About Hanson Hosein: Hanson Hosein is the Director of the Communication Leadership graduate program at the University of Washington. As Director, he manages student recruitment, supports faculty members in their development of course curricula, and oversees the extracurricular aspects of the program, including the internship program and master’s classes events. Mr. Hosein regularly hosts keynote events and meetings with major technology companies in the greater Seattle area to gain insights that translate into improvements in and additions to the Master of Communication Leadership program.

In addition to his work at the University of Washington, Mr. Hosein is also the President of HRH Media Group, LLC, a firm that specializes in communication strategy development and media production for companies such as Microsoft, Intel, Facebook, and Tableau, among other organizations. He also serves as an influential member on a number of non-profit boards, including the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the NPR station KUOW Public Radio.

Mr. Hosein earned his Master of Science in Journalism from Columbia University with a specialization in Broadcast Journalism in 1994, and received his two graduate degrees in law from the University of Paris and McGill University in 1993.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the University of Washington’s Communication Leadership graduate program and its Master of Communication in Digital Media (MCDM) and Master of Communication in Communication Networks (MCCN)? How are the curricula for the MCDM and the MCCN programs structured, and what are the key learning outcomes students can expect from each of these programs?

[Hanson Hosein] The University of Washington’s Master of Communication Leadership program teaches students powerful communications strategies to effect social, organizational, economic, behavioral, or interpersonal change. We offer two degrees: a Master of Communication in Digital Media (MCDM) and a Master of Communication in Communities and Networks (MCCN). Both of these degrees have two common core classes:

Communication Through Digital Media and Networks: This course takes an in-depth look at how organizations across the non-profit, for-profit, and governmental sectors develop their mission statement and story for presentation to stakeholders both internally and externally. Students look at case studies of different organizations’ communication before diving right into hands-on projects for real-world clients. Students are assigned groups to work on their respective projects. The aim of this course is to give students both the critical thinking and strategic planning skills to lead organizations. After working with their client on a real-world assignment, students also write their own reflective case-study about the organization with which they worked, and the challenges they faced during the group project.

Leadership Through Story and Communities: This class teaches students the foundations of personal leadership, using principles of narrative and community building. The importance of using creativity and compelling storytelling to mobilize communities is discussed. Students study different social, political, and corporate leaders, and how they employed compelling narratives and rhetorical strategies to convey their messages, connect with stakeholders, and motivate people to act. The course culminates in a final paper in which students examine a communication issue that is of interest to them.

Regardless of whether they are in the MCCN or the MCDM program, students get a strong foundation in organizational storytelling, digital media strategies, communication methods, and leadership through the creation of compelling and ethical narratives. Underlying both of those degrees is this notion of using stories to effect positive social, organizational, economic, and/or interpersonal change.

In addition to the two core courses above, students have to take a Law and Ethics course, and a Research Methods course.

Law and Ethics Core Requirement: Students can choose to take one of a number of courses to fulfill the Law and Ethics core requirement for the program, including Ethics for Communicating across Local and Global Networks, Crisis Communication Strategies in a Digital World, Digital Media Law and Policy, and Ethics of Digital Media.

Research Methods: Similarly with the Research Methods, students have a number of choices to fulfill this requirement, and can take classes such as Advanced Content Creation, Curation, and Optimization; Multi-Platform Content Strategy; and Communicating Ideas: Strategies and Theories of Communities and Networks.

After fulfilling the four core requirements, students have a great deal of flexibility to choose a course of study that matches their interests. While students choose to enroll in either the MCCN or MCDM when they first apply, they have the option to choose up to 10 credits outside of their chosen emphasis, which means that MCCN students can take up to 10 of their 25 elective credits from the MCDM track, and vice versa. Additionally, students can take up to 5 credits from outside of the Communication Leadership program, with approval from their advisor.

Due to the flexibility of the degree and the overlap in required and elective courses in both the MCDM and MCCN tracks, students from both tracks learn how to create and build stories both within and outside of the scope of technology. Compelling storytelling does not have to involve media production; it requires us to identify the value proposition that we want to offer our stakeholders, empathize with people’s experiences, and create messages that speak to their needs.

And so whether you are an MCCN student who wants to learn how to inspire people to come together to build a community that effects change, or a MCDM student who wants to employ media production and distribution as a way to motivate people to act, the core mission remains the same. The distinction is a fine line, but an important one. When applying, students are expected to identify which track they would like to enter; students who want to engage more with the media production end of things select the MCDM track, while students whose career goals concern more face-to-face and interpersonal communication will generally choose the MCCN track.

For the MCDM track, students learn about media content strategy, user experience, multimedia storytelling, such as audio storytelling or podcasting, advanced marketing and branding strategies, and how to use the latest digital platforms and tools (such as media analytics, search engine analytics, etc.) to develop and execute on these strategies. Examples of courses we are offering for this track include Design + Content: An Introduction to UX and Content Strategy, Strategic Communication for Responsible Leaders, Multimedia Storytelling: Digital Distribution and the Story, Aligning UX Design with User Psychology, and Measuring Marketing Effectiveness: Analytics and Insights for Brands.

