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In the Spotlight: Stephanie Poczos, Director of B.A. in Applied Communications program

stephanie 2To say communications has changed in the past decade is putting it lightly. The social media explosion, the proliferation of mobile technology, and the overall driving force of the Web have created a seismic shift in the way information is released and consumed.

It can be daunting — particularly to generations who didn’t grow up with their eyes already glued to a smartphone. But an exciting new program at NLU is preparing students to navigate the evolving world of communications today and thrive in a wide range of careers, no matter what their background.

“We need to create students who are able to leave our doors ready to look at problems in different ways, ready to crisis manage, ready to problem solve with people in a multi-generational work place,” said Stephanie Poczos, Director of the B.A. in Applied Communications program at NLU.

Stephanie knows how critical good communication is, having worked in advertising for a decade, a good part of it planning campaigns and producing TV and radio commercials for high-profile clients of agency Ogilvy & Mather. She then went on to earn her M.A.T. at NLU, teaching high school English and directing an online program in a K-12 school district in the west suburbs. She has worked in higher education as an adjunct professor, including eight years now at NLU.

The University first approached her to lead the new communications program after a faculty and leadership development workshop in fall 2012 identified the degree as a strong area to pursue. And unlike other new programs, the Director appointee had to essentially build the curriculum and delivery strategy from scratch. From the start, Stephanie saw a real-world focus as essential.

“I want to make sure this is a market-ready degree,” she said. “I want students to be able to come to NLU and get great jobs!”

The program’s strength, she said, is in its scope. For starters, the curriculum has been developed with the input of a diverse advisory board, which includes members from Fortune 500 companies such as McDonald’s and Apple, advertising and entertainment giants like Ogilvy and New Chapter Entertainment, government agencies, digital marketing, computer animation and the film industry. The board was asked what areas of communication they thought were of greatest need and what they looked for in their new hires.

The result is a program that can prepare students with the communications and technological savvy required for today’s world — an understanding of multiple mediums and how to craft effective messages to different audiences. They’ll not only learn the basics of public speaking and persuasion, but also the impact of culture on communications, social media and digital writing, and strategies for reaching a multi-generational audience, among other skills.

“We give students a lot of foundational skills in organizational communication, social media networking, advertising, public relations, legal and ethical communications, innovation,” Stephanie said. “But it still leaves the door open for students to move forward.”

The new B.A. in Applied Communications program is offered in a blended delivery format, with classes completely online and one face-to-face workshop per term offered on an evening or weekend. All courses are project-based, with students producing communications pieces that are collected into a final senior capstone portfolio that they can show to current or future employers.

Experienced communications professionals will teach the classes, and the new program also features a mentorship component, in which students will be matched with people from different communications fields. Students can go to the mentor with questions and find out about his or her industry — and even do mock interviews and get feedback on ideas.

The new program will offer its first course in the summer quarter, with regular offerings beginning in fall 2014. Stephanie added that as things move along, she’d also like to bring in even more industry professionals as speakers in classes and workshops.

This combination of professional involvement and courses on cutting-edge trends will prepare students to ride the next wave of communications, Stephanie said. Where it’s going is anyone’s guess — but they’ll be ready to play a part in shaping its future.

“How do we find a way to not work against where society is going with digital technology but work with it and also anticipate what’s going to be next,” she said. “How do we find ways to thread what we’re already doing with what needs to happen to move our company or our job or our client forward.”