About Leilani Carver-Madalon, Ph.D.: Leilani Carver-Madalon is the Graduate Director of Strategic Communication at Maryville University, where she also teaches classes as an Associate Professor of Strategic Communication and Leadership. As Director, she mentors students, oversees curriculum developments, and manages student admissions and faculty recruitment. Under her leadership, Maryville University’s Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership quadrupled its enrollment and continues to grow its student body and course offerings. In addition to her teaching, administrative, and mentorship duties, Dr. Carver-Madalon conducts research in career communication, emerging technologies, and women’s empowerment in the workplace.

Dr. Carver-Madalon earned her Bachelor of Arts in Management and Organizational Communication from Point Loma Nazarene University, and her Master’s Degree in Organizational Communication and Intercultural Communication from The University of Kansas in 2007. She went on to receive her Ph.D. in Organizational Communication from The University of Kansas in 2010.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Maryville University of St. Louis’ Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership program, and how it is structured? What are the key learning outcomes that students can expect from this program?

[Dr. Carver-Madalon] Our program is different from a lot of programs out there in that it is geared towards practitioners who want to advance their careers into leadership through strategic communication. Most of our classes are offered in the evenings, and we really prioritize project-based learning. We help our students build a portfolio of work that they can then use for job applications and as evidence to justify a raise. We have our students working on projects that have direct relevance to industry, such as social media campaigns, digital media campaigns, e-marketing communications plans, and public relations initiatives.

We have two core course segments that reflect our target learning outcomes. The first is around Strategic Communication, and the second is around Strategic Leadership. Under the Strategic Communications umbrella are items such as marketing communication, digital and social media, and public relations. The classes in the Strategic Communication Core include Best Practices: Models and Systems, Evidence Based Research, and Foundations: Theories and Applications. These classes give students an advanced understanding of best practices in the industry and the theories that underlie those practices. Students are armed with practical skills and tools, such as how to use certain software applications, how to conduct photo shoots, and how to use Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, etc. Everyone in the program is given an iPad and an Apple Pen and we teach students how to use these tools in the context of marketing and visual communication.

The other element is Leadership, and for this part we want students to have foundational leadership competencies and to leave our program with a leadership philosophy and an ethics philosophy that is a combination of their own personal ethical code and the principles of sound and ethical communication. For the Strategic Leadership Core students take classes in Foundations of Leadership, Global Communication, Professional and Organizational Ethics, and Organizational Communication. In these classes students learn how to understand and improve organizational information flow, as well as the essential theories of contemporary leadership and how to put them into practice. They also learn about organizational communication systems across cultures, and how to address strategic communication challenges in a global context.

After the core classes, students have a lot of flexibility in terms of the electives they can take. They can take any classes among our graduate offerings in Strategic Communication, and can even take courses from Maryville’s MBA program. We have an optional Digital Media Concentration that includes classes in crisis management, digital visual communication, search engine optimization and social networks, digital marketing metrics and analytics, and integrated marketing communication.

Classes that students can take from our MBA program include Project Management, Global Issues, Organizational Behavior and Development, Strategic Marketing, Global Business, and Branding. We approved these electives as we feel they align with our mission to prepare students to be business leaders and to see the connections between strategic communication and organizational and global leadership.

We also encourage (and starting in Fall 2018, we are going to start to require) students to earn certifications in key fields, such as Google AdWords, Google Analytics, Hubspot Certifications, etc. Here are the Certifications/Certificates that we encourage our grad students to earn. Most (if not all) of these will be incorporated into coursework beginning in Fall 2018:

  • Google Analytics Certificate
  • Google Adwords Certificate
  • Ad Exchange Ad Buying Certificate
  • Facebook Certified Planning Professional
  • Facebook Certified Buying Professional
  • Cision University Certificate of Completion
  • Hubspot Social Media Marketing Certification

Many of these certifications are free, which makes them no-brainer in terms of incorporating them into our curriculum—at no additional cost, our students can have a list of impactful certifications that hold weight with potential and current employers. We have found that many of our students are mid-career, and are returning to school with the hopes of gaining important digital media and media analytics skills, which was why we developed the optional Digital Media Concentration and have begun incorporating the certifications as a requirement in our program.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you elaborate on the types of project-based learning students engage in during their courses, and how Maryville University’s professional partnerships help students gain valuable experience during their enrollment?

