Graduate Program Area

Student Stories

    • Jeremy Wilson

      A Georgia native, writer Jeremy T. Wilson hoped to join the great tradition of southern writers — names like Twain, O’Connor, Faulkner and Welty. But it was further north, in Chicago, where he would end up accepting a major literary prize: the Nelson Algren Award, named for the iconic Chicago writer. Wilson won the 2012 award for his short story “Everything is Going to be Ok,” based on his experiences in Chicago. “It was a breakthrough,” he says. “After moving here and experiencing the MFA writing workshops at SPS, I felt I could move in a new direction.” 

      Wilson has had a lifelong interest in writing, but only pursued it seriously after he moved to Chicago in 2001. He published some short works of fiction and competed in several writing competitions before entering SPS’ Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, earning his MFA degree in spring of 2011. “I was drawn to the program’s evening classes, and I knew Sandi Wisenberg, a working writer and the program’s director. She was an inspiration to me and helped me understand how much work it takes to do this well.” 

      He also admits to “not being a very good reader,” and the MFA program at SPS — unlike some creative writing programs — required literature courses involving analysis of narrative structure which taught him to “read like a writer.”  Wilson believes these courses, and workshops with other serious, aspiring writers contributed to his Nelson Algren Award achievement and also a Pushcart Prize nomination. Wilson is currently working on new fiction while tutoring at SPS and for Chicago youth organizations.

    • Jim Davis

      Educators at the high school level are in a particularly prime position to shape students’ lives. Jim Davis, the strength and conditioning coordinator at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, considers the students’ combination of intellectual capability and curiosity “the perfect developmental level.”

      “They can think at a high level and they can have high-level conversations, but they're also still very susceptible to influence, especially positive influence,” says Davis. “It's a huge responsibility and a privilege and something I take very seriously.”

      Davis is also an accomplished poet with eight books to his name. When he decided to pursue his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Northwestern University School of Professional Studies (SPS), he was eager to further develop his talents as a writer. However, he was also motivated by a desire to connect with more of his students.

      “I truly believe that it has allowed me to broaden the scope of the students that I'm able to work with,” says Davis. “It's allowed me to find common ground with more of them. That's what matters to me, to identify and work with as many people as possible.”

      Davis calls the choice for high school educators to pursue a master’s in humanities a “no brainer.” The part-time, flexible scheduling options in SPS’s humanities programs complement teachers’ schedules, while the expert faculty members and personalized attention help teachers become authorities in their fields.

      Teachers also stand to benefit from the pay raise that comes with a master’s degree at many schools. Some studies have shown that teachers with a master’s degree continue to earn raises longer into their careers than those without one.

      For Davis, the financial return was not the driving motivation. “My goal all along, through everything, is to chase the things I really enjoy and do them as well as I possibly can.”

      He hopes that dedication is passed on to his students — whether the goal is setting a new personal best in the weight room or penning a new stanza, it will only be achieved by putting in the hours.

      “One of the exciting things about the humanities is that as long as you're willing to do the work and chase down your ideas and try to commit them to paper, or make art of them, you can do whatever you want,” says Davis, who plans to continue his work at New Trier while focusing on poetry in his free time. “Northwestern was exactly what I was looking for.”

    • Julianne Hill

      As a reporter and producer for print, radio and television, Julianne Hill has garnered numerous awards for probing tough subjects, like mandatory medication to treat schizophrenia. But Hill wanted to dig deeper still, to learn new ways to tell her own stories. She found the tools she needed in Northwestern’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (MFA) program, where she specializes in creative nonfiction. “I’ve focused on essays and memoir,” says Hill, “but creative nonfiction is so much more than that. [Writer and MFA instructor] Alex Kotlowitz calls it literary journalism.”

      Hill’s career got off to a heady start after college with an internship with the Associated Press in Rome. “It opened up an Ohio girl’s eyes to the world,” says Hill, who returned home to report for Crain’s Cleveland Business. She transferred to Crain’s Chicago publications when her husband, Doug Hill, wanted to study improvisational comedy at The Second City while working in marketing and advertising. Julianne Hill’s career thrived in Chicago, where she helped launch the international news edition of Advertising Age and then landed a dream job with television reporter and producer Bill Kurtis: “It was a huge gift. I didn’t know a thing about TV. Bill took me on and taught me how to write to pictures.” Hill shifted to radio several years ago after recording two (“One Brain Shrinks, Another Brain Grows” and “Heart Shaped Box”) poignant essays for Ira Glass’s This American Life. The essays recounted her young son’s struggle to comprehend his father’s slow decline from a degenerative brain disease.

      Hill calls the MCW class she took with video essayist John Bresland on writing with images and sound “life-changing.” In that class Hill created an eight-minute video — an imagined interview with Mary Magdalene about widowhood — that has appeared in three film festivals. For a class with author Eula Biss, Hill wrote a story called “Ordinary Day” and performed it before a live audience in Chicago. Currently working on a multimedia thesis, Hill cites classes with Bill Savage, Marya Hornbacher, Michael McColly, and Sandi Wisenberg as opening new opportunities, including perhaps teaching full-time at the college level. Says Hill, “The program has helped me develop in ways I hadn’t expected.”

    • Lana Rakhman

      When she was a child, Svetlana (“Lana”) Rakhman was always writing stories and poems. A passion for language stayed with her, and she later earned a bachelor’s degree in English. She knew the literary field was competitive but was determined to pursue a career in teaching or editing and to share her poetry with a wider audience. After enrolling in SPS’ MFA program in creative writing, those dreams began taking shape. 

      While a student, Rakhman served for two years as poetry editor of TriQuarterly, Northwestern University’s prestigious international literary journal founded in the 1960s. When TriQuarterly’s print edition was eliminated in 2010, the journal was reincarnated as an online, student-run publication. “I loved the editorial role. It gave me insights into how poets become established and access to a network of publishing professionals and writers,” Rakhman says. “It also gave me a legitimate place in the writing community. It was no longer ‘you’re just a grad student, why should I listen to you? And that benefit remains long after graduation.” 

      At the same time, Rakhman was using the MFA’s workshop format to polish her poems and move well beyond an amateur level. “There is a myth that writers, if they have talent, must be working alone,” she says. “That may work for a small number of people, but most need the feedback regardless of their talent. Consider the Beat poets — they talked with each other about their work and shared drafts. The SPS MFA program formalizes that process and has faculty — like Reginald Gibbons and others — who are both great poets and great teachers. The experience quiets the many ideas in your head into one unique voice. It gives you a sense of what you want to do, and what you can do.” 

      She began submitting poems to literary journals and has since been published in Poetry Quarterly, Salamander, Grey Sparrow Journal and many others. Rakhman, who moved to the United States from Kiev, Ukraine when she was five, uses her poems to explore issues related to language, identity, women and violence. “Many of my poems address both the possibility and impossibility of language, and broader questions about communication and control through language,” she explains. 

      Rakhman earned her MFA in 2011. She is continuing to develop her poetry portfolio and has landed part-time teaching positions at several local colleges. 

    • Patrick Carberry

      There’s Patrick Carberry the writer, and then there’s Patrick the Intern. The latter has been a recurring character on The Encyclopedia Show, an award-winning literary variety show at Stage 773 in Chicago. Carberry describes the character he created as “a man-child who can’t do a whole lot” — except to serve as a hilarious vehicle for Carberry’s short works of comedic fiction.

      The Encyclopedia Show was founded as a humorous, less competitive alternative to the poetry slam scene. Local artists present work on a theme — serial killers, floods, cheerleaders — juxtaposed with real experts on the topic. The show recently ended a successful six-year run. But it has been only one part of Carberry’s writing career, which will soon include a master of fine arts degree from Northwestern University School of Professional Studies (SPS).

      Carberry grew up surrounded by books and developed an interest in the performative aspect of literature, such as reading aloud, storytelling and plays. He earned a bachelor of English at Illinois State University, where his speech team won the American Forensic Association’s national tournament in 2005, and he won an individual event, program oral interpretation, in 2006. Carberry went on to earn a master of English and then returned to Chicago to teach writing part time in local colleges. While working on the show and teaching, Carberry was also publishing his work in small journals such as SmokeLong Quarterly and Pank. But he was ready to do more.

      “I was already immersed in the local writing scene,” he says. “But I wanted to take my writing more seriously and position myself for full-time teaching. I knew that with real deadlines and a sense of urgency I could accomplish more.”

      Carberry credits SPS’s workshop model and his instructors, especially writer Steve Amick, with helping him define his voice, push past his comfort zone, and take on an ambitious thesis project — his first novel. “Steve’s approach and dedication has been wonderful, and a workshop environment that’s honest helps you see how real, serious readers view your work,” he explains. “In one workshop a student said, ‘that must be a Carberry story.’ It probably wasn’t meant as a compliment, but I took it as one. In the MFA program, you can find your voice, a style that is unmistakably you.”

    • Evan Lord

      Evan Lord

      I like taking on several things at once, says Evan Lord, who keeps a barrage of balls in the air. Lord coaches junior, adult, and collegiate players at a tennis club in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Cofounder of a startup, he brainstorms electronic means to improve access to information about infectious diseases in remote areas. As a graduate student in Northwestern's online MS in Global Health (MSGH) program, he connects with experts around the world to address critical issues in 21st-century healthcare.

      Multitasking is not new for Lord. As a sophomore at Ursinus College, he became a licensed EMT while pursuing a degree in French and minors in biology and philosophy. In an Ursinus class on biomedical ethics, Lord teamed with two classmates to envision a global database for reporting infectious diseases. The team went on to win a business competition and seed money to launch GEMS (Globalized Ethics for Medical Science) when they graduated in 2014.

      Lord says his MSGH studies were immediately applicable to the startup and will enhance his career in health diplomacy. "Even in countries with developed healthcare systems, there may be huge gaps in access to care," says Lord, who notes that cultural barriers, like the burial practices that promoted transmission of Ebola, may impede healthcare.

      In an MSGH grant-writing course, Lord connected with classmate Heidi Sampang, a physician traveling the world on medical missions. She introduced him to physicians and healthcare officials at the National Lung Center of the Philippines, where Lord will conduct fieldwork for his degree in collaboration with Sampang and MSGH classmate Anna Demkovic, a paralegal at Abbott Labs. "We're looking to change the way we view disease and how it's treated," says Lord. "We have the potential to affect policy making at regional and national levels."

    • Heidi Sampang

      Heidi Sampang

      As part of the first graduating class of students in Northwestern’s online Master of Science in Global Health (MSGH) program, Heidi Sampang is driven by her passion for public service and preparing to complete her degree in just under two years.

      Sampang was born and raised in the Philippines but practiced medicine in the United States for many years, and wanted to give back by committing to short term medical outreach programs every year. “I treasured the international experiences I had and really enjoyed learning about the different cultures, but I wanted to learn more on how to address their health needs,” she said.  

      She started searching for public health courses offered in Washington D.C. and Virginia, but because of her busy schedule she was unable to find the time to go to class after work. After almost giving up on finding the right program for her, her husband discovered the newly created Northwestern program, offered in partnership with the School of Professional Studies (SPS) and Feinberg School of Medicine.

      “The program was perfect because the teachers were very well respected and learning was completely asynchronous, which worked well with my schedule,” she said.

      Before beginning her coursework in the fall of 2014, Sampang never expected that she would enjoy online learning.

      “I thought online learning detached you from your peers and instructors but I was wrong,” she said. “I had great virtual interactions with my classmates — some of them I met in person and even traveled to Mozambique with for a health project.” 

      Sampang has always been committed to a life of serving others with her medical expertise. In 2010 she was featured on an episode of NBC’s Dateline, when a volunteer medical team she was part of responded to the cholera epidemic in the isolated mountain village of Medor, Haiti, following a sudden earthquake.

