We have invited alum of GW’s Master’s in Strategic Public Relations online program to speak with prospective students about his experience with GW. He’s currently the Director of Corporate Social Responsibility with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Kira: Good morning, everyone. Thanks for joining us. We’ll begin in a couple of minutes.
Hi everyone, thanks for joining the George Washington University’s webinar event entitled, “Advancing Your Career with a Master’s Degree in Strategic Public Relations”. We are very happy that you have joined us today in conversation with Arvind Gopalratnam, who is a graduate of GW’s Master’s in Strategic Public Relations Program. Arvind is the Director of Corporate Social Responsibility for the Milwaukee Bucks, and he is here to share with us his perspective as a GW grad, to take your questions, and offer any helpful insights. Also joining us is our Program Director, Professor Larry Parnell.
Before I introduce you to our presenters, let’s go over some housekeeping items. As this webinar is being recorded for later viewing your lines are currently muted. Please feel free to forward any questions you may have for our panelists, or about the program, by activating the Q&A window, it’s the purple icon your menu. We will have an opportunity to go through them during the Q&A segment at the end, but you can also forward your questions at any time.
Other functions to note on your menu are: the resources icon in green, next to that is the icon to book a telephone appointment with a member of the admissions team, and finally the speaker profile icon to view your speaker’s full bio.
Now, let’s meet our presenters. With us today is Professor Larry Parnell, who is an Associate Professor and Program Director for GW’s Master’s in Strategic Public Relations in Washington DC. Over a thirty year career Larry has helped senior communications positions in consulting on the client side, and in politics. He was most recently the VP and group leader of the corporate communications practice at Hill & Knowlton Canada. He came to H&K from Barrick Gold Corporation in Toronto, where he was Senior VP, Corporate Relations, with responsibility for corporate, financial and internal communications. In New York he served for four years as Director of Global Public Relations at Ernst & Young LLP. While at Ernst & Young he was named PR Professional of the Year in 2003 by PRWeek magazine. Larry’s previous corporate experience includes senior positions at TT Corporation, People’s Bank of Connecticut, and Gavin Anderson & Co. Inc.
Early in his career Larry served as the speech writer for the Mayor of Atlanta, press aide for the Jimmy Carter for President Campaign, and speech writer for the Attorney General of Massachusetts. Larry is a frequent author, speaker on communications topics, and a member of the National Investor Relations Institute for the Public Relations Society of America.
And now we’re also thrilled to introduce you to our alum, Arvind Gopalratnam. As you’ll recall from earlier, he is the Director of Corporate Social Responsibility for the Milwaukee Bucks. Arvind is a native of the Milwaukee area, a proud graduate of UW-Madison and George Washington University, and a lifetime Wisconsin sports fan. As a member of the Bucks Community Team, Arvind helps lead the organization’s mission to make the place in which he works and plays a better place for all families to live.
Arvind is currently in his third season with the Bucks, after spending 11 years in corporate communications for NBC Universal and General Electric’s healthcare business. With GE, Arvind developed extensive experience in the sports and healthcare industry as a corporate spokesperson, manager of crisis communications globally, coaching senior level executives on communication tactics, and developing internal and external communication strategies. Arvind is married to Brenda Long, a fellow Badger alum, and they have two energetic boy, Leo, who is five, and [Rajan], who is two, who constantly keep them active and involved in the community.
Welcome to both of our guests. Now I’d like to invite Professor Parnell for a few words.
Larry: Thank you, Kira, and thank you all for joining us. I am especially excited to have Arvind with us. He and I had a conversation some time ago about his background and experience, and it occurred to me that many of our current and prospective students would enjoy hearing his story and how his experience with us and previously has led him to where he is today. So we’ll get into that in just a few minutes. My role is to talk very briefly about the program, a little bit about who our students are online and on campus, and talk to you about what kind of opportunities you might expect as a graduate of this program. We may not all end up working for the Milwaukee Bucks, but many of our students and our alums are involved in some pretty exciting roles across the United States and around the world.
The program has been in existence for ten years, I have been the Program Director since that time, I have seen it grow and adjust to the market and the needs of our students. We have added courses, we’ve dropped other courses. We have added new experiences, which we’ll get into, like global residencies around the world; there are some very, very exciting things going on there.
Often I get asked: Who are the students? What type of person comes in to your program? So let me take a minute or two and talk about that. We generally have four types of students, that are either online or on campus, and the percentages vary depending upon the platform. The first group is typically what we call the recent graduates there, having just come from undergraduate, and they’re anxious to come to Washington DC or further their studies online and get an advanced degree from a recognized institution like GW. So that’s one group.
The next group would be early to mid-career professionals, maybe a couple of years’ experience, that sense that there’s more out there for them to learn, maybe a sense that their undergraduate experience didn’t provide them with practical applied skills, maybe in digital communications, or social responsibility, or crisis management, in which we have dedicated courses for each one of those things. So we get that type of individual.
The third group are people who are what we call job changers, career changers. They’ll be coming into public relations after a career of indeterminate length, in sales and marketing or general business, and they’ve become aware of the growth and development of the public relations industry, in terms of income potential, percentage of growth of jobs here and across the United States, probably 10% to 12% a year according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics. So they feel it’s their opportunity in a career they want to get into, and have a new phase of their life.