[Dr. Carver-Madalon] In our classes, we like to bring in real clients who can give students real project assignments and insight into the industry and its needs. For example, for our Digital Media Campaigns core class, we brought in Anheuser-Busch, which is located in St. Louis. We introduced students to the client at the beginning of the term, and broke them into small groups. Each team created a digital media campaign for this company and pitched them. The client is actually engaged in the process in that they talk to the students about the particular kind of campaign they need, and they return at the mid-point of the term to provide feedback on students’ ongoing project so that they can optimize the final result and presentation. If the client likes a team’s idea, they will use it, and it’s a win-win for both the company and the student. Anheuser-Busch got some great and fresh ideas for their marketing campaigns, and students got valuable experience and connections. We have had students hired by clients after having met them through this avenue.

Apart from the client campaigns and pitches that we have students do, we also tap our extensive industry partnership base to ask them to conduct media trainings with our students, or to host seminars or Q&A sessions where students can learn about the professional paths of real leaders in the field of strategic communication, the challenges they faced, and key recommendations for navigating the current digital media landscape.

Apart from the classes where we leverage industry partnerships, we try to incorporate real-world assignments and practical applications at every opportunity. For example, in our Professional and Organizational Ethics course, we don’t have students writing a 25-page research paper as they might in a more theory-driven, traditional master’s program. Instead, we have them complete an “Executive Report” where students still do research in the form of a literature review, but the research focuses on an organizational, marketing, public relations, or related issue affecting the performance of a company. The end product of students’ research is a research report of a standard that they might give to a CEO, which will include a summary of the research conducted and recommendations for the organization. For our students who are working full-time, I actually encourage them to use our course assignments as a structured way of making recommendations and solving problems in their current place of employment. This has the added benefit of giving them real-time benefits with their employer, before they even graduate.

We also have a learning management system that we use Canvas, which has an online hub where students and faculty can post important announcements. As Graduate Director I often receive messages from companies looking for interns for their communication/media/marketing departments, and I always pass these opportunities over to our students. We try to keep an open communication with our partners to learn about upcoming and current opportunities that might be available, whether they are full-time jobs, internships, or volunteer opportunities.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students must complete a comprehensive examination. Could you elaborate on this requirement, and what it entails? How are the exam questions determined, and is there an oral component?

[Dr. Carver-Madalon] The comprehensive examination is tailored to each student in the sense that it is a class that they take, and during that class students review what they have learned throughout the program and build their own study guide that reviews the core classes and their electives. The professor in the course works with each student to help them optimally prepare.

The actual exam is comprised of three questions that students complete in four hours. One of the questions concerns the student’s area of expertise, and it is a question that students craft themselves. So for example, if a student loves digital media and feels quite comfortable in that area, he or she will respond to a question about a particular area or issue in digital media. If they are well-versed in persuasion theory and different methods of persuasion, the student will answer a question on those topics. The other two questions are from a list of questions that concern the program’s core curriculum in strategic leadership and communications. Students actually receive the whole list during their exam and can choose the two questions they feel the most prepared to answer. So we give students a lot of options which we feel helps them prepare optimally for the final exam. If students do not pass the exam, they are required to write papers on the questions instead.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Maryville University of St. Louis’ Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership program? Independent of faculty instruction and support, what career development resources and academic services are available to students, and how can they make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while in the program?