      She recently moved back to the Philippines and has continued to dedicate her life to service work. As the program manager for Remote Area Medical Philippines, she organizes medical teams that deploy every day and during times of disaster.

      “There are still lots of people living in geographically isolated and displaced areas and we want to reach out these people,” Sampang said.

      She is also working to establish a community health program in Nwadjahane, a remote town in Mozambique. Sampang credits her Northwestern education for giving her the tools to think and act globally.

      “With my SPS experience, I was able to express my ideas clearly and implement programs effectively to achieve maximum results,” she said. “My professors discussed the importance of cultural sensitivity and I always try to be respectful of the local authorities while making them aware of the best practices in the world that they can use in their own setting.”

      In the MSGH, Sampang was finally able to merge her medical career and her love of service.  “My education at SPS gave me more confidence because I now have a solid academic background reinforcing my personal field experiences.”

      Article by Danielle Susi

    • Stephanie Kang

      Stephanie Kang

      Stephanie Kang considers herself a community-builder. Currently working toward her Master of Science in Global Health, Kang also serves as program director of two nonprofits associated with Harvard University. At the helm of MEDscience, run out of Harvard Medical School, she works to bring experiential STEM education to classrooms around Boston.

      “It’s a fun, innovative program where we try to provide hands-on science-learning opportunities for underserved students,” explains Kang. “We’re trying to level the playing field for underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.”

      When she first began volunteering with the organization, they were at three high schools in the area. Now they’re at fifteen. Meanwhile, she also serves as program director at Community Health Council, a nonprofit organization that leads mobile medical and dental clinics in Orangé, a remote area of Haiti with no direct access to healthcare.

      “We work with local doctors to design different medical research or education projects. For us to deliver our mobile clinic in some areas, people still have to walk six hours because we’re the closest access to healthcare they have.”

      With a nonstop schedule, Kang chose Northwestern University School of Professional Studies because it provided her the flexibility to continue her professional endeavors.

      “I talked to a lot of different schools and admissions advisors about their programs, but didn’t want to commit somewhere full time,” says Kang. “It’s not that I didn’t want to commit academically, it’s that it was incredibly important for me to maintain my professional experience while I went to school. Northwestern gave me the most flexibility and the best-rounded coursework, so I knew I’d be able to learn what I wanted to on a timeline that accommodated my busy schedule.”

      Kang says that the online coursework has surpassed her expectations and she believes technology is integral to the future of education in the healthcare field. The online structure allows her to receive individual attention from faculty as well.

      “I’ve never felt more connected with my professors,” Kang says. “Even though I’ve never physically met my faculty, I’ve had the strongest relationships in my academic career.”

      Ultimately, Kang plans to leverage her master’s to earn her Doctor in Public Health (DrPH) as well. She believes that a doctorate in global health will allow her to make difference in the healthcare field and continue her on-the-ground work with nonprofits.

      “Everything is related to health, but I don’t want to only be thinking about things through a biomedical focus. I want to inspire students to pursue higher education, which will in turn benefit the community and their health and their family’s health. They’re all connected.”

    • Aly Sivji

      Check out Aly Sivji’s LinkedIn profile and you’ll come upon a surprising listing: “international jetsetter.” Travel is one of Sivji’s passions, along with math, data, problem solving and software development. Sivji graduated from the University of Waterloo in his native Canada with a degree in computational mathematics. He then worked as an analyst in various financial industries — including a stint as a trader at Barclays Capital in London — and also spent time traveling around the world. But it wasn’t until he enrolled in the Northwestern University School of Professional Studies’s Master of Science in Health Informatics (MHI) online program that his interests and skills came together.

      “My whole life I had planned to work as a trader and even though I loved it, I didn’t feel fulfilled,” Sivji says. “I was traveling, working and trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I discovered health informatics — I knew it was the right field for me.”

      Sivji decided to move from finance to healthcare, where he felt that he could make a bigger impact. The change wasn’t entirely out of left field — Sivji’s mother is a physician, and he grew up hearing about the challenges in healthcare. He enrolled in the MHI graduate program and also accepted a position as a senior analyst at Truven Health Analytics. Now, the former trader studies alongside physicians and other professionals in the online program.

      “The experience has been an eye opener,” he says. “I learn so much about the day-to-day challenges of healthcare from my peers and faculty. The program has helped me confirm that I want to work in an industry where I can be part of the solution by using my skills to make data come alive.”

    • Mike Morotti

      Mike Morotti entered Northwestern’s MS in Health Informatics program with the idea in mind of having a larger impact on clinical outcomes utilizing cutting edge computer software technology. He entered the program at a time when his company was trying to create a revolutionary application that enabled clinicians to access data, bi-directionally from anywhere, virtually anytime. “It increases patient safety considerably,” Morotti said. “The healthcare technology experts said it couldn’t be done and we proved them wrong.” 

      Morotti’s overall aim was anything but small: “To speak credibly before the world’s thought leaders, and perhaps become one of the world’s thought leaders.” 

      At the time, Morotti was vice president of sales and marketing for Validus Medical Systems. His innovative approach with the mobile computerized physician order entry (mCPOE) application caught the attention of Medsphere Systems Corporation, a unique, open-source software electronic health records company. The company hired him as its vice president of sales and medical informaticist about a year after he earned his degree from Northwestern in June 2011. 

      Participating in Northwestern’s medical informatics program was a “win-win,” Morotti said. He applied to the program because he wanted to “increase his impact on the health care industry as a whole.” 

      In addition to spending more than 19 years working in healthcare information technology, Morotti has spent almost 13 years as a U.S. military officer, specializing as an aviator. 

      “Pilots and doctors are very similar — data-driven, very focused, intense and meticulous,” he said. 

      “This program is the one thing that allowed me to stay focused, given the pressures of work, family and tons of travel. I was in a different hotel every week, and didn’t take two classes in any one city. If I can do this, anybody can do it, if they want it badly enough.”

    • Naveen Gidwani

      I like to see things through,” Naveen Gidwani says of his experience helping to launch a secure website to facilitate communication and exchange between doctors and patients. The entrepreneurial venture was his first hands-on experience in the rapidly growing field of health information technology. In a tough economy and after encountering some barriers to move the venture forward, in 2010 he shifted focus to work with physicians in the financial and technological aspects of their practices, with Gidwani in charge of business development for a suburban Chicago company. Wanting to finish building on his earlier experience, Gidwani enrolled in Northwestern’s Master of Science in Health Informatics (MHI) online program. “The program has helped me use that experience and follow my interest to keep learning and to build a deeper understanding of the field,” says Gidwani.

      Gidwani is one of the younger students in the MHI program, but he brings years of technology and business experience to online discussions. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Villanova University in business administration with coursework in database and systems analysis, Gidwani worked as a technology management analyst at JPMorgan Chase. That experience put him on the MMI’s track for techies, where he is learning more about the policies behind health care in the U.S. His favorite classes have included The American Health Care System; Legal, Ethical, and Social Issues; and Medical Technology Acquisition and Assessment, which he cited for its practicality: “It allowed me hands-on experience, like sitting at the decision-making table.”

      Gidwani calls his classmates “incredibly talented people from diverse backgrounds” and says that the online format allows them maximum flexibility to communicate: “Health care is 24/7, so everyone has a different schedule.” Training more people in medical informatics will improve patient outcomes and help lower costs, says Gidwani, who is excited about his career prospects. “My experience in the MHI will set me up for diverse career opportunities. The degree enables you to create a unique career — it could be at a hospital, an outside venture, even a startup.”

    • Rebecca Algren

      “I’m a little bit of an overachiever,” confesses Rebecca Algren when recounting the 40 or so hours per week she studied when she began Northwestern University School of Professional Studies’s (SPS) Master of Science in Health Informatics (MHI) online program in January 2014. Algren took two classes that quarter while working full time as director of analytics at MediSync, a Cincinnati company that supports the management of medical groups. “It’s an old saying, but it’s true: you get as much value out something as you put into it,” she says.

      A 2004 cum laude graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Algren is used to hard work. The premed and psychology major was considering medical school but wanted to be “100 percent sure” before making that decision, so she took a job as a data analyst at the clinical research organization Medpace and found herself well suited to the work. “I’ve always been good at math,” says Algren, “and applying math to the medical field combined both my interests.” From Medpace she moved to EyeMed Vision Care as a financial analyst and then onto MediSync in 2011. By that time Algren was well versed in medical informatics, but she wanted to study the field systematically and applied to Northwestern.

      Favorite classes have included Introduction to Clinical Thinking, taught by MHI faculty director David Liebovitz, and American Health Care System, taught by Andy Chang. “I probably worked the hardest in that class, but I learned the most,” says Algren. A class on decision support systems gave her information she was able to apply immediately at MediSync.

      “I was promoted even before completing my degree because they liked my initiative,” says Algren. “What I’ve learned from SPS has been very evident on the job. A topic will come up, and I’ll say, ‘I just read an article about that yesterday.’ I picked a program that fits my job description exactly.”

      As much time as Algren has put into her studies, she believes the program is saving her time. “I never would have come across much of the information on my own, or if I had, it would have taken me much longer to do the research. The MHI gives me the information I need in condensed form. It’s helped me to know what’s out there to help physicians leverage the data they have.”

    • Chris Rinere

      Chris Rinere

      Finding innovative and user-friendly training methods for working professionals and students has been a career-long focus for Chris Rinere, a senior training specialist at Northwestern University and current Master of Science in Information Design and Strategy (IDS) student.

      “There’s so much we can do to improve learning using data,” he explained, also noting that this trend can make professional development more individualized.

      Rinere began his career as a talent development and training consultant after graduating with a degree in English and Adolescent Education from SUNY at Geneseo. In this role, he became an early proponent of LinkedIn, and had so much success in implementing it that it caught the social media company’s attention, resulting in him landing a job there as a strategic educational consultant.

      However, Rinere always imagined himself contributing more directly in higher education, and after working as a consultant for several organizations including DePaul University, he began an academic and professional career at Northwestern.

      Now Rinere manages Northwestern’s Sponsored Project Online Training (SPOT) program and creates custom e-learning materials for the University. He is particularly interested in improving the user experience of training materials by adding more interactive and hands-on elements. When asked what designing training materials might look like in the future, Rinere said, ““Learning how to make training an individual experience using virtual reality is going to be huge.”

      The IDS program encompasses many of the intersecting subject matter areas Rinere uses at his day job, and has helped him become an interdisciplinary leader. He noted, “I think the program is innovative. It combines a lot of business goals within the design realm.”

      Specifically, Rinere found value in user-centered design coursework, which examines methodologies to create and better digital experiences for the end user. Combining this knowledge with user research, content strategy, leadership, information design, and other key components of the IDS program has boosted Rinere’s skillset as a training specialist.

      “The program has given me a lot more confidence in the workplace,” said Rinere, adding, “You can be an effective learning designer by making the most user experience and big data. I’m trying to combine all that stuff.”

    • Tori Bell

      Tori Bell

      Like many young professionals, Tori Bell decided to return to grad school while holding down a full-time job. She was accepted into a traditional MBA program, but it didn’t take long for Tori to realize it wasn’t the right fit. As a senior communications specialist at the San Diego headquarters of global biotech company Illumina, she wanted coursework that more closely aligned with her long-term professional goals. Serendipitously, while attending a Digital Workplace conference in Chicago, she saw an ad for the Northwestern Master of Science in Information Design and Strategy (IDS) online program.

      “I wasn’t considering an online program before,” said Bell. “But I saw the IDS program and it lined up with what I’m doing professionally and where I was looking to grow. The courses listed were specific to digital communication, targeted content, mobile and measurement and that really jumped out at me. It’s such a modern and forward-looking curriculum.”