Then the last category is international students. We have international students both online and on campus from all over the world, certainly Asia, but also Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa. It makes for a very diverse and interesting kind of conversation, and back and forth in experiences, in our classrooms and online. So we’re very, very pleased about that mix.
That pretty much describes our students. We are diverse, we are international, there are varied experiences and backgrounds, and not necessarily as you might assume given the GW brand, and Arvind’s a good example of that. Not necessarily only people interested in politics as a career. We find that there are some of those, probably 10% of our current students, are interested in pursuing a career in politics. And most of our students though are aware of the fact that they need to understand politics, and policy, and government, and how it affects their clients or their companies or their organizations. And a school like GW, with its background and experience in that space, is a great place to get that understanding. Whether you ever intend on going into government service or not, it’s helpful to understand how it works and how it might affect you in your business. So that is a little bit about our background.
Moving on to talk about what kind of happens, I would also say probably 83% – the most recent statistics we have – of our students are employed, so we are not a full-time graduate school, people go to classrooms at night or online because they are working and they want to upgrade their skills. We did a recent postgraduate study on outcomes which you might find interesting. 71% of the students surveyed had received a raise within six months of their graduation, 56% received a promotion or a new job in the field within six months of their graduation, and 22% reported they had moved into a management position during or soon thereafter their completion of the program. So those are statistics, and obviously we’re very proud of that. Obviously we’d like them to be 100%, but realistically, in the 80s is pretty good.
The last thing I will say is, we also asked our students, did the program meet their expectations? And would they recommend it to other people? Such as Arvind is about to do for you. 84% of the graduates in the most recent study indicated that the program exceeded their expectations for opportunities and learning and career development, and 85% said they would recommend our program to a colleague. So we’re pretty excited about that as well. The notion of recommending this program to a colleague is exactly why we asked Arvind to join us, and I’m looking forward to what he has to say about his experience and background. I’m going to turn it over to Arvind now for a few minutes to talk about his career and his work with the Milwaukee Bucks. Then I will come back and talk about the curriculum, a little bit more about the program, and then we’ll get to the Q&A. Arvind?
Arvind: Thanks, Professor, I appreciate it. Can you guys hear me okay? I’m going to take that as a ‘yes’.
Arvind: Perfect, excellent. Thank you for the introduction, and I am really excited to give you guys a little bit of background about myself, and the impact that the program and the graduate degree had on me. And I am happy to answer any questions as well too. And I’d love to start by just giving you a little bit of background about myself, because I think a little bit of background about myself will tell you and lead you to understand why I appreciated and valued the program as much as I did.
So I am based in Wisconsin. I have been to DC only a couple of times in my life and I have loved it, but never did I think that I was going to go to GW, or go to GW for graduate school. And so I have a degree in journalism, all my career experiences for the most part have been communications based. But really, where I started to grow as a communicator was I expanded my professional expertise from more of the journalism side to more of the PR side. And so for us, I’d say 15 or so, 15 – 12 or 15 years – all my career experience has been in PR, and that’s where I have developed my career, that’s where I have developed my expertise. And while, yes, it’s all ultimately in the field of communications, all of my schoolwork and in-classroom preparation for my career was in the field of journalism. And so I have had the luxury of working for some big companies, NBC and GE, and my involvement and connection to GW is actually pretty fortuitous in the sense that I was going through a normal operational review, one of my mid-year reviews with one of my direct managers, and he actually really pushed on me the value of how much the company saw in me, what they wanted to do, what were my goals in life, what did I want to do, what did I want to pursue? And [Hugh], who was actually my manager at the time, actually proactively suggested a graduate degree program, and specifically suggested GW. And I think GW was the recommendation through connections, through a relationship through his network. And I have heard great things about the program, and what really incited me was more than just a recommendation from my boss, but the fact that he said that, “Hey, we’ll cover your tuition for it, we’ll cover your tuition, this is something that we’ve learn a little bit about, the program, it can be flexible, it can accommodate what our work [life] is, and really help you expand in your professional skillset.
And honestly, it was a good day, I was listening, I was paying attention, and I took the recommendations and I learned a little bit about the program, and that’s ultimately how I did it. So I joined the program back in 2010, the graduate program. It was a two-year commitment. It’s very, very flexible. As Professor alluded to, there’s a level of on-demands but there’s also a level of, you know, you can work at night, you can work on weekends, to achieve the program requirements and fulfil the curriculum, and so I was able to do that while I worked full-time for GD Healthcare.
And what was really exciting and what I loved about the impact of the program is that the learnings, the teachings, the applications, the structure in the curriculum, applied to both the corporate world, the non-profit world, any type of industry that you want to work in. And so I really, really valued the diversity of the content and its application to what I was doing in my day-to-day field, the ability to learn more about crisis communications and CSR which, to be perfectly honest, this was the first time I had heard about CSR. I had heard the phrase ‘community relations’ and ‘community engagement and involvement’, but to actually learn and understand the importance of corporate social responsibility and its influence on organizations and companies, and more importantly the influence it can have on cultures of communications. The program was actually the first time I learned significantly about CSR. And so beyond just the learning, it was a fabulous opportunity for me to expand and make a stronger influence on my company based on what I was learning in the curriculum. There was a significant amount of real-life example work, learning about advancing trends in the industry, how to influence and utilize social media to be valuable in the communications space and PR space, how to handle different types of crises.