[Dr. Carver-Madalon] Our program is fairly small, and so we have the time and the resources to devote a lot of attention to our students and their professional development. We have about 58 students currently enrolled and as the Graduate Director I meet one-on-one with each student to talk them through our program offerings and how we can best help them meet their goals. I work with them to create a course schedule from our list that best fits their interests. Our class sizes are an average of 18 students, which gives students ample opportunity to discuss course concepts with their instructors and peers. Our faculty members host regular office hours, and are also incredibly open to students reaching out by email to schedule advising sessions outside of set office hour times. Our faculty members are all relatively young scholars and working professionals who are energetic, deeply interested in the content they teach, and also invested in nurturing students’ growth both in the program and beyond.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in Maryville University of St. Louis’ Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership program, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Carver-Madalon] When looking at applications, what we are really looking for are students who are passionate about learning and who are interested in innovation and technology. We are a very technology-forward program and we infuse technology into all of our classes. In fact, we will officially have a fully online option for our Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership program beginning in Fall of 2019. When developing our online courses, we focus on cutting-edge technologies to bring the classroom experience into a virtual setting. As a result, we are really looking for students who are interested in learning about the intersection of communication and technology, students who are eager to engage with new platforms and collaborate with their peers on projects stand out to us.

In their personal statements, I recommend that students help us get to know them better. They should talk about their past, their background, how they got interested in the field, and their current professional situation and goals. We want to understand why you feel Maryville will meet your needs, and we want to hear you speak to us in your genuine writing voice. It is often very apparent when a personal statement has been recycled to be used across different schools, and those applicants do not have as great of an impact on us as those applicants who clearly did their research and took the time to speak to us. For letters of recommendation, we accept both professional and academic references, and are looking for more insight into an applicant’s work ethic, experience in digital media, strategic communication, and leadership.

We recently came out with a new motto for our university, which is “Maryville Be Brave Together,” and so I really think we are looking for students to be brave with us, and who are willing to push their boundaries in their coursework and in their projects.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Maryville University of St. Louis’ Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership program unique, and a particularly strong graduate option for students?

[Dr. Carver-Madalon] I think there are three key things that are special about Maryville’s Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership. The first is that we infuse technology into the core of our program. Every class is going to have the latest communication technologies in it, and we as a department are constantly seeking to learn and stay updated in the world of communication. We incorporate updates to the curriculum on a regular basis, and are always thinking of how we can make our program better, more impactful, more relevant and responsive to the changing times.

The second thing that makes us truly stand out is that we have professors who are true mentors and who care about our students. I know every student’s name, their professional goals, and what they want to achieve in the program. And my investment in my students extends beyond the classroom and formal advising sessions. For example, this morning I received a text from one of my students whom I had helped through the salary negotiations process. I was on the phone with him last night until 9:30 pm walking him through what he wanted to say, and having him write down a script so that he hit all the items he wanted to. He texted to notify me that he had been able to secure a $15,000 salary increase. Our professors are similarly committed to their students and to mentoring them throughout their enrollment and beyond. This close and supportive relationship with our students is something that I feel makes our program unique—we are truly invested in their success and will do everything we can to help them be successful in their chosen path.

The third thing that makes our program special is the fact that we are practical in everything that we do and teach. What you learn in class today, you are able to apply to your work the very next day. As mentioned previously, many of our students even use our coursework to improve their performance or push forward innovative new projects at their current place of employment. Every term, we evaluate the curriculum and look for ways to add new concepts, new technologies, new strategies so that students stay connected to the latest developments in the industry. Our team of faculty are young and energized, and many of them are adjuncts who still work in the field. Each semester we meet and spend an entire week discussing our syllabi, learning outcomes, and student feedback, and figuring out what else we should add to our courses, and what we should tweak.

We also talk to our alumni who are in the field, and ask them questions such as, “What in our classes helped prepare you for your current job? What else could we have added? Do you feel we were missing anything in our curriculum?” And our fabulous alumni always come back to us with positive feedback, suggestions, and details on what they are learning even after graduating. That I feel is another valuable aspect of our program—our alumni stay connected with us, by email, social media, and through events where they can connect with current students. Our community is strong, close-knit, high-achieving, and always open to supporting one another, which I feel is priceless, and something that students carry into their careers.

Thank you, Dr. Carver-Madalon, for your excellent insight into Maryville University’s Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership program!