      Now a year and a half in, Tori is surprised by how connected she feels with the students and faculty even though her coursework is online. Many of her classmates are also based on the West Coast, working in tech hubs in San Francisco and Seattle. Since they share a time zone, Tori has had a chance to collaborate with the same group of students from quarter to quarter.

      Tori also appreciates that the IDS program emphasizes real-world practice. “The faculty is incredible,” she said. “My professors are running businesses, working for consulting firms and agencies and navigating today’s workplace just like I am. Hearing about their experiences and creative solutions to work challenges many of us face is not only really interesting but applicable.”

      The online component also complements Tori’s plans at Illumina. Starting as an intern, she worked her way up the ladder to her current role — and now she’s becoming more involved in the company’s global communication strategy. Illumina has offices in Europe, South America, and Asia, and Tori is interested in visiting different regions to improve internal communications processes to help facilitate cross-site communication. The flexibility of an online program makes international travel manageable.

      All in all, Tori’s objective is to help employees at Illumina get the information they need in the easiest way possible so they can spend more time on value-added work. For Tori, the IDS program’s focus on innovation, technology, and user experience plays a major role is helping her create that employee experience vision and plan.

    • Jeff Eckmann

      Growing up in Libertyville, Illinois, Jeffrey Eckmann was schooled in business at an early age as he pitched in with his family’s manufacturing business. So it came as no surprise when Eckmann earned an undergraduate degree in finance and found work as an investment analyst, first at Deutsche Bank and then at Ilios Partners, where he covered the technology industry. That’s when his focus widened. “My mother kept hearing me talk about technology and she suggested I look into graduate programs,” says Eckmann. “I followed my heart into tech.”

      Eckmann enrolled in Northwestern’s Master of Science in Information Systems (MSIS) program. “The curriculum helped me understand what’s moving the industry,” says Eckmann, who lives a few blocks from the Chicago campus and worked full time while completing the program. He has high praise for his MSIS professors. “Java was a challenge for me since I had no background in it, but Professor [Kayed] Akkawi was available to help all the time,” notes Eckmann. “I liked that so many professors work in the field and bring real-world experience to their teaching.” He cites a management class with Jeff Gott, an executive at Abbott Labs, as a favorite.

      For his capstone project Eckmann worked with a team of classmates to formulate algorithms to create a conflict-free schedule for final exams. “It would have been impossible for one person to do it within the time frame,” he says. “It was a collective effort, with an emphasis on team-building and designating different roles. My concentration was management, so I took a project management role. The teamwork speaks to the program and to what happens in the workforce.” Eckmann, who is currently an analyst at Briefing, a boutique financial research company, says he is not likely to forget what he learned in the MSIS program: “I’m using it every day at work.”

    • Lauren Pahnke

      Lauren Pahnke excels at endurance. She completed her fastest Ironman triathlon — a 2.4-mile swim in Lake Placid, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile marathon — in just under 12 hours, one grueling stroke after another. And she completed her Master of Science in Information Systems (MSIS) degree at Northwestern University School of Professional Studies in 2014 in much the same way, by focusing on one class at a time while working full time as a senior business systems analyst at the university. “It’s important to stay on top of every class,” says Pahnke. “I took one class a quarter until I finished.”

      Pahnke’s road to becoming a techie was far from straight. At Cornell University she majored in nutrition, the closest fit to her interest in fitness management. After graduation, she segued into event planning as a campaign manager for Team In Training, a national group exercise program run by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Chicago. After relocating to Texas while her husband completed his PhD, Pahnke found work as an events planner at the University of Texas at Austin. “While I was there I started to shift focus,” says Pahnke, who went through a career assessment that steered her to computer programming and software engineering. An apprentice program at the university trained her to become an information technology manager in financial systems. When the couple moved back to Chicago in 2011, Pahnke landed a job in Northwestern’s IT administrative systems.

      “I had training for the work at Northwestern, but that’s not the same as having a degree in information systems,” says Pahnke. “The MSIS program was exactly what I needed. It was geared toward working people, it gave me the skills I needed, and it filled in the gaps in my knowledge. I wasn’t looking for a new job — I love my work and the people I work with. What I wanted was the formal knowledge that I lacked. It made me even better qualified for what I’m doing.”

      MSIS students may take some or all of their classes online. Pahnke’s favorite course, foundations of leadership taught by Mark Clare, used a blended format, beginning online before bringing people together for a three-day workshop. “I liked learning about different leadership styles and becoming more aware of how I work with others and how I could change,” says Pahnke. She found an IT strategy class to be especially valuable and enjoyed sampling electives like network security — all useful in her work.

      In fact, Pahnke was so pleased with what she learned that when she was invited to be a teaching assistant in the MSIS program, she jumped at the chance: “It keeps you thinking about the concepts.”

    • Monica Prudencio Arredondo

      Monica Prudencio Arredondo has lived on both coasts and in the middle: she grew up in Winnetka, Illinois, in a Spanish-speaking family from Bolivia, earned an undergraduate degree in political science from the University of New Hampshire, and worked for seven years in Los Angeles, where she managed projects at a communications agency. When her husband suggested they relocate to the Midwest in 2007, Prudencio Arredondo found work as a manager of translation services at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston. In 2009 she followed her boss to the Department of Medical Social Sciences at Northwestern’s Feinberg School Medicine, where Prudencio Arredondo serves as project manager of a Web-based program that collects and assesses patient-reported outcomes for more than 25 medical studies. Rather than translating Spanish to English, she now finds herself translating tech.

      That led her to Northwestern’s Master of Science in Information Systems (MSIS) program. “I had a business background and I was already working in tech,” says Prudencio Arredondo. “I wanted to learn how to manage a tech group and create opportunities for future work.” She says that her MSIS classes helped her immediately in her job: “In my networking class we learned about network connectivity, and in a work meeting the following week, that’s exactly what we discussed.” A database class with MSIS director Faisal Akkawi helped her communicate more effectively with the developers she manages at work.

      In addition to technical classes, Prudencio Arredondo learned more about the business side of tech in a management class with Jeff Gott and a strategy class with Gunther Branham, executives from Abbott Labs who teach in the program. “Technology is a strategic partner to business,” says Prudencio Arredondo. “A business won’t grow without technology. Before the program I knew technology was important, but I wasn’t as aware as I am today of the vital role it plays in business strategy.“Anyone working in business needs to understand that tech has to be part of business and not just part of the background noise.”

    • Christy Howell

      Christy Howell

      Christy Howell is passionate about helping parents, college counselors, and employers better understand the wide-ranging benefits of liberal arts education. That might not be surprising if Howell were a professor, but as part of the innovation team at Blue Cross Blue Shield, and with an accomplished career in information technology, businesses should stand up and take notice. As a student working toward a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies at Northwestern, Howell can attest to the professional benefits she’s seen firsthand.

      “Liberal studies are personally enriching, but they’ve also taught me to think in ways that are important as an employee and as a board of trustees member at Mary Baldwin University, where I did my undergrad,” said Howell. “It’s changed my perspective. I’ve been surprised at the number of times the things I’ve learned have been an imperative piece of the innovation platform.”

      Now Howell is drafting her thesis on how critical liberal studies are to higher education. Ultimately, she hopes to publish peer-reviewed research examining how the liberal arts principles benefit the corporate world.

      “While you don’t necessarily learn one hard skill, learning ways of thinking ties directly into corporate issues, technology issues, and interpersonal challenges. I use my education to approach innovation differently.”

      Howell notes the subject matter of her thesis has been profound in its multi-faceted nature and that parents need more information about how an undergraduate or graduate degree in liberal studies can lead to rewarding professions in a variety of fields. Her own professional experience serves as a testament to her research. She’s also been wowed by the faculty she works with in the School of Professional Studies.

      “I have been very impressed with the professors. Their support and encouragement, the depth of their knowledge, has been remarkable. They make the university.”     

    • Devin Savage

      Devin Savage says he “bounced around the humanities” as an undergraduate at Indiana University, partaking of classes in sociology and religion and waiting until his senior year to declare himself a history major. Ten years later, when he thought about graduate school, he wanted to pursue those overlapping interests in depth. Savage also hoped to advance his career as an academic librarian at Northwestern University Library, where he coordinates services to help students and professors make the most of the library’s digital and traditional resources.

      When Savage completed the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) program in 2009, he had satisfied both goals. Winner of the MALS Distinguished Thesis Award, Savage dug into a nuanced topic, exploring how poet and novelist Gabriele D’Annunzio mobilized followers in pre-Mussolini Italy. Savage’s graduate work also helped him better understand the user’s perspective in the library as he helped classmates and professors discover resources and services. Another bonus: Savage says his Northwestern degree helped him gain admission to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s master’s degree program in library and information science and to win an Illinois State Library Training Grant.

      “SCS has made the MALS program as flexible as possible,” says Savage, who worked full time while he earned his degree. He also took advantage of opportunities to work closely with top scholars from Northwestern and beyond: thesis adviser Scott Durham, Northwestern professor of French and Italian; visiting professor and internationally known political theorist Ernesto Laclau; and professor emerita Nancy Cirillo at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “These were special opportunities for me,” says Savage. “At SCS you can go as far as your interests take you.”

    • Greg Nault

      Greg Nault is no stranger to academia — after earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from DePaul, he spent the next seven years teaching composition at multiple colleges. But he desired a change, one with more opportunities than he had as an adjunct instructor. At the same time, his scholarly interests had veered toward the cultural and economic theories of cities; he dreamed of earning a PhD that would allow him to do work in this area. Nault decided to enter SCS’ Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program to see whether he’d have “the chops” to make it in a PhD program.

      “It’s one thing to teach undergraduate composition or write professional communication, and another to do academic research and writing,” he says. “It had been a long time since I was in graduate school for my master’s, and I felt out of touch with the rigors of academic reading, especially theoretical works.”  Nault used the program’s flexibility, emphasis on critical and analytical thinking, and diverse topics — a broad variety in the humanities and social science — to polish his skills and define his interests.  

      “The ability to tailor my courses and projects, and certain classroom experiences, were great preparation,” he says. “My very first class with Professor Henry Binford, who specializes in urbanization, really helped focus my interests. A literature class with Professor Jane Winston explored the effect of the built environment on people. I’m now looking at cities the way I used to look at novels.”

      Nault is considering PhD programs that draw upon geography, cultural studies, urban studies and other disciplines to shape our understanding of cities. He intends to apply in the fall of 2013 with the goal of eventually teaching at the college level. But he’s open to other opportunities in the private sector.

      “In MALS you learn to research, analyze and write at a much higher level,” he says. “I’m confident that this will help me not only as a PhD student, but in any other career path I might choose.”

    • Megan Miskiewicz

      The goal of teaching history at the collegiate level is a challenging one, and many graduates compete for a limited number of positions. But it’s a job that Megan Miskiewicz has dreamed of since “falling in love” with the subject in high school. Now, the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program is helping her make it a reality.

      As an honors undergraduate at DePaul, Miskiewicz majored in history with a minor in women’s and gender studies. She began working on a book that explored themes of sterilization, eugenics and the economics of marriage — pieces of American history that fascinated her, but are less well known among the public. But then her project began to stall.

      “I discovered that I needed more formal training and feedback,” she says. “I also wanted to work out concerns I had about the field, such as the place of theory and innovation in teaching history. The Liberal Studies program gave me a broader, interdisciplinary context, and I’ve come away with a stronger understanding of the canonical scholarship and history’s connection to everyday life. I feel more grounded in the topics that interest me.”

      Miskiewicz credits her SCS’ instructors with helping her to find focus, which is critical to any career, but especially important in academia.

