world-changing. I am honored to share these values with my alma mater as reflect on my past, and The Narrative Enneagram as I live out my future.