Mike Stiff begs to differ with the notion that classroom learning is hard for someone who hasn’t been in school for years. “My brain feels switched on since starting back up,” he says. Building on a solid foundation in graphic design, he’s pursuing a communication studies degree to take on more responsibility in the creative communications field.
You have worked as a graphic designer and art director for quite some time. Why did you feel you wanted to return to get a degree now?
Returning to finish my degree has been a personal goal for years. As my career progressed, I was increasingly interacting with others — clients, vendors, team members — while being challenged to focus on the broader picture. I came to realize that effective communication is fundamental to my growth. At the small design firm where I currently work, I take on many roles: account manager, project manager, art director, designer and strategist. I’m pursuing a degree in communication studies with the ultimate goal of transitioning from day-to-day design into process and strategy leadership. I don’t want to move away from creative, just move upstream.
With all the options in the Chicago area, why did you choose communication studies at Northwestern?
The other programs weren’t what I was looking for — I either couldn’t relate my career goals to the majors offered or felt that I wouldn’t be challenged enough. When I attended an information session at SPS and saw the communication studies major plus organization behavior and leadership classes, the pieces fell into place.
Has Northwestern’s program met your expectations?
Yes, it has. More important, it has helped me exceed my own expectations. I think I’ve made the Dean’s List every quarter — something I’d done only once in my previous college career. It seems like every quarter I discover electives that apply to some aspect of my day-to-day work.
Has there been anything surprising about returning to finish your education?
I was most surprised by my aptitude for learning — I grasp new ideas and information more quickly as an adult student. I find myself really driven to get the most out of every class. The knowledge I gain is recent and relevant, giving me an advantage in the workplace. The mental stimulation is fantastic. I plan on keeping up the momentum after finishing my degree.