      “Professor Henry Binford, in particular, was amazing — very knowledgeable across disciplines, friendly, and always has time for students,” she says. “He taught me that focusing my interests was not the same as narrowing them and that a whole world would open up — and that’s exactly what happened. MALS is also very flexible, and I was able to take literature classes as well. My courses with Professors Betsy Erkkila and Kasey Evans improved my writing and research skills and the ability to do close readings of documents. In many ways, MALS is helping me to become a professional scholar.”

      Miskiewicz’ MALS education, and the encouragement she received to take her education into her own hands, may give her an edge when she applies for a PhD program in history in the fall of 2014. For example, she joined the abstract committee for a conference jointly sponsored by Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Chicago on “Engendering Change” in which she also presented some of her work. She also presented an original paper at “Transcending the Narrative,” a history conference hosted by Indiana University. She earned financial support from SCS to attend the Indiana conference.

      “The funding was very meaningful to me,” she says. “Whether or not you are pursuing an academic career, there is a highly supportive environment here. SCS has helped me tremendously.”

    • Rebecca Dedo

      In her stellar advertising career Rebecca Dedo has encountered intriguing characters like the Keebler Elves and Orville Redenbacher. But Dedo is even more intrigued by the consumers who react to the brands: “The best part of my job is trying to understand human behavior. I’m fascinated by it,” says Dedo, who is global vice president at Energy BBDO in Chicago and was previously at Leo Burnett. Dedo’s other interests include history, sociology, and literature — and she wanted to explore all of these areas at once in graduate school. She was able to do just that in Northwestern’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) program. Says Dedo: “I didn’t have to limit myself to a narrow area.”

      Dedo’s ties to Northwestern began when her father, a graduate of the medical school, met her mother during his residency. Her older sister headed to Northwestern for college, and Dedo followed, completing a double major in history and English with a minor in integrated arts in 1998. Dedo says that in the MALS program, “I took my undergraduate work and just kept going with it — with 10 years of real life and work experience.” As a graduate student she studied with some of her favorite professors from her undergraduate years, including urban historian Henry Binford, her thesis adviser. Dedo’s thesis explored how corporate social responsibility relates to the urban poor — “a perfect bridge between my work world and my academic world.”

      A self-described “Type A uber-organizer,” Dedo managed to complete the program in three years while working full time, often with a grueling travel schedule, and competing in triathlons. “My professors were as flexible as they could be in a master’s level program,” says Dedo, adding that what she learned from classmates was equally important. “We were of different ages and educational backgrounds, and we had different reasons for being in the program,” says Dedo. “At work that has reinforced the need to listen to other perspectives and incorporate other ideas to balance my own.”

    • Stephanie Cisneros

      As an international student adviser in Northwestern University’s International Office, Stephanie Cisneros oversees about 675 international students. She manages everything from orientation, immigration requirements and social media, to cultural outings and Thanksgiving hosts. Now that Cisneros is earning a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) from SPS, she is bringing an even broader set of skills to ensure international students make a successful transition to American college life.

      Cisneros’s passion for other cultures began when she was still in college herself, planning to become a veterinarian. Study abroad and summers tutoring in Italy sparked a strong interest in international study, and she changed her major to history. Trying to find a professional outlet for her interests after college, she was accepted into the Youth Job Center’s Women Invested in Learning and Livelihoods program, where a mentorship component of the program led to her first position on campus. She then discovered that SPS’s flexible MALS program would allow her to create a rich, globally focused course of graduate study.

      “Instead of having to focus on one discipline like religion, history or literature, I was able to create my own track of courses that integrated all of these fields,” she says. “I could also take classes in other colleges and graduate departments at a university with an outstanding reputation.”

      Cisneros noticed that her research, writing and time management skills improved, and she was exposed to subjects she might otherwise never have encountered. She’s a “huge fan” of professors George Bond, Jeff Rice and Kimberly Gray, and their respective specializations in Asian religions and environmentalism may influence her thesis topic. And if you think a course like Indonesian utopias might not be immediately relevant to a career — think again.

      “We have a high volume of students coming from Asia and many other places in the world,” she says. “The program has helped me understand their background and support them without bias. Even if I didn’t work in international studies, I’m certain that I would benefit from having broader horizons and new skills and knowledge.”

    • Amy Danzer

      Amy Danzer

      Like a character in a well-paced novel, Amy Danzer has followed her dream step by step. Eleven years after she graduated from high school, Danzer earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Northwestern by attending college part-time while working full-time, first in sales and marketing and since 1998 as program coordinator for Northwestern’s men’s basketball program. Her next goal was a master’s degree. “Studying literature at Northwestern lit a fire in me,” says Danzer, “and I always wanted to teach. I felt I needed graduate work to prepare myself better for that.”

      In the Master of Arts in Literature (MALit) program Danzer has indulged her appetite for a wide range of literature in courses such as Jane Winston’s exploration of French depictions of Southeast Asia in film and fiction and Elzbieta Foeller-Pituch’s examination of innovative Eastern European fiction. Danzer has also pursued her interest in Russian literature through an independent study course. She is writing her thesis on Venedikt Erofeev, a Soviet-era author she discovered in one of her classes.

      Danzer was pleased to discover a strong peer network at SPS — an outgrowth of thought-provoking class discussions. “We get together outside of class to talk about books, our theses and our careers,” says Danzer. “Those friendships and that support are really special and completely unexpected.” Danzer says that the MALit program has deepened her reading experience, sharpened her research skills and opened doors to opportunities like serving as a writing tutor. What will be next for Danzer? That chapter has yet to be written.

    • Carolyne Hurlburt

      “I was naturally good at school,” Carolyne Hurlburt says of her youth in Kansas. Her scholastic ability proved to be a ticket out of poverty and into Northwestern, where Hurlburt graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1989.

      Although she had not studied computer science as an undergraduate, Hurlburt found work as a systems consultant and programmer and then leveraged that background to become a technical writer and trainer, working on projects for companies that included Abbott Labs, Motorola, and PeopleSoft. “But after many years in technology I felt burnt out,” says Hurlburt. “I was tired of talking about software and circuit boards.”

      That’s when an old dream kicked in. “English was my favorite subject in high school,” says Hurlburt. “I just thought it wasn’t practical. I wanted an income, to have security.” By now she had financial security — along with a husband and two young children. As busy as she was, says Hurlburt, “I wanted to recharge my batteries.” She enrolled in Northwestern’s Master of Arts in Literature (MALit) program and immersed herself in British literature, particularly drama — a complement to her involvement in community theater. “What stands out for me were my professors,” says Hurlburt, citing Helen Thompson, Christine Froula, and thesis adviser Daniel Born. Hurlburt captured a Distinguished Thesis Award for her study of the post-structural sensibility of Oscar Wilde.

       Given her academic success, Hurlburt was not about to stop: “As I came to the end of the program I felt as if I weren’t done yet.” With letters of recommendation from her MALit professors, Hurlburt won admission to Marquette University in Milwaukee and in 2011 began work on a PhD in English literature. At an orientation for new teaching assistants Hurlburt noted that, “I was in my first year of college before most of my peers were born.” Not a problem for Hurlburt: “I stopped listening to naysayers a long time ago.”

    • Jeshua Enriquez

      After braving dozens of Chicago winters, you can’t blame Jeshua Enriquez for looking forward to some California sunshine. Enriquez, who is completing his master's in literature from Northwestern University School of Professional Studies (SPS) this spring, will soon be heading west to the University of California (UC), Riverside to embark on a PhD in English.

      At both Northwestern and UC, Enriquez has found a nurturing home for his interest in a growing field of literary study: science fiction and technoculture, which he will specialize in for his doctorate. The field has captivated him since he was a child reading sci-fi novels, and he is excited to delve into the ways science and technology drive culture, and vice versa.  

      “Unlike some literary fields, technoculture is relevant in everybody’s modern life,” says Enriquez, who points out current news stories ranging from military drones to genetic research for curing diseases.

      Enriquez attributes his success in getting into UC’s competitive doctorate program to the preparation he received from Northwestern’s professors. “At SPS the professors are all really experts,” says Enriquez. “In academia, you need someone who is an expert in their field in order to give you grounding.”

      His focus on science fiction as an area of study has its roots at Northwestern, where students are encouraged to pursue their individual interests.

      “One of the most important things is finding your research niche,” says Enriquez. “When a lot of people are first thinking about going to graduate school, they don’t really have an idea; they’re just thinking broadly about studying English. Northwestern’s program exposes you to a wide variety of topics and also gives you the opportunity to go in depth with your particular interest. It’s important if you apply to PhD programs that you have a clear idea of the specific topic you’re interested in.”

      When he’s not studying, Enriquez can be found writing — he has a short story appearing in the journal Newtown Literary this spring — and riding motorcycles, something he looks forward to doing more of in California. He’s also experienced in front of a classroom. He incorporated his passion for science fiction into his curriculum during the three years he spent teaching high-needs students on Chicago’s South Side and West Side through the city’s Academy for Urban School Leadership.

      Enriquez hopes to head a classroom again in the future, eventually in a university setting. If so, he’ll be taking inspiration from the professors who have championed him toward this next step of his academic journey. 

    • Jessica Stovall

      As one of the few African Americans in the small town of New Richmond, Wisconsin, Jessica Stovall often felt like an outsider during the already challenging high school years. Nonetheless, she loved school and sought refuge and understanding in books, eventually becoming a teacher herself. Her personal insights and years of teaching experience — along with a master’s in literature from Northwestern University School of Professional Studies — helped Stovall win a prestigious Fulbright award. She plans to use the grant during a teaching sabbatical to learn how another culture is addressing a significant achievement gap between ethnic groups.

      Soon after graduating from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Stovall began teaching English at Oak Park and River Forest High School, a large school just west of Chicago that has struggled with an achievement gap between black and white students. She wanted to “build the classroom she never had,” and filled her curriculum with works by authors of color, frank talk about race and assignments that challenged students to think more deeply about their beliefs.

      “I'm proud to have a multicultural classroom community where students know each other’s names and talk about these issues together,” she says.

      While juggling the demands of teaching and coaching, Stovall steadily worked toward her master’s degree and found that it had “a huge impact” on both her classroom and her decision to pursue the Fulbright.

      “A lot of teachers choose education to do their graduate work because it seems easier or more practical,” she says. “But in the English program I was truly challenged, and I loved showing my students that I was like them — reading, writing papers, and balancing school with life. I found new ways of thinking about the novels I teach my students, and my thesis on literature and race prepared me for the Fulbright application process.”

      Stovall, who graduated in 2013, will spend a semester in New Zealand, studying the significant academic achievement gap that exists between the minority Māori people — who have their own culture, customs and language — and the mainstream population.

      “Their Ministry of Education is incorporating Māori culture into schools, and I want to learn more about these strategies,” she says. “I truly believe that respecting and acknowledging the multiple identities in a classroom is key to a teacher’s ability to reach students.”


    • Jason Okui

      “As a kid I loved puzzles,” says Jason Okui. “Today I still love puzzles, but now the puzzle pieces are business data. The tools are different, but my passion for fitting the pieces together is the same.” Okui fits those pieces together for software giant Adobe, where he directs business operations and strategy, a promotion he earned after completing an Online Master’s in Predictive Analytics (MSPA) degree at Northwestern in 2016.

      “The biggest benefit of the program for me was that it gave me a deeper understanding of how predictive models work and how they can be applied. Just as important, it allowed me to communicate what a predictive analysis means,” says Okui. “For all the sophisticated modeling you can do, if you can’t explain the model to the business world, it won’t be implemented.”