And so the influence the program had on my corporate lifestyle was – I can say it enough – it was incredible, so much so that one of my capstone projects – the capstone project that my group and I worked on, which is something that’s part of the curriculum and everybody works on at the end of the program – I had an opportunity to present what our capstone project was to my employer, which was then a great way for us to then advance the business, [GD] helped [his] business a little bit and through that we developed a relationship with the NFL.
So I summarize to say, not only did the program have a direct influence on me learning, but also the impact that I could have on my employer. And so I loved the structure of the program, of being able to learn from different colleagues around the globe, as Professor alluded to. And this is a global program, you’re going to have the opportunity to be influenced and work with really smart individuals around the work, which is truly the best way to expand your communications skills, and learning from different people, different cultures. Communications isn’t a one-size-fits-all mentality, and so the program exposed me not only to new learnings and new in-classroom style structure, but it also exposed me to new individuals who were able to be significant influences on my professional career.
Like many in life I reached a point where I needed a different challenge, and that’s what actually transitioned me into where I work right now, which is the Milwaukee Bucks. Sports has always been a part of my life and background, and everything that drives me, and is what I am passionate about. So to Larry’s point, I didn’t have a politics background, in fact I was far from any interest level in politics, and so this program – no matter your interest levels – what your passions are can meet those interest levels and passions. Because what this program does is really help amplify and reinforce the skillsets and the traditional knowledge needed to really excel in our field.
But I’d say the things that drove me the most from the program were programs and projects and learnings about crisis communications, because I’m passionate about it, but also the CSR side, and to really understand the impact or corporate social responsibility, how it can be influential in an organization, while at the same time really driving change and value to the communities that we all live in. The seed was planted then, in the program. And it took me a couple of years into that field, but my interest level and passions really started through this program and the learnings that I had, and the class work and coursework related to CSR.
So what I do now is really 100% community-focused, and so I lead a team of four and we lead all the community efforts for the Milwaukee Bucks in the State of Wisconsin, and so for those who don’t know the Milwaukee Bucks, we’re part of the NBA, so we’re a basketball team here in Wisconsin, and so a highly, highly visible entity in our community. And so I get to play a very influential role in not only helping shape the strategy of what we do in the community, but really being a reflection of the organization and the league’s commitment to making the communities that we live in a really positive community and a positive place for all of us to grow and live and work. And so from the Bucks standpoint, to put it simply, I get to involve our players, I get to work with every individual player to involve them into the community, and to develop a platform that allows them to be impactful. We work with employees to get them on different boards and associations, but to get them actively engaged in the community.
But more importantly the goal of our team is to have a pulse of the community, to know what the challenges that we’re facing [are]. And so based on that we’ve really shaped our priorities, and our focus areas are on what the community has told us are the most important things that they want us to help address. So youth education, community health and wellness, general community betterment, mentorship, those are things that the community has told us that have helped shape our strategy for what we do.
And as you’ve probably seeing in some of the pictures, a lot of what we do is fun and exciting, and I can’t be more appreciative of what the program introduced me to because I have a level of new passion for different fields of communications. But at the same time it’s a very rewarding area to be involved in the community, and so I think more than just the structure and the strategy of what we do, it really allows me to establish a culture in our organization. And part of our structure is just really engaging people. We are the Milwaukee Bucks, the NBA, it’s a service business, we’re her about making sure that fans want to come back to games and see our product, and so we firmly believe in the power of people. And we’ve taken that as our team and our CSR strategy to another level, to say we want to engage our employees, we want to engage our players.
And really, it’s more than just touchpoints and engagements, it is a significant level on the bottom line for the business, and social responsibility is oftentimes the most immediate way people have of an opinion or perception or reputation that a company develops, and so for us, engaging people and the people of our company is, I’d say, one of the most paramount elements of what we do. And so we’ve involved our employees, we have 100% participation from all employees involved in the community, and we also have 100% participation from all of our players, which is really exciting. And I think part of that is education, but part of that is understanding community engagement. Social responsibility is a way for them to not only build their image, potentially increase their earning power, but it’s a significant way for them to utilize the platform to drive change.
Every single one of us has had help in our life to get to where we are, in whatever capacity, and various different capacities, whether it’s through education or community involvement, and so I’m proud that we have developed a culture and established a culture here within the organization and across the league, to say that community engagement is not just an option it’s a requirement. And I think the graduate program at GW really helped me understand the influence, and understand what CSR is and how influential it can be to an organization.
So I’m going to leave it there, and I think it’s going to be more fun for everybody listening in to hear some of the conversation that Larry and I are going to have. So Larry, I’m going to throw it back to you, any questions that you want to ask as we talk a little bit more?
Larry: Sure. Yeah, absolutely, Arvind, thanks very much for that. You know, as you know through our conversations, we added the social responsibility courses, sustainability course, several years back, because we saw a trend developing, both opportunity-wise from a career perspective, and also from a business challenge. We’ve gone from corporate philanthropy and donations, the united way or whatever, to this concept of strategic philanthropy and social responsibility, sort of doing well by doing good, and it’s a big part of our program because I think there is a tremendous opportunity for our students and PR professionals in general to capitalize on this trend.