      Okui relies on analogies to cut through what might otherwise sound like statistical mumbo jumbo. “Pizza comes in hundreds of varieties and combinations, but most pizzas share three ingredients: dough, tomato sauce, and cheese,” he offers as an analogy. “If I can explain a predictive model in terms of what best captures the essence of pizza, there’s a good chance you will be more comfortable with the fancy statistical things we are doing and trust those results more.”

      Winnowing down variables was exactly what Okui and three of his MSPA classmates did for their capstone project in the program. The team’s challenge was to develop a model to predict where Airbnb users would book their first international trips.

      “We started with 566 variables and narrowed them down to the 24 that mattered most,” says Okui. The team communicated their findings in a PowerPoint presentation, with Okui functioning as project manager: “We wanted to tell a story, to demonstrate how people become inspired about travel. This wasn’t a typical academic paper. We treated it as a real business project, and it became a template for how I communicate findings at work.”

      The team entered their model in an open-data competition on Kaggle, a platform for predictive modeling, where it ranked in the top 3 percent on the site’s leaderboard.

      Electives in Marketing Analytics and Advanced Modeling Techniques have served Okui well in his career. “I chose the program for its well-rounded curriculum,” he says. “One of my biggest regrets in college was not taking enough statistics. The program showed me the nuances. Predictive analytics is an art, not cold math. A lot of creativity goes into it. Even within a statistic, there’s leeway in the way I transform the data.”

      Okui lives with his wife and two children in California’s Castro Valley area, only a mile from where he grew up. He started the MSPA program in 2012, just after he landed his job at Adobe. “The online component was critical. It allowed me to schedule my studies so that I could have dinner with my family every night. Now that I’ve graduated, I finally have time to take swing dance lessons with my wife.”

    • Jeff Shuck

      At Plenty, a fundraising and consulting firm for nonprofits, the staff half jokingly says, “$750 million? We’re just getting started.”  Raising millions for its clients is an impressive start for a firm founded just 10 years ago by MS in Predictive Analytics student Jeff Shuck. Shuck, who also earned his MBA at Northwestern, never intended to make analytics a core function of his enterprise — until unprecedented new streams of data became an inextricable part of his field. 

      “At Plenty, we’re very passionate about our mission to help clients sell meaningful change,” says Shuck. “That means we must be committed to how technology impacts fundraising. We’d been relying on databases and modeling essential to mobilizing donors and driving revenue. But I felt limited by our capabilities, which means we were limited in what we could offer clients.” 

      Shuck desired a systematic approach to his analytics education. He wanted the value of “a great university like Northwestern,” but needed some flexibility. Shuck had already logged many hours in a challenging MBA program, not to mention the time and travel spent growing his firm. He had promised his family that a new degree would not keep him away from home. The fully online format of the predictive analytics program was a perfect fit, and he was pleased to find that it enabled deeper engagement. 

      “Do you have to be self-motivated in an online program? Absolutely,” he says. “But learning asynchronously allows more time to participate in useful, thoughtful discussion. In a traditional classroom, those moments come and go quickly, and then they’re lost. And this matters because you have a lot to learn from your classmates. My peers had many years of data and IT experience, whereas I had hardcore, real-world business, marketing and leadership experience. Everyone in the class has something to teach others.” 

      Shuck admits to “torturing” his colleagues with new ideas he has learned in the program. He has already applied new knowledge, such as time series analyses, to his firm’s event data tracking. 

      “You hear a lot about ‘big data,’ but nonprofits and those working toward social change have been slower to up their game,” he says. “Yet we are trying to command your attention in a world crowded with customized messages from big companies with sophisticated data tools. My master’s in predictive analytics gives me the kind of specialized knowledge that can help us fulfill our mission.”

    • Justina Lakinger

      From opening an online body jewelry boutique to her current position as program manager of the ECHO Speech Platform at, Justina Lakinger has proved herself to be an adept listener. “It’s all about understanding the customer experience,” says Lakinger, who welcomes the challenge of sifting through mounds of data to find meaningful nuggets of information.

      Lakinger’s path to Amazon involved some bushwhacking. When she wasn’t satisfied with the electrical engineering program she began as an undergraduate, she left school and used her tech skills to manage databases for manufacturers. After establishing her jewelry business in upstate New York, she became a database consultant in the insurance industry and then performed statistical analysis on the performance of wind turbines, work that segued into a job as a project manager at GE Energy. Meanwhile, she earned a degree from Excelsior College in liberal studies, “a mix of business, engineering, science and psychology that ended up working perfectly for me,” she says.

      When Lakinger and her husband fell in love with the Boston area and decided to relocate there, she found work as an analyst at the biotech company Genzyme. “My boss at Genzyme never stopped prodding me about getting a graduate degree,” says Lakinger. That’s when she decided to apply to Northwestern’s online Master of Science in Predictive Analytics program. “It was the right academic fit and the right delivery format. The flexibility of the program was absolutely critical for me,” says Lakinger, who travels for work extensively but logs into the program at lunch hour or on the road. When she broke her wrist just before a final exam, her professor worked with her to adjust the timing of the exam.

      One of Lakinger’s first classes was Angela Fontes’s Introduction to Predictive Analytics & Data Collection. “It’s about interweaving your professional experience with best practices,” says Lakinger. “I really connect with that — it makes it real.” She says a class on machine learning was immediately applicable to her current role as a program manager in speech technology at Amazon. “I work with a team of machine-learning scientists, and now I can speak their language more fluently. I would not be as successful in this role without what I’ve learned at Northwestern.”

    • Leslie Cervantes

      It took a career in sales, a trip around the world and starting her own company to help Leslie Cervantes find her sweet spot. Now, an MS in Predictive Analytics is an important part of her new goal: to work in the sports field as a marketing data analytics expert.

      After studying economics as an undergraduate, Cervantes got in on the ground floor of CareerBuilder, where she rose to an account executive position. That experience helped her enter medical sales, a field she had been eyeing for its rich opportunities. Her company was later bought out, but Cervantes used the opportunity to fulfill a longtime dream and travel the world — 16 countries in one year. When she returned, she formed Cardinal Home Health Services with her mother, a former director of nursing and “the perfect business partner.” But the different experiences — and big changes in healthcare — made her think it was time to follow her true passions.

      “I love sports, and even while I was traveling I volunteered as a soccer coach at an orphanage in Argentina,” she says. “But I’m also a ‘tech geek’ who loves data — statistics were my favorite college courses.I found that the MSPA degree was a great way for me to transition to sports marketing analytics and complement the business skills I already had.”

      The online program format helped Cervantes stay full-time at her business, while the program’s core courses helped her develop new skill sets. But the real turning point came when she took instructor Vivek Ajmani’s predictive modeling courses.

      “Going from my home health business to sports analytics is a 180,” she explains. “But Dr. Ajmani had us do problems based on our interests, so I could find out early on if this is something I really want to do. I loved getting the answers and doing the analysis for the sports industry questions I had, so it was clear that I was on the right track. Regardless of where I go next, I’m setting myself up for success.”

    • Melissa Bull

      One master’s degree from Northwestern University is probably enough for most people. Not so for Melissa Bull, who holds a master’s degree in engineering management from the McCormick School of Engineering. But Bull completed that degree in 1997, and during the 15 years she worked in the insurance industry she noticed a strengthening trend toward the use of analytics, the data management and statistical analysis that drives decision-making in industries such as marketing, health care, and finance. “I worked with others who understood analytics, and I could see that’s where many industries were headed,” says Bull, who in 2010 began working as a program manager for analytic application development at SymphonyIRI, a global marketing research company in Chicago. “I have at least another 20 years in my career,” notes Bull. “It was important to get a deep refresh in my education.”

      When Bull looked for an analytics program, she hoped to find one at Northwestern — “I love the school” — and discovered that SCS launched a Master of Science in Predictive Analytics (MSPA) online program in September 2011. By January 2012 she had enrolled. “This program is perfect for me,” says Bull, the mother of 11- and 12-year-old boys. “It’s flexible and saves commuting time. I work full time and needed a program I could do in the evening.” She began her studies with Introduction to Statistical Analysis, taught by Phillip Goldfeder, a business consultant and applied mathematician. Next came Predictive Modeling I and II, taught by statistician Chad Bhatti and econometrician Vivek Ajmani, respectively.

      Bull has discovered that strong bonds can be forged in a virtual classroom. “The study groups have been fantastic — we’ve built a real sense of camaraderie,” says Bull. “Some of my classmates are already working in the field of analytical modeling and they bring that experience to our discussions.” Bull has interacted online with classmates in the Chicago area and on both coasts. And recently she discovered that someone from her study group had taken a new job — at the same company where Bull works.

      “If you love exploring and discovering the messages buried within layers of data — messages that have the potential to set new directions for a company — then analytics is the field for you.”

    • Raymond Anden

      California native Raymond Anden has found ample educational opportunities in-state: from high school in Santa Ana to college at the University of California, Irvine, where he majored in business economics; to a planned PhD in computational and data sciences at Chapman University in Orange County; where Anden completed an MBA in 2010. After his MBA, Anden earned a Master of Science in Predictive Analytics (MSPA) at Northwestern University School of Professional Studies’s (SPS) sunny West Coast campus — which was wherever his computer happened to be.

      The fully online MSPA program, which Anden completed in 2013, focuses on harnessing the power of “big data” to enhance organizational effectiveness, customer service and other business goals. “Everything I learned at SPS, like how to better forecast sales and analyze the customer experience, helped me at work,” says Anden, who is a marketing analyst at Extron Electronics, a manufacturer of professional audiovisual systems. At Extron, Anden has become the go-to guy for his knowledge about analytics and leveraging data more effectively. “I implemented changes at work, and it’s made an impact. My role at work has grown, with a substantial increase in salary. It’s made my job more satisfying.”

      The MSPA was Anden’s first time in the virtual classroom, a format that provided him with the flexibility his schedule demanded as well as with some unanticipated benefits. “You automatically interact more with students on discussion boards, and you do research on your own, as in the real world.” Anden met some of his classmates in person at his graduation, one of three trips he made to Chicago, visits that included rocking out at Lollapalooza and taking in a Cubs game.

      Among Anden’s favorite MSPA classes were marketing analytics and advanced modeling techniques, both taught by Thomas Miller, and classes with Donald Wedding, who asked Anden to become a teaching assistant after he completed the program. “Dr. Wedding has been a great resource, and I continue to learn from him as a TA,” says Anden. “Teaching lets me dig deeper into the material.” It was Wedding who encouraged Anden to apply to PhD programs—and this fall he will be starting a PhD program in computational and data sciences at Chapman University. Says Anden, “I’m basically a lifelong learner now.”

    • Savannah Rouse

      It might be her southern hospitality, or maybe it’s her longtime interest in consumer behavior. Either way, Tennessee native and Hyatt Regency supervisor Savannah Rouse has established a successful career in providing outstanding customer service. She plans to combine that experience with skills she’s learning in the MS in Predictive Analytics program to offer organizations a rare combination of first hand, on-the-ground customer insights along with quantitative analytics skills.

      Rouse majored in economics as an undergraduate, fascinated by the theories and data that explain consumer behavior. She then spent the next several years in customer service positions, dealing face-to-face with customers’ daily needs and expectations. As a supervisor for one of Chicago’s largest hotels, she’s where the buck stops — the person you see to escalate a concern. But now she’s preparing for the next phase of her career and her life.

      “I saw a position listed for a ‘Consumer Insight’ expert and something clicked,” she says. “I thought that was the coolest professional title I had ever heard, and I knew analytics was the way to get there. I had some hesitation about the online format, but now I prefer it. Unlike lectures, the courses are designed so that you have to dig in yourself and find the answers. Really accessible professors teach you how to analyze data and apply it to industry. For me, it’s a new way to think.”