If you think about it, there is really no better person inside of an organization than a communications professional to manage this process. So stakeholders, activist groups, internal pressures, external pressures, social issues, political challenges, they all kind of come together, and the logical person to do this is the communications professional, the senior communications professional, because he or she should have a sense of the business and a sense of what’s going on in society. So we feel strongly, as I think you can tell, about this, and we’re very, very proud of Arvind and his work. Well, I had asked Arvind, and I was curious about and perhaps others on the call are curious about how unusual is it, Arvind, for an NBA team to have a dedicated CSR person? Is this unique to the Bucks, or a few others are doing it? Tell me a bit about that.
Arvind: I’d say it’s evolving, Professor, it’s certainly evolving. Now, at the league level the NBAs’ headquarters offices in New York, and there’s a social responsibility focus, but I think that focus is growing and increasing day-by-day, week-by-week, year-by-year. And so I say that to say about five years ago when we had an ownership change here with the Milwaukee Bucks and a new president that came in, the Bucks didn’t have a social responsibility department, they had an individual whose job title was something else, and their secondary role was to do community engagement.
I’d say over the last five to seven years the NBA itself has really increased its focus and prioritization of community engagement, and so every team now, across the NBA, does have a social responsibility department, or community engagement department. So it’s part of the league culture, there are league focus areas that they ask us to prioritize where it’s relevant to our local communities. But the league has been a great structure point to say: Community engagement isn’t an option, it’s a priority now with every team, and how every team has developed, to a certain degree, departments and focus areas and professionals that can be the pulse of what’s going on in the communities. Because as Professor said, there’s a significant value to the social responsibility, individuals or departments, because you are a reflection of the pulse of what’s going on outside your office, outside your building, where your employees are living, where your colleagues are living. And so the value of CSR is becoming increasingly more valuable on a strategic level of influencing business decisions and business culture, and that’s why I love it. I love it in the NBA because it’s prioritized.
Now, I don’t know if I’ve told this story before to Professor, but coming from a corporate background where any time you needed a dollar to do a program it was: “What’s the business case? What’s the business model, what’s the return on investment?”
Larry: Right, right.
Arvind: It was a battle for everything. Now what I’m incredibly appreciative of in our culture, yes, there’s that importance of showing what’s our return on investment, but I’m met more with the response of “Do you have the data to show that this is going to be valuable to the organization and the community? Go ahead and do it and we’ll figure out the costs later.” And I think that’s increasingly reflective of companies, especially in the sports bases saying, “Okay, we’re not just going to make everything about the bottom dollar, community engagement has to be invested in, and so go do it and we’ll figure it out later, the cost. And so I appreciate ways we’re [evolving], that organizations – not only in sports, but outside of sports – are really prioritizing community engagement.
Larry: I mean, as you know from our previous conversations, I can talk about CSR as a business strategy all day, but that’s not the purpose of this call, so set it aside except to say that I think it’s really amazing and very cool that the NBA has seen this and made this step forward, and some of the other professional leagues could take a lesson from them, and I’ll leave the political commentary at that.
Let’s talk about your [unintelligible 00:28:33] as a student for someone considering the program, talk about the value of the network and the colleagues and the connections you make in class with professors and after you graduate.
Arvind: Yeah, listen, first and foremost one of the best elements of the program is flexibility, everybody. We all work busy lives and we have work schedules, and some of us have families, it is incredibly time-consuming at times. And to then consider adding a graduate program, at times you’re like, “I just can’t do it, now it’s too busy, I’ll think about it in the future”. Life is always busy, so what I encourage you to highly think about is: There is never a perfect time, so just take the leap of faith because the program, there’s so many wonderful elements to the program that will make this worth your while.
And as Professor alluded to, I think the thing that I valued the most was the connection to international colleagues and team members, just the real-life working through programs and projects with people who aren’t from my culture, or who are raised here in the United States, who had the same educational background as me, that was what I valued the most. I’d say there’s at least five different individuals from my graduate program that I still stay in touch with, that we randomly send a text to, or emails about “Did you see this story? Did you see that story? What do you think?” And I think that’s one of the best elements of the program.
And just, listen, we as a communicators, and I assume all of you on here are communicators, and if you’re not don’t worry because we’re all communicators in general no matter what we do. But communications in general is a vast profession. You can be an internal communicator, you can do social media, PR, digital, whatever it is, but we should always be willing to expand our thinking and expand our expertise. And so much of communications is understanding your audience and carrying a message to that audience, and developing programs and strategies to that audience. And I think the more you can be influenced by different perspectives allows you to be a more well-rounded communicator, and that’s probably my favourite element to this.
And not to least forget it was my network that introduced me to this program. Without my network, without my initial kind of “Hey, have you thought about this program?” from somebody I trusted, I may not have ventured into the graduate degree program, and so I think not only just utilizing the network that you currently have, but be positive and optimistic about the network that this program creates for you, and utilize it and leverage it to every level that you can because it is incredibly beneficial, and it’s made me a more well-rounded communicator.