      SCS’ rolling enrollment let Rouse start right away and the online format made it possible for her to work on her degree despite having irregular hours. She’s looking forward to bringing a fresh perspective to analytics in the hospitality or food industries.

      “I haven’t been sitting behind a corporate desk, far removed from the customer,” she says. “I can put a face on the data, combining the individual customer’s experience with knowledge from the aggregate data to arrive at the most meaningful business strategy.”

    • Charles Crabtree

      Charles Crabtree is no stranger to the challenges facing vulnerable students. Once a non-traditional student himself, he worked as an English teacher in Belarus for several years. He observed severe educational discrimination against the country’s large orphan population and dreamed of one day building a school there. Later, he helped create a policy plan for a Colorado Department of Education teaching endorsement to improve online instruction and founded a computer recycling program aimed at improving digital access for local organizations.

      But despite his passion for equity in education, Crabtree knew he would need deeper knowledge. “In addressing complex social and political issues, you can’t just barge in, start a program and be effective,” he says. “I needed to cut my teeth on public policy and answer broader questions about democratizing higher education.” Crabtree researched online programs, ultimately choosing SPS and earning a master’s in Public Policy Administration. “It was the most prestigious, and highest quality online offering, and I was continuously impressed with how well Northwestern approximated a physical classroom,” he says.  “I had amazing faculty — Drs. Lester, Shapiro and Rothleder — who challenged us to go beyond minimum course requirements.” Crabtree also benefited from the discussion forums critical to success in online programs. “Northwestern admits stellar students, and you can learn a lot from them. My fellow students Sam, Joyce, Dennis and many others were very knowledgeable and supportive.”

      The experience led to an exciting new phase for Crabtree: he was accepted into the University of South Carolina’s PhD program in political science and awarded a five-year Presidential Teaching Fellowship with the Program on Social Advocacy and Ethical Life. “SPS opened new worlds of inquiry and opportunity,” he says. “And I’m confident that I can use my education to make a meaningful contribution to my new fields.”

    • Christopher Grimes

      Christopher Grimes was not thinking about becoming a filmmaker when he enrolled in Northwestern’s Master of Arts in Public Policy and Administration (MPPA) program in 2005. “I thought the degree would be my best tool to go into a government job on the policy side,” says Grimes, who won the MPPA Distinguished Thesis Award in 2008 for his study of how the U.S. Army reports to families the deaths of soldiers killed by friendly fire.

      But as Grimes gathered the data that would fuel this thesis, a different path began to emerge. “I was sitting in a living room in Canton, Ohio, looking at documents spread out on a coffee table about a soldier’s death, and I thought, ‘This is a visual project.’” His thesis became the basis for A Second Knock at the Door, an award-winning documentary that Grimes produced and directed with help from family and friends. The filmmaker is now working on three more documentaries. “They’re on diverse topics,” he says, “but the common thread is public policy.”

      Grimes was in his early 30s when he completed a bachelor’s degree in political science and history at Northwestern in 2005. Married and working in retail, he looked for a flexible, affordable graduate program in public policy and chose the MPPA. “My professors were on the front lines of public policy,” says Grimes, “and that informed their teaching.” Favorite classes included national security with Jonathan Schachter, who served as Grimes’s thesis adviser. “I loved the thesis process,” says Grimes. “It was like solving a mystery. I wanted to find out how these families were let down by institutions.”

      Switching his aim from working in government to filmmaking was in many ways a natural extension of his work in the MPPA program, says Grimes: “The most important thing I gained from the MPPA program was the ability to think critically. With critical thinking skills, it doesn’t matter where you land. You’ll have the skill to analyze information and act on it.”

    • Christine Walker

      Christine Walker recalls one evening when she was leaving for yet another meeting about Schuyler, her autistic son. Her husband asked where she was going, and she replied, “I’m chasing hope.” Chasing Hope, LLC became the name of a consulting firm Walker formed to serve parents raising children with autism or a mental health condition. “You’re always chasing after solutions — a new school, a new medication, a new therapy. And we’re not the kind of parents who get neighbors bringing over casseroles. There’s social isolation, minimal information and insurance inequities. I want to make it easier for other parents and also drive legislative change.” 

      Walker’s firm will get a big boost from her new master’s in Public Policy and Administration degree from SCS. The program brings Walker back to her earlier career as a staffer on Capitol Hill. “I used to be a policy wonkette,” she says. “But despite my experience, the goals I have today would be hard to achieve without certain credentials or filling in knowledge gaps. Now, I can’t be dismissed as another ‘mom on a mission’ who has the passion, but doesn’t know the field.” 

      Even as her son’s autism was straining her family and her finances, Walker persevered in the MPPA program with her instructors’ support. “Statistics is my weak area, but Professor Stenzel was incredibly patient and understanding — we even joked about it,” she recalls. “Legislators respond to data, and I needed to become statistics savvy.” 

      Walker also credits SCS’ real-world learning and flexibility as critical to meeting her goals. “There are brilliant minds here, people who do public policy for a living, then come and teach you at 6:30. They bring up real problems and teach you how to solve them. I also took courses outside of MPPA, in the School of Education and Social Policy, and an independent study with Dr. Laurel Harbridge in Political Science. I studied the legislative intent of a landmark special education bill, which was crucial to my capstone project. Staff and instructors were always on my side, helping me to make it work.” 

    • Theresa Finney Dumais

      Theresa Finney Dumais

      There’s probably nothing SCS administrators would rather hear from a job-seeking graduate than “Exactly what I’ve been wanting to do. Success!”

      And that’s what the Master of Arts in Public Policy and Administration (MPPA) program heard from 2011 graduate Theresa Finney Dumais.

      In September Finney Dumais started working as a policy analyst with the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities in Washington, DC. CLPHA represents the country’s most urban public housing authorities through advocacy, research, policy analysis, and public education. Finney Dumais is doing advocacy work on Capitol Hill, conducting housing research, writing policy briefs, tracking legislation and appropriations, working with coalition groups, commenting on regulations, and helping with congressional testimony.

      In other words, she says, her perfect job: “It’s exactly what I’ve been working toward. I get to advocate for programs that help the lowest-income people in the country secure safe, decent, and affordable housing.”

      And her Northwestern MPPA degree, she adds, “gave me the platform to compete for it.”

      Finney Dumais, who has an art history bachelor’s degree, “was found” by the nonprofit field when she went to work for Habitat for Humanity in Michigan. After three years there she decided she needed a master’s degree because she wanted to move from implementation of affordable housing locally to advocacy and policy work nationally.

      She looked at different public policy programs and chose Northwestern’s because of its “real-world applicability and flexibility.” She could do the degree online and continue working full-time at Habitat, and the MPPA research requirements could be honed to her interests in affordable housing and community development.

      Finney Dumais believes she couldn’t have made the career switch without the MPPA degree, but she didn’t rely on it alone to open doors. She had a plan with a goal, and she “networked like crazy.” Knowing that she wanted to work on national-level policy, she moved to Washington, the center of action, two days after her June graduation. She took a policy and advocacy internship with the National Low Income Housing Coalition over the summer. There she was “able to get the lay of the land of all the national affordable housing advocacy and policy organizations, to network, and to begin to make a name for myself.”

      Her efforts paid off in three job offers for policy analyst positions. She chose CLPHA’s because its issues are those she is most passionate about.

      Having taken a risk with both her own career and her husband’s by relocating, Finney Dumais feels fortunate about their current lives. Her husband, Steve Dumais, found a job as a software developer. “We took a calculated risk moving to DC; some of our friends and family were worried, given the national job market,” she says. “But our decision paid off. We both love our new jobs and are thoroughly enjoying our new city.”

    • Jason Keller

      Jason Keller is passionate about the importance of building strong communities. That passion prompted him to major in sociology as an undergraduate and then pursue a Master of Arts in Public Policy and Administration (MPPA) degree at Northwestern University School of Continuing Studies. He now holds the position of economic development director for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. For Keller, the key to building vibrant communities is helping local organizations, government agencies, financial institutions and other community-development practitioners develop a greater awareness of the benefit of strong community investment.

      Keller credits the online master’s degree he earned from Northwestern in giving him a competitive edge in securing his current position. It helped him learn what makes for good public policy and administration and has enabled him to focus more effectively on results-driven, flexible community development programming that ultimately benefits us all.

      “The ability to think about government’s action or inaction in addressing societal problems has given me a better understanding of how issues reach — and fall from — government agendas,” he says. “Before enrolling in the MPPA program, I hadn’t fully comprehended how dynamic the public policy–making process truly is. You aim for the greatest good for the least cost, and that’s a complex endeavor.”

      While enrolled in the program, Keller also polished his strategic thinking and writing skills through what he describes as “the right mix” of readings, research, case studies and group projects. He was pleased to find that courses like The Legislative Process and Elements of Public Finance consistently linked theoretical ideas to current real-world events. A diverse, experienced faculty and student body also contributed to his experience.

      “I researched other distance learning programs but was drawn to Northwestern because it attracted accomplished policy professionals from across the country,” he says. “They brought experience not only from many years of teaching the policy-making process, but from living through it. I also learned from students from all over the world who had worked in a wide array of public and private fields at the national, state and local levels”.

      Keller’s favorite course was Foundations of Leadership. What he learned nicely complemented his experience and passion.

      “I now have a better idea of who I am, where I have been and where I want to go,” he says. “I feel better positioned to pursue advancement in my organization, but I’m now more marketable as a public policy practitioner as well.”

    • JC Kibbey

      You could say that activism and policy work are in JC Kibbey’s blood. The son of activist parents, he accompanied them to neighborhood and city council meetings so often that his first two-syllable word was “downtown,” where city hall and the state capital were.

      That early enthusiasm has only bloomed since — he interned at the Michigan governor’s office as a high school senior and then earned a B.A. in political theory at Michigan State University, where he contributed to President Obama’s 2008 campaign. As a student in Northwestern University School of Professional Studies’s (SPS) Master of Arts in Public Policy and Administration program, he dove deeper into the academic and theoretical sides of the discipline, taking a particular interest in behavioral economics, which explores the psychological factors behind people’s economic decisions.

      “Not only was that class interesting to me academically, but those ideas have helped inform my professional work,” said Kibbey, who currently does public policy research and political strategy at SEIU Local 1, a union representing nearly 50,000 service employees. “In the world of politics, a lot of the questions are about how people are going to react to situations.”

      While at SPS, Kibbey took the principles of behavioral economics and applied them to climate change policy to probe why climate advocacy often meets resistance. He built his findings into a thesis that earned one of the school’s 2014 Distinguished Thesis awards.

      Changing the conversation around climate change continues to be a driving motivator in his career and his activism work. He represents Local 1 in a coalition of labor and environmental groups called BlueGreen Alliance. “When you hear climate change discussed in the media, a lot of times it’s presented as this dichotomy between creating a good economy and addressing the problem of climate change,” said Kibbey. His goal is to show that what’s good for the environment can be good for the economy as well.

      To spread that message, Kibbey has trained about 150 Sierra Club volunteers across the country on talking about climate change in an accessible, compelling way. “That was exciting because it was an opportunity to take the lessons I learned writing my thesis and put them into action,” said Kibbey.

      Now, Kibbey has an even larger platform for his climate advocacy — he was recently elected to a seat on the Illinois Sierra Club board. Despite his loaded schedule, he doesn’t complain about the additional work.

      “One thing about working in public policy is that a lot of us are here because we’re so passionate about it,” said Kibbey. “The line between what you do for fun and what you do for work blurs.”

    • Kimberly Davis

      Kimberly Davis

      By anyone’s measure, Kimberly Davis achieved success early: By age 22 she had purchased her own home, the same one she grew up in on Chicago’s south side. Just a few years later, she was in a great career using her bachelor’s degree in finance to handle both accounting and human resources for a downtown real estate firm. But she sensed that “something was missing,” and she struggled to determine exactly where, professionally, she belonged. A chance meeting led her to the Master’s in Public Policy and Administration (MPPA) program at Northwestern University School of Professional Studies — and to a leadership position at Inspiration Corporation.

      “I was at a seminar on the Affordable Care Act,” she recalls. “I was thinking about how much policy impacts every aspect of our lives and wondering, ‘who makes these rules?’ Then I ran into an acquaintance who was in the MPPA program. It appealed to me because of the dual focus on policy and administration. I could also attend part time, which is essential if you have a job and a mortgage.”

      It was while working on her degree, and in particular the core values assignment in a leadership course, that Davis realized what had been missing: she wanted to get back to helping others. As an undergraduate, she had tutored at the nonprofit group America Reads and worked her way up to assistant director. She understood the deep satisfaction that social service can offer.

      “The program triggered an epiphany about how I’d like to apply my finance skills as well as my new knowledge,” she says. “But it was also the broad nature of the program—students of many different backgrounds, and flexibility in courses and assignments that was so valuable. You can make it whatever you want it to be.”

      Davis then landed a position as director of finance for Inspiration Corporation (formerly Inspiration Cafe), a nonprofit organization that provides meals, job training and other services to help Chicago’s low-income residents rise above poverty and homelessness. She oversees a budget of $5 million and many aspects of the daily operations for the 90-employee organization.

      “Did my degree and the Northwestern name help me get here? Absolutely,” she says. “And every day, especially in board meetings and budget conversations, I draw from what I learned. Long term, I can leverage my degree in a way that advances my career and also helps others.”

    • Lee Ho

      Paradoxically, it took a government shutdown for Lee Ho to assess his long career in government. Ho was working for the Minnesota Department of Revenue in 2011 when a fiscal dispute brought state government to a halt. “I had 20 days off work, and it gave me time to think about what I wanted to accomplish,” says Ho, who is assistant commissioner and chief operating officer for the Minnesota Department of Health. “I wanted to ask bigger questions, to explore how to strengthen public policy to support better outcomes.”

      When Ho returned to work, he received an email about Northwestern’s Master of Arts in Public Policy and Administration (MPPA) online program. “My daughter had just graduated from Northwestern,” says Ho. “Having spent the better part of four years going back and forth to Evanston, I had warm feelings for the University.” The online MPPA program offered the mix of theoretical and practical perspectives Ho sought, and by January 2012 he was enrolled in his first classes.

      Ho graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in business administration in 1980 and worked for 10 years as a program analyst for the U.S. Government Accountability Office in Washington, D.C. “Working with the GAO taught me to question assumptions about how government works and helped me develop my moral compass,” says Ho, whose duties included providing support for congressional ethics investigations. His family moved to Minnesota in 1994, in part because of the state’s reputation for innovative government.

      MPPA classes in analytical methods and statistics have proved helpful in Ho’s work in a data-driven organization. “Microeconomics challenges our thinking about things we sometimes accept in the policy world,” says Ho, who connects with his classmates on discussion boards. “We’re all wrestling with the same problems, and that connection carries over from class to class. With online learning you’re in the classroom all the time.” Fitting that intense study into a demanding work schedule is worth it, says Ho: “We’re exploring what makes public policy successful and how government can become more relevant.”

    • Rachel Gwaltney

      The public schools Rachel Gwaltney attended in her hometown of Acton, Massachusetts, prepared her well to enter top-ranked Johns Hopkins University, where she earned an undergraduate degree in history and a master’s degree in liberal arts. While in graduate school she worked at a national education support organization, leading a team of writers to develop curriculum units for elementary and middle schools. As part of this work she visited schools from East Orange, New Jersey, to Indian reservations in New Mexico. The disparities she observed in educational opportunities troubled her, especially when compared to her own.

      “I recognized the advantages that I had where I grew up and saw the tremendous challenges faced by students attending schools in impoverished areas,” says Gwaltney. “I wanted to help level the playing field.”

      That urge to level the playing field has led Gwaltney to a career focused on improving educational opportunities for disadvantaged students, including eight years at Higher Achievement, a national academic enrichment program based in Washington, DC, where she developed curricula and oversaw programs. She currently conducts research for Data Quality Campaign, a national advocacy organization that helps states use student data effectively, and chairs the board of Many Languages One Voice, a DC nonprofit that supports grassroots health and education initiatives for those with limited English language proficiency.

      “I’m drawn to community-based advocacy,” says Gwaltney, “but I didn’t want to do my work in isolation. I wanted to learn more about theory and how all the bits and pieces fit into a bigger picture.” To do that, Gwaltney enrolled in Northwestern University School of Professional Studies’s Master of Arts in Public Policy and Administration online program.

      “The DC area has lots of public policy programs,” says Gwaltney, “but Northwestern’s program offered more. It’s about real-world applications of theory, about understanding how disparate elements of public policy intersect across different issues.” The online program, which Gwaltney began in 2013, allows her to continue to work while she learns. It also gives her the opportunity to connect with classmates from around the world, working in fields that include government, medicine and law enforcement. “The range of experience people bring to the program makes for really rich discussions,” says Gwaltney.

      “Doing this program mid-career has been good for me,” she adds. “For me the real value is the opportunity to place my community-based experiences within the larger framework of public policy. I can apply these lessons to what I’ve done and to what I hope to do.”

    • Brynnan Foster

      Brynnan Foster

      When the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago needed a research study coordinator, it contacted a DePaul University professor to see if he knew any students who might fit the bill. Without hesitation, he gave them Brynnan Foster’s name. While still only an undergraduate, Foster had worked with the professor as a research assistant on an HIV/AIDS intervention research project as well as another professor’s behavioral psychology study. Her experience in these roles sparked her interest in clinical research. Foster later completed a Master of Science in Regulatory Compliance (MSRC) degree (formerly the Master of Science in Quality Assurance and Regulatory Compliance degree) at Northwestern University School of Professional Studies and landed a position as a clinical research specialist at Fresenius Kabi, a global healthcare technology company.

      Foster discovered the MSRC program almost by chance. Her experiences at Lurie drew her to the role of physician assistant, and while she was completing some post-baccalaureate requirements at Northwestern, she discovered that the MRSC program was a better fit for her interest and skills.

      “I hadn’t seen anything like it offered anywhere, although I didn’t really know what to look for,” she says. “But something clicked, and in the medical device courses I began to really find my focus.”

      Courses like medical device regulation, clinical trials and biostatistics provided foundational knowledge for some of her current responsibilities, such as writing protocols for clinical trials and submitting documentation to the FDA to get products approved for market.

      “The program helped me to hit the ground running when I accepted my current position,” she says. “There’s almost no responsibility I have now that I didn’t first encounter in the MRSC program.”

      The MRSC program helped Foster in another way: the thesis requirement allowed her to further explore and document the important research she had completed at Lurie. She had observed that physicians were using a certain drug “off label” — a perfectly acceptable practice — to treat children with sickle cell anemia. Foster wondered if consistently tracking and sharing the outcomes might lead to improvement in care, and Lurie ultimately presented her conclusions to the physicians to discuss implementation of the findings. Foster’s thesis work also helped prepare her for a project she’s currently working on — therapeutic apheresis procedures to treat patients with sickle cell disease.

    • Carol Williams

      In late 2008, at age 49, Carol Williams found herself laid off from her job as a senior pharmaceutical representative at Merck, the global pharmaceutical company where she had worked for eight years. Her friends working at other pharmaceutical companies received pink slips at the same time. “The FDA was tightening up on the clinical trial side, and drugs were disappearing from one sales meeting to the next,” says Williams. “Blockbuster drugs like Vioxx and Celebrex were being pulled off market, and others were going off patent.”

      With eight previous years of experience as a pharmaceutical consultant at Glaxo Smithkline, an undergraduate degree in psychology from Spelman College, and an MBA from Keller Graduate School of Management, Williams had experience and credentials. Going back to school seemed counterintuitive to her friends, but when Williams learned about Northwestern’s Master of Science in Clinical Research and Regulatory Administration (now MS in Regulatory Compliance) program she thought it could be the way to reinvent her career. Today Williams works for GE Healthcare in Waukesha, Wisconsin, in its Quality Regulatory Leadership Program.

      Williams says that she could immediately apply to her work at GE everything she learned in the program. “Clinical research methods, regulatory administration, statistics, quality systems — when I first came to GE for an internship I understood everything they were talking about and I could do all of it. That’s what helped get me the job.” For her MCRRA capstone project Williams looked at strategies to increase participation of the elderly in clinical trials. “You have to get creative and go to where the elderly hang out,” says Williams. “It turns out seniors aren’t listening to the radio; they’ve turned to social media, connecting with others in chat rooms.”

      And what happened to her friends who were laid off from work in pharmaceuticals? “Most of them are still out of work,” says Williams. “But one just applied to Northwestern.”

    • AJ Sheth

      AJ Sheth

      Detroit native AJ Sheth is a diehard Pistons fan. But growing up in the Sheth home, watching sports wasn’t just about rooting for your home team. The sports-minded and business-oriented family would discuss marketing, sponsorships, revenue and ticket prices while enjoying a game together. For Sheth, it changed the way he looked at sports and began a lifelong dream: to lead a national sports organization.

      While earning his bachelor’s degree in marketing, Sheth landed an internship with the Detroit Pistons and after graduation moved into corporate communications positions with the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite his success, Sheth kept his eye on a bigger prize: an executive vice president position.

      “People aim for general manager or athletic director because that’s what they see on TV,” he says. “But I wanted to help an organization increase revenue through sponsorships, tickets and merchandise and most sports executives have an advanced degree. I’m also a big believer in creating your own opportunities, so I enrolled in SCS’s MSA (Master of Arts in Sports Administration) program.”

      It wasn’t long into his tenure at SCS before Sheth saw another opportunity: the chance to bring students together in the MSA program. He founded the MSA Student Board as a way to connect students socially and professionally. He began networking with local teams to arrange behind-the-scenes tours and speakers and even started a newsletter — all while completing his degree and working for the Chicago Sky. Today, the MSA Student Board plays a vital role in giving students exposure to real-life sports administration experiences with teams like the Chicago Bears, White Sox and Blackhawks, and raising the program’s visibility within the local job market.

      Since graduation, Sheth’s MSA experiences have helped him transition to higher-level sports sponsorship positions. He worked at Feld Entertainment, which owns properties like Disney on Ice and Ringling Brothers, and is now Director of Corporate Partnerships and Premium Seating for the Sears Centre Arena. He oversees all corporate sponsorships for the venue’s diverse lineup — which attracts 300,000 visitors annually — and is on his way to meeting his ultimate career goal.

      “The MSA program helps you position yourself for leadership and to think about the field from a business perspective, not just a fan’s perspective,” he says. “The high quality faculty — Lesa Ukman’s sponsorship class was a career-changing experience — great networking, and the Northwestern brand can help you reach the front office of a major organization.”

    • Brad Bauer

      Brad Bauer

      The number one thing not to say when you are interviewing with your favorite sports organization? “Never tell them you are a big fan,” says Brad Bauer, an accounts executive specializing in partnerships marketing with the Chicago Fire Soccer Club. “If you’re too emotionally involved, it can make it tough to do the best job possible, because you’re not there to sell wins and losses, you’re selling the entire experience.” That’s not to say Bauer isn’t a sports fanatic of the highest order. He won’t deny getting absolutely giddy when he toured the White Sox stadium and sat down to pick the brains of baseball marketing gurus such as Brooks Boyer (VP and chief marketing officer) and Rick Hahn (VP and general manager), or getting a behind-the-scenes tour of the brand new Big Ten headquarters in Rosemont, Illinois.