Larry: The more advanced parts of my job is exactly that. I see people like you come to the program and go off and do great things and keep in touch with other people in the program. We probably have between 3,000 and 4,000 graduates of the overall school in which we’re housed at GW, and then of course GW has 250,000 – 260,000 alumni worldwide. That’s a very important network from a career perspective when you’re looking for jobs and trying to get noticed, and trying to get your résumé taken off the pile [by] somebody who has something in common with you, or even if they don’t, looks at your résumé and says, “GW, I know that school, I know that brand, I’m going to talk to this person” is very, very important. I tell people all the time, “The brand and the attributes of the brand of where you get your master’s degree is probably more important – with all due respect to UW-Madison or my own undergrad experience – is very, very important, so I just want to emphasize that.
One of the things I get asked a lot, and then we’ll get to some curriculum wrap-up and then to the questions for everybody else, Arvind, is you mentioned about busy lives and workload and having a full-time job. Talk about the issue of time management, how much time does it take, would it take, for you to go through the program? How do you set aside your time on a weekly basis? How does it work practically for a student in the program?
Arvind: Yeah, it’s a great question, Professor. I would say every individual is different. I like to manage my time pretty well in the sense of saying, you know, I dedicated a couple of hours every day to making sure I was reading the content, the material, and making sure I knew the tutorials and the platforms, but maybe I was on the overly-aggressive side of just wanting to make sure that I was comfortable with everything. Because, to be honest, this is the first time I have explored this, or participated in a sort of online curriculum of coursework, so just, for me, it was valuable to set aside a little bit of time every day.
Now, there’s enough structure in the program where you have certain time periods where you need to be online, or you need to do chats, or talk to the TA, or do things like that. But the flexibility of the program allowed me to not have to really dedicate too much time at all during my normal work period, or dedicate too much time during my normal family-time period. And so the flexibility of the program was fantastic to say, like, all right, I can dedicate the time that I need to dedicate when it works best for my schedule: A couple of hours a day, maybe right before I go to bed, or right after the kids go to bed, and then I can then focus on my program. And beyond that, allows me the flexibility of working on weekends at times for a couple of hours here and there.
So on average everybody is going to spend a little different amount of time on the program. I’d say I spent probably close to 15 or 20 hours per week on different things and coursework, but that was just because I was passionate about the field in addition to what the curriculum was, so it really sparked a bug in me, and a bug in a positive sense, of saying like: “All right, I’m learning about all these different crisis communications examples, or CSR examples, shoot, I want to go and read more about it”. And so it really fostered a level of interest and engagement in pursuing further education in the space on my own time. But I would say, on a weekly basis you’re spending anywhere between 10 to 20 hours, but ultimately it’s up to every individual and what you want to put into the program that you want to get out.
Larry: Okay, Arvind, we’re going to hold it there for now and we’ll get to the questions that people have been posting in a minute. I may just take a couple of minutes to talk about the curriculum, a little bit more about the program, and then we’ll get to the Q&A, some of the details about how you apply. So, if you’ll advance to that slide, Kira, I’d appreciate the curriculum slide coming up, or perhaps I can do it, if you want.
Okay, I’ve done it. So, let me talk- it’s very important … You can read all this stuff in some detail so I won’t talk about every single course, but you can see there that there are 10 courses, 30 credits. There are 6 core courses plus the capstone that Arvind spoke about, and I’m happy to chat about that as people have interest in that. And then there are a number of electives you can choose from. This, by the way, is offered entirely online with two exceptions. These electives, [like] Sustainable Communications that Arvind mentioned, you’ll see though in our required courses, very importantly, we cover the basics of the overview of the profession, we have a writing class, research is very important to be able to demonstrate ROI to your clients and your company. Media Relations is still fundamentally what people want PR people to do, but we’ve got a different world to do it in now in a digital environment, and we talk about that.
We do have a required course in Fundamentals of Business & Finance, and I know everyone’s eyes are rolling and saying “I don’t want to be an accountant”, but what I tell people is you have to talk to accountants and they don’t understand PR, so you have to understand enough about their world so you can talk about budgets and forecasts and return on investments, and how the stock market works, and how reputation and PR and news coverage affects things like stock prices up or down. That course is a lot of fun and by the time people finish it they go, “Oh, that’s not so bad, now I know what they’re talking about.” So that’s very important.
We also have a required course on ethics. It’s our view that in order to do this job well you have to do it with a sense of personal and professional ethics, and this class takes you through case studies and examples of how to deal with the issues that will come up in your career.
Electives are across the spectrum. Two I want to measure in particular: We offer a Washington, DC Residency, where you do some class work online and you come to Washington for about a week. You interact with political officials, government officials, NGOs, media, public relations professionals, political professionals across the spectrum, and then you write a paper about that experience. Similarly, we’ve launched and have in place now, Global Residencies. There are 4 of these a year. They range in markets like London, Brussels, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sao Paolo, Mexico City, Johannesburg, et cetera. The same format, online instructions, a week in the country where you interact with opinion leaders and very high-powered, interesting people, and then you write a paper about your experience there, and that’s one of your electives. That’s open to our online as well as our on-campus students. The capstone is, as you might imagine, your demonstration of what you’ve learned in the program through either a case study or a comprehensive communications plan.
We’ve been pleased, over the years, to be recognized for our work, not only by our students, which is perhaps the most gratifying, but by the industry. We’ve been given awards and recognition, some of which are mentioned on here, that we are very proud of, but fundamentally what we are most proud of is the quality of the people that we produce and the success they have once they leave our program.
I’ll also put a shameless plug here, this is a textbook that myself and another professor in the program wrote. This was put together and it’s come out in January of this year. It’s now in 30 schools across the country, including my alma mater, Boston University, and we use it of course at GW. And this is because there wasn’t a textbook that we felt that was the applied nature of what we do and how it all has to have a sense of social responsibility and a global perspective. So this textbook is out now and we use it a lot, and I’m very proud of it. It was a lot of work, trust me, but it’s been very gratifying to see it taken up by our students and by other professionals around the country and around the world.
I’m going to turn you over to Molly, who is in our recruiting team, to talk about requirements for applications and other information.
Molly: Hello, everyone. As Larry said, my name is Molly Ringel and I work in Marketing & Recruiting here at GSPM. I am actually also a current student over in the Political Management Program, so it’s fun for me to listen today as well because I do hope to take some of my electives over in the Strategic Public Relations Program.
So, I’m going to begin by talking about our application requirements. I’m sure everyone is interested to hear about the actual application process, how you’re going to get into this program. So here’s what we look for. We require students to fill out an online application, so it’s just a few pages where you’re going to set out standard information about yourself. You have a non-refundable application fee of $80.00. We require 3 letters of recommendation, so these letters, you really get to pick who they’re coming from. Our requirements for this is at least one of the letters needs to be from a previous professor of yours who can speak to your academic experiences and your skillsets. We also are going to need at least one recommendation from a previous supervisor or employer who can speak to your professional experience. For that third recommendation letter, you can choose who it’s from, so it can be two professors, or two employers, but at least the requirement is one of each.
We’re going to need a current résumé as well. That’s going to speak more to your professional experience. This program is very much academic and professional experience, so that’s going to help give us an idea more of who you are and what you are interested in, and then we can help you tailor the program towards that.
We’re also going to need a personal statement – It is pretty short: 250 to 500 words, not even a whole page – essentially why you’re pursuing this degree and how you hope to utilize it one day. We’re going to need your transcripts, so at first we’re going to be okay with unofficial transcripts, you can upload them right to the application portal. We’re going to need them from all of your previous institutions. If you studied abroad, if you have a master’s degree or an associate degree, your bachelor’s degree, any institution that you’ve previously, please upload an unofficial transcript, and then an official transcript after you are accepted.
So, great news: The GRE. So, if you have above a 3.0 undergraduate GPA we are going to waive the GRE requirement for you. However, there is also another option to bypass the GRE. If you have about 3 years of fulltime experience you can submit a work portfolio. This work portfolio is going to entail a descriptive essay, also about 500 words, about your current position, or your professional experience most recently. You’re also going to send in 2 to 3 writing samples, just to give us an idea of your writing style and your really solidified writing skills, so that we have an idea to be able to bypass that academic experience that would kind of be provided in the GRE.
I’m going to move on next to the next slide, because I think that’s all of that. So upcoming start dates: So, January 14th is the start date for on-campus students here at the Alexandria Educational Centre right off of the King Street Metro. That’s where our classes are taught, at the on-campus program starting Monday January 14th. Online students will begin January 7th. So, just keep these dates in mind so when you’re coming back from the holidays that you can be prepared for class to begin.
I’m also going to talk about when your applications are due. So, for on-campus spring admissions we have a priority deadline of October 1st, so if you’re applying for financial aid or any merit scholarships, turn them in by October 1st. We also have an admission deadline of November 15th as well, that’s for our general admissions. So feel free to have all of your items in beforehand and we can actually return a decision early as well, if you get everything in.
So, moving on, I’ll go to the next slide. Additional Resources: It’s important to keep a note that when you attend GW you have access to a wide variety of resources here. Feel free to call someone on campus, or speak to an associate online about financial aid. It’s important to be cognizant of how you’re financing your degree. Make sure that you have all of your ducks in a row before you start classes, so reach out to some of these resources listed on the page here, we link right to our website and the application portal itself, as well as our online course listings.
As Larry and Arvind have been talking about, we have a bunch of wonderful classes here. If any of them that we’ve spoken [about] have sparked your interest, we actually have all the syllabi offered online that you can peek through in the meantime before classes start.
So, this is going to be the Q&A time. If you have any questions, please be submitting them. I see right now that we actually had a question about the differences between on-campus and online SPR programs. So I think that maybe Larry could speak a little bit more to this. Larry, if you don’t mind.
Larry: Sure, no problem at all. Thank you, Molly, for that. From the perspective of academic credibility there’s no difference at all, it’s exactly the same degree, it’s not any implication that one is more or less than the other; that’s first and foremost what I want people to understand. There are some delivery differences, obviously. The on-campus classes typically run longer and you do multiple classes at the same time. In the fall and spring semesters are 14 weeks long, and summer semester is 10 weeks long.