      These were all opportunities afforded to Bauer while he was working on his Master of Arts in Sports Administration (MSA) at Northwestern University School of Professional Studies, from which he graduated in June 2014. While he gained invaluable skills in the classroom (“Dan Migala’s sport marketing class was one of the most influential of my entire educational career,” says Bauer), it was his involvement in a unique student-run group within the program that he feels gave his post-college job prospects the biggest boost. The Sports Administration Student Board is made up of a dedicated group of approximately six people — a mix of current students and alumni — whose mission it is to add yet another dimension to the much-lauded program. It was the board that arranged the stadium tours, scheduled the sit-downs with ball club bigwigs and planned parties where students could mingle and have a beer with members of their favorite sports teams.

      “The opportunity for personal networking was huge,” says Bauer, who became president of the board himself during his final year in the program. “The experiences offered by the Student Board increase the value of the MSA tremendously.” For Bauer, it was this combined experience of classroom-gleaned knowledge and board-assisted networking opportunities that helped him land his latest position with the Chicago Fire, one that was offered to him just weeks after graduation.

      In addition to not to wearing his fandom on his sleeve, the lessons learned from Northwestern professors (almost all of whom currently work in sports industry) and professionals out in the field were crucial to the advancement of Bauer’s career. “Being exposed to people in every imaginable position within the industry, I immediately realized that the world of sports is so much bigger than the NBA and NFL. For every job with the Bulls, there are ten jobs at a sports marketing agency,” says Bauer. This wide world of sports is illustrated succinctly by a glance at Bauer’s resume, which includes time with the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club (marketing assistant), Big Ten Network (campus rep), the Chicago Rush (corporate sponsorship), the Milwaukee Bucks (sales) and even the Chicago Bulls (ticketing). Says Bauer, “Just because you don’t have a cartoon mascot slapped across your shirt, doesn’t mean you don’t work in sports.”

    • Jeff Budzien

      When Jeff Budzien was in high school in suburban Milwaukee, football recruiters from across the nation knocked on his door trying to lure the talented placekicker to their athletics programs. Coaches from Northwestern succeeded by offering the teenager something beyond an undergraduate football scholarship. “In their recruiting pitch they talked about the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in sports administration at Northwestern,” says Budzien. With that, the coaches scored.

      Northwestern University School of Professional Studies’s Master of Arts in Sports Administration (MSA) program meshed nicely with Budzien’s longtime interests in business and sports and built on his academic and athletic success as an undergraduate at Northwestern. An economics major, Budzien graduated in 2013 with a high GPA and four Academic All–Big 10 awards as well as being named a first team All-American.

      Budzien was also one of 11 Division I players nationally to be named to the Allstate Good Works Team in 2013 for his outstanding community service, which included chairing the coaching committee for Northwestern’s Special Olympics. “I really fell in love with volunteering for the Special Olympics,” says Budzien. “The amount of work that goes into being a college athlete is daunting. I noticed that those involved in Special Olympics were the happiest people around.”

      The transition to graduate school was seamless for Budzien, who completed his MSA degree in one year. As an undergraduate he had taken a class in sports marketing and interned with the Chicago Cubs, exploring corporate partnerships. In the MSA program he followed through on those experiences with advanced classes in financial accounting in professional sports — “I love numbers and finance and sports” — and sales management.

      “Everything in the MSA is practical,” says Budzien. “The professors work in the field and talk about current events in the industry.” He also found his professors to be accommodating about students’ work schedules. “I had to miss a class to try out for Tampa, but I did the work ahead of time,” says Budzien, who tried out for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and seven other pro football teams for the 2014 NFL Draft and eventually signed as a free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

      Facing the excitement — and the uncertainties — of a pro career, Budzien knows that his master’s degree will serve him well. “I learned skills in accounting and relationship management that I’d use in any field. The MSA is a perfect incubator for finding what you’re passionate about.”

    • Julia Millon

      Julia Millon

      Julia Millon has always been a passionate athlete, but it took her a while to realize her ultimate career goal is to become an athletic director. As an undergrad at the University of Colorado-Boulder, Millon earned a bachelor’s degree in Italian, and planned to work abroad before returning to the U.S. to teach at the college level. However, after coaching and directing a youth lacrosse program in Chicago, she found her fascination with the administrative side of athletics.

      “I realized I liked the front office and behind-the-scenes aspect of sports a lot,” said Millon. That’s when she decided to enroll in the Master of Arts in Sports Administration (MSA) program at Northwestern. Now in her third quarter, she’s transitioned into a position in the Northwestern Athletic Department and serves as the alumni outreach coordinator on the MSA student board. She also continues to coach women’s lacrosse and field hockey at Evanston Township High School.

      Ultimately, as she prepares to someday work her way to an AD office, she is appreciative of the MSA program’s wide-ranging curriculum and real-world experience.

      “I’m happy to be getting exposure to multiple areas of the business,” Millon explained. “For example, I’m in an advertising group project, but I don’t have much advertising experience in my professional background. In the MSA program, I get to work with a company in Chicago as a consultant on advertising projects from social media outreach to Millennial attendance to help fill that skills gap.”

      Millon also added that learning at Northwestern has helped her open doors when conducting research. For one project, she examined the prevalence and perceptions around concussions in youth, collegiate, and professional hockey organizations.

      “I spoke with people high up in athletic departments and I don’t think that wouldn’t been possible at any other school,” said Millon. “Northwestern carries weight behind it. Saying I’m getting my master’s at Northwestern and work there – people really respect that. I think that will help anyone in this program achieve their goals.”

      With her degree, Millon plans to help change the landscape of male-dominated sports administration. In particular, she wants to work in one of the most competitive NCAA conferences.

      “Not a lot of females are athletic directors and I’m a big advocate of women breaking glass ceilings, so I set my sights high and I want to be one of the first female athletic directors, specifically in the Southeastern Conference.” She added, “The industry is changing. I’m part of that change.”

    • Matt Pinkham

      “I always wanted to combine my legal training with my love of sports. Earning a master’s degree in sports administration from Northwestern increases my chances of succeeding at that. Everyone wants to get into sports; my degree shows I’m invested in it.”

      Matt Pinkham grew up in sports, hanging out in locker rooms with his father, a football coach at universities on the East Coast and in Minnesota. “When you see sports behind the scenes and all the people involved, you get addicted,” says Pinkham. A talented athlete himself, Pinkham played varsity football at Brown University, where he earned a degree in psychology and took home the award for the player with the highest GPA.

      His interest in sports never waned. At the University of Virginia School of Law, Pinkham served on the managing board of a sports law journal. When he became an associate in a top Chicago law firm, Pinkham devoted a quarter of his practice to professional sports teams. His current post at a global consumer electronics company has few sports tie-ins, but Pinkham relishes negotiating sponsor agreements, a skill at the heart of much of the business of sports.

      To gain a deeper understanding of the business of sports, Pinkham enrolled in the Master of Arts in Sports Administration (MSA) program. “I’ve learned that marketing really permeates sports,” says Pinkham, who is in the program’s sports management track. Pinkham has run with the ball in all his classes, from Sports Labor Relations and Negotiation to Nontraditional Revenue Strategies, where students were challenged to develop and pitch sponsorship partnerships. Another bonus: “Chicago is a sports city, and the program has given me opportunities to meet local sports executives,” says Pinkham. “The Northwestern connection gives you instant credibility and makes networking easier.”

    • Ryan Horning

      Growing up in southwestern Michigan, Ryan Horning played baseball and basketball and followed Midwestern pro sports teams. But he remembers seeing the Oakland Athletics when they were in the playoffs in the late 1980s, because his teachers let the class watch the games during school. “So I always had a soft spot for the A’s,” Horning says of the Major League Baseball team. Little did he know that in 2011 he would be hired as Senior Counsel for the club as well as for Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes.

      Horning won out over hundreds of applicants for the coveted job as the A’s number two attorney, and he believes it was Northwestern’s Master of Arts in Sports Administration (MSA) program that helped set him apart from the many other well-credentialed attorneys who applied. “A large portion of my interview process was about the MSA program and the legal and business aspects of the sports-specific issues I had studied at Northwestern,” says Horning. Prior to enrolling in the MSA in 2010, Horning, who majored in accounting as an undergraduate at Michigan State University, earned a law degree from Chicago–Kent College of Law and practiced dispute resolution in the Chicago office of a New York–based law firm for eight years.

      “Working for the A’s, I’ve used directly what I learned in program,” says Horning. “One of my first jobs here was to look at our sponsorship agreements, something I had studied in the MSA with Lesa Ukman.” Ukman is cofounder of IEG, the world’s leading provider of independent sponsorship research and analysis. Horning also cites a class in sports marketing with global sports marketing expert Jeff Bail and credits Northwestern’s athletic director, Jim Phillips, for fostering a comprehensive discussion of the sports industry and inviting the presidents of Chicago’s pro sports teams to speak to MSA students. “Lawyers need to communicate with the business people at a sports organization, and learning the terminology helps,” says Horning. “When I came to the A’s, I already spoke their language.”

    • William “Night Train” Veeck

      If you’re one of William “Night Train” Veeck’s many followers on Twitter, you’ll see plenty of conversation with local fans, White Sox news and retweets of anything remotely useful, humorous or touching. You’ll get Train’s opinion on all things sports, and everything else, too — like his take on why the latest Taco Bell commercial fails. You’ll feel like you’re talking to a good friend and like you’re part of the Chicago White Sox organization, where Train has worked as group sales executive since graduating from SCS in 2010 with a master’s degree in sports administration.  

      “A degree from Northwestern offers great student-centered instruction, credibility and it’s in Chicago — a great place if you live and breathe baseball,” he says. 

      Train’s social media savvy may well become the latest chapter in the Veeck family’s influence on baseball. As a recent Crain’s Chicago Business profile on Train put it, “the Veeck name is to baseball what mustard is to hot dogs.” That’s because the Veecks have helped define the baseball experience. William Sr. was a Chicago sportswriter and president of the Chicago Cubs. Bill Jr. owned the Chicago White Sox, the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns. He is credited with everything from putting surnames on the backs of jerseys, ivy in the outfield at Wrigley and the ritual singing of “Take me out to the ballgame,” to hiring one of the first African-American players and staging the infamous “Disco Demolition” stunt. Under his ownership, the Sox won their first pennant in 40 years. 

      Train’s father, Mike Veeck, partly owned the Charleston River Dogs and helped pioneer the concept of bringing live bands to ballparks. And then there’s Train, who had worked for three minor league teams — more than 1,000 games with the River Dogs alone — and a sports marketing firm before accepting an internship with the Chicago White Sox and bringing the family name back to Chicago. 

      “In my grandfather’s time, you could go with your gut,” he explains. “But the business is more complex and formal now. I have some of the Veeck crazy in me — two out of every five ideas may get me arrested — but now promotions need to be backed by a business case. The MSA program complemented my background by giving me new skills in quantifiable research and finance and helping me see all sides of the operation.” 

      Bill Veeck Jr. was also known for staying close to the fans, once going from bar to bar to apologize for an unpopular trade. But today’s White Sox fans reach far beyond the old South Side taverns, both culturally and geographically. Train’s MSA education and his keen sense of the power of social media are helping him meet the organization’s new challenges. 

      “With Facebook and Twitter, the fans can be anywhere and I can be in touch. I can discover and get to know new fan bases while preserving the legacy of accessibility and listening to fans,” he says. “The MSA program helped me develop professionally because it’s customizable to your interests — it’s not a rigid framework that has been in place for years. And since Chicago was a new start for me, it was great meeting people and developing a network. And that’s helpful regardless of your aspirations or background.”