Online, the format is one class at a time for six weeks. Highly concentrated, you have to move pretty quickly, but you’re only in one class at a time. Then there are two weeks off and then you start the next class. So in a given semester, regardless of the platform that you’re on, most students will have accomplished two courses that they will have completed. But we’ve set it up in either case, depending upon when you start, that you get your required courses out of the way as soon possible and get to the point where you can start taking advantage of the electives to, what we like to call, customize your degree, based on your interests and your availability of classes.
On campus there’s more to choose from just by virtue of the technology involved in having an online class, but nonetheless you have choices in both formats where you can, as I said, customize your degree. And then both students, whether they’re online or on-campus, have a full semester in which they do their final capstone project, and that capstone project is presented to your peers in a class in the on-campus environment, I’d bring in a couple of alums and some industry people that I know to critique it. In the online environment it’s your peers in the class who do it. Arvind, it’s not a single project, not a group project anymore, but it lasts for an entire semester. So we realized you can’t do an in-depth program by yourself in six weeks, so we’ve expanded it to 14 weeks, which is a change since you were part of the team.
But those are the differences, but most importantly they are the same degree, and one is no more valuable than the other, and they’re not asterisked or noted in any way that it was online versus on-campus.
Molly: That was great, Larry.
Kira: Professor, I have one question coming in from the audience. Would you be able to describe the interaction between professors, faculty members, and students for the online program? Someone is looking into the online program.
Larry: Arvind, why don’t you take that one?
Arvind: Yes, you broke up a little bit, but I think if I heard it correctly, what is the interaction like and the ability to interact professors and faculty members if you’re on the online program? It was actually fantastic. I would say the flexibility of the faculty to accommodate different timeframes, to hop on the phone. I know I Skyped a couple of my professors a couple of different times. There’s a ton of flexibility. Now, it may not be the traditional pop into the office and have a conversation impromptu, that kind of style, but it takes a little bit of coordination and flexibility to accommodate each other’s schedules, but I thought it was great. Any time I needed to speak to a professor or even a teach assistant in any way, everybody was always accommodating of not only their schedules but my schedules. So I thought it was great, I had no concerns whatsoever, you just had to be able to use some technology and understand that you can accomplish what you need to accomplish over the phone or over Skype versus just always in person.
Larry: Let me just add a little bit to that. The principal differences would be that it’s in an online virtual environment, as Arvind has indicated. The professors are … the interaction you have, and we do offer, by the way, a course sampler, and if you’re interested in that you can ask one of your advisors to see what it’s like to be in an online class. But basically the class each week is preloaded, you interact with it at your time and your convenience between Sunday and Sunday. You have to go online and do discussions. There’s requirements that you post on a discussion board, depending in the class, two times a week, plus react to one of your colleagues, their post, and all these conversations get going and it’s very exciting and very dramatic. That’s the class participation.
There are weekly chats with professors, weekly chats with the TAs, if there’s one in your class, depending on the size, and the ability – as Arvind has indicated – to reach out via email or other technology to say I don’t understand something, or as time goes on – this happens for me and other professors – I’m thinking about applying for this job, do you know somebody there, do you know anything about that organization, what’s your advice career-wise? That happens all the time, that’s part of the deal.
So, we’ve made a lot of efforts in the past few years to make the online as interactive and as dynamic as we can. It’s occurred to us that distance learning also provides for distance teaching, so we can bring in people to teach classes online who are not anywhere near Washington DC, but have an interest and a background and a skillset to be a professor on a program. They could be in Seattle, they could be in Atlanta, it doesn’t matter. So I have many more places and a bigger audience to choose from than just Washington-based people to be in the on-campus program, which in and of itself is pretty dynamic, given that it’s the nation’s capital. So it’s an [unintelligible 00:51:20] of [riches] from a faculty perspective and lots and lots of opportunity to interact with your colleagues and your professors and your TAs during class and afterwards as your careers move along. So that is something that you can rest assured is something we’re very mindful of.
Are there questions, Kira, or Molly, you want to pass along?
Molly: Yes, sorry Kira, so we did receive a question asking if there is a record of military professionals who have benefited from the program.
Larry: Yes, I’m glad that was asked. We’ve had very good success with active and retired military people coming through our program, specifically some have a public affairs background and want to transition to the private sector, and others who are looking for a career path that they want to pursue afterwards. And we have GW’s Yellow Ribbon school, we’re very supportive of the veterans’ community; there’s lots of online and on-campus support for veterans to work in our programs. Allowance is made for any and all challenges they may be facing. So we’ve had a good experience with them.
Part of what we’re working on with one of my colleagues on this line here is to do more with the military because we feel that’s an audience that adds a lot to our programs, and other students learn from interacting with people with military experience around the world, having an experience they might not have had otherwise. So we’re very welcoming and encouraging of that. We’ve had good experience with the military. We have support programs in place for the military and we’re looking to do more. Kira?
Kira: Thank you so much, Professor. So, I know there’s a question, just a follow up with regards to applicants who are with the military – servicemen and women – and it’s with regards to the GI benefits. And this question might be addressed by Molly as well. So if someone is qualified for the GI benefits, can they still quality for financial aid?
Larry: I will leave that to Molly.
Molly: That is a great question, and I think usually with that it kind of relies on some of the more specific cases, you know, individual case-by-case, so I would be happy to look more into that. If the individual student wants to send their email I would be absolutely happy to work with them, and with our financial aid office as well, and our Military and Student Veteran Services Office. So I’m very happy —
Larry: Would you find that both military members and spouses of military members take advantage of the GI benefits to be in our program, by the way?
Molly: Absolutely, we do see it very often, and we do have a large number of military affiliated students in GSPM as a whole as well.
Larry: Kira, do you have another question?
Molly: So I just have another question –
Kira: So I … Oh, go ahead, Molly, go ahead.
Molly: Sorry about that, Kira. So I see that someone asked if international students have the opportunity to intern while they are here at the on-campus program.
Larry: The answer to that question is: It’s complicated and it depends on your status, what your visa limitations are. Many international students are not allowed to work in the United States, but we do have programs for – getting into the weeds a bit here – continuing professional training and optional CPT and OPT. So what a lot of international students do is they find work, perhaps, with their embassy, or other organizations here in Washington, while they’re in the program they also move at a faster clip because they have to take three classes at a time to satisfy the requirements of their visa, except in the summer.
And then at the end of their [unintelligible 00:55:18] is they spend about a year and a semester, sometimes less, in classrooms. They then do continuing professional training, or optional professional training, where we can work with them to find a job, when they’re allowed, as long as it’s related to the field of study they’re allowed to stay in the United States for up to another year after they graduate. And many of our students do that. We just had a student who graduated last spring, who was from Korea, and she has been hired by the Korean Embassy in Washington to do legislative and communications liaison work for the Korean Embassy, and we were able to help her do that.
We do have a fulltime career services person on staff at the school who is available to give advice, and jobs are posted for anybody, not just for international students, part-time and fulltime, and that work is very, very strong and people do look for our students and graduates because of the background and the program.
Kira: Great. So the next follow up question is in regards to the CSR electives. So one of our potential applicants is really interested in pursuing CSR and would like to hear from either Arvind or Professor on what other elective courses you would recommend within the GSPM program or school that —
Larry: First to Arvind, and then I’ll be happy to add to that, because Arvind is currently doing CSR, and we see a direct link between classroom activity and a job.
Arvind: Yeah, absolutely, I would say- I’d highlight two specifically to answer that question. There’s a course on non-profit and association communication strategy, so I’d highly recommend that if you’re interested in the CSR space because, listen, you get to think and learn and go through real-life examples of how the non-profit space operates. So I think it’s critical, as any CSR professional, to understand what your audience- how they operate, how they think, what they do, what their structure is, how they communicate; so I think that would be critical.
And then I’d say anything related to internal communications or change management are huge. Listen, CSR is becoming – as Professor alluded to – an increasingly valuable profession and space, but there are still organizations that don’t prioritize it, and so understanding that, going through that elective, I think would be incredibly valuable because CSR is a change agent, it is a culture change area. And so thinking about learning tips and the best ways to collaborate with employees, colleagues, supervisors, getting them to think about how to change the culture of an organization to prioritize CSR I think are huge.
Larry: I would just add a couple of quick things, mindful of the time. Both in the on-campus program and over time we’ll be adding this to the online program. We have added global public relations as an elective for those people who are working, or want to work on a global level, and digital communication strategies, really hands-on, how to leverage Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et cetera, YouTube, to accomplish communications objectives. And this is an in-person and, hopefully, online hands-on class to [fit to] the business strategy behind a digital strategy, not just creating buzz.
So those are areas, regardless of your area of interest, that I would suggest you consider; and of course the residencies, both in Washington DC and around the world.
Kira, back to you to wrap up, unless you have more questions that need to be answered, because we’re right at the time limit.
Kira: Yes, we’re coming up to the time. So thank you, everyone, for your patience and for your questions, but we have one more that came in. So the question is: I know you went over the demographics of students in the program, but would you describe approximately the percentage of people whose backgrounds are outside of the PR communications?
Larry: As much as 15% to 20%, so some of them will not be in the minority in not knowing a lot of this stuff. And the first class that you would take – the first two classes you would take – is a survey course on: what is strategic public relations, how is it done, what are the key things you need to know? And the second part of that, another class you would take, is advanced writing for communications: how do you write persuasive materials for public relations and public affairs purposes? So, we’re aware of the fact that several of our people are new to the profession and we want to get you up and running as soon as we can. And those courses, you take them automatically as your first two online, and most often you take them as well as an on-campus student. So we accommodate that and you would not be in the minority.
Kira: Perfect, thank you. And so, as we are wrapping up, I would like to invite Arvind back, our special host for today, if you have any final thought on what you would be saying to someone who is considering either the online or campus program, what advice would you give?
Arvind: Thank you Kira, and thank you Professor, and Molly and others, for inviting me. Listen, if I can give you one advice it’s: Do it. Do it, do it, do it. There is never an ideal for any of us, who are professionals, to go back to school, but if the program, especially online, and that’s a lot of my experience this year, and I’ve stressed this word a couple of different times about flexibility, we all want a little a bit of flexibility in life, and so to pursue a graduate degree while working full-time, I have yet to run across any other program that provides me the flexibility, expertise, and culture of learning that the GW program did. So I can’t stress enough, if you’re on the fence and you’re thinking about it, make the leap, and you’ll join an incredible network of graduates, you’ll join an incredible network of communications professionals …