On the MCCN side we have courses in crisis communication, advocacy, distributed and diverse teams, communication for social impact, leadership approaches to diversity initiatives, visual communication, community and media, storytelling, and audience engagement. Examples of classes we are currently offering for the MCCN track include Marketing Policy and Engaging with Diverse Societies: Public Health, Culture, and Video-Based Communication, Innovation Communities: How Business Can Harness the DIY Dynamic, Leadership and Teams, Building Successful Online Communities, and Community and Media: Storytelling and Audience Engagement. So as you can see, media development and technologies are still major elements of the MCCN classes, but they are used to teach students the principles of community engagement and leadership for social change.

We also have numerous “track neutral” courses that both MCCN and MCDM students can take as electives, including Connecting Through Words: The Art & Science of Text-Based Marketing, Distributed and Diverse Teams: Leading and Communicating with Impact, and Thinking Story- Fundamentals of Storytelling for Organizations, Business, and Movements.

Our Master of Communication Leadership program began in 2002, and though we update the course content almost constantly to account for changes in the space, it has always been focused on media, technology, and production and how they relate to communication strategies. Over time, however, we also saw how the way humans communicate has evolved as a result of technology, and independent of it. Especially with the advent of social media and the communities it has created both online and offline, we felt it was worth creating a degree that focused more on how these communities develop, are maintained and strengthened, and the communication dynamics that result.

So in 2013, we created the MCCN track, which looked less at media production and more at communication and human interaction. Looking at the flow of information within communities and networks inherently involves understanding technology and digital media, but it also focuses on communication not facilitated by technology. We realized that, as technology itself became more pervasive and more integrated into our day-to-day lives and professional workplaces, it has also changed how we think and interact. We therefore wanted to create a degree program that focused more on how communities form, and how humans communicate on interpersonal, organizational, and community levels.

We have always been very much two to three years in advance of what is happening in terms of thinking about storytelling and how it has evolved as technology advances. For example, we are expanding our course offerings into areas such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Our overarching goal is to effect professional transformation for our students. We know that they come into the program with the intention to change their skills, the way they see the world, and their professional trajectory. We therefore designed our curriculum to fundamentally motivate and support transformation at large.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What opportunities does the University of Washington’s MCDM and MCCN programs provide students to apply the concepts they learn in class to real-world situations and projects?

[Hanson Hosein] We wanted our program to be relevant to professionals who are either starting up their career or are mid-career, and who are looking to apply every concept and skill they learn in their classes to their work. Every class we have in our program is therefore highly applied, and from the beginning of their tenure in the program, students engage in hands-on group and individual projects. For example, in their aforementioned core class Communication Through Digital Media and Networks, students work with a real-world client on a project, but that is not the only class wherein students interact with industry professionals. We partner with clients who give our students assignments that directly relate to the needs of their organization, so that students benefit from real industry demands and insights.

These partnerships not only benefit our students, but also the companies and organizations with which we work. We have actually had clients approach us with a desire to work with our students in the classroom, to get a better sense of how to approach a new challenge they’ve encountered, or get fresh insights from professionals who are newer to the field. Non-profits, corporations, and government agencies have come to us and said, “Here is a communication challenge. Can you help us sort this out?”

Recently, we decided to take these connections one step further and created a Partner Program that gives students the opportunity to work with regional non-profits on real media and communication strategy projects. We pair students with organizations that match their skills, academic focus, and career goals, oversee and support their work on the content and strategies that these organizations need. As non-profits typically don’t have a sufficient budget for our students’ work, we have done some fundraising so that we can offer students a scholarship to offset tuition costs. Students are able to decide whether they will work with our partners for course credit or not for credit, but we fundamentally believe that if you are doing work of value for an outside organization, you should be compensated.

The communication industry evolves so rapidly that the best way to ensure that students are equipped for these changes is consulting with experts in the field on a regular basis. As Director of the program, I talk frequently with industry leaders throughout our region, including CEOs of Amazon, Starbucks, and other large corporations. Our philosophy is, if you know what these companies are looking for, the challenges they are facing, and where they hope to go in the next few years, then you can proactively steer your program in that direction as well.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you elaborate on the Partner Program that students can participate in as part of the University of Washington’s MCDM and MCCN programs?

[Hanson Hosein] On a quarterly basis, we post paid internship and project-based independent study opportunities for which our students apply. We then match them with the opportunities that best suit their experiences and interests. These internships and partner projects are not a program requirement–students could go through the program and just take classes and still get the experience and skills they need through in-class projects. However, we recognize that a lot of learning and portfolio building can and should happen in the outside world, and students can earn some money along the way as well if possible.

We have a community engagement staff member who manages our industry partnerships, student internships, and partner projects. Organizations can partner with us by filling out an online form to request to partner with us. And once we approve these partnerships, we send announcements out to our students to say, “Here are some opportunities for you.” Our partners also frequently approach us with open full-time positions, which we also send out to students.

Because of the numerous required and optional hands-on work that our students do, we have no formal portfolio, capstone, or thesis requirement. From the first class that they take to their final electives, students are going to have significant output to show on their LinkedIn, resume, and portfolio. After graduating, our students are able to showcase the communication strategies that they have actually developed for an organization, a video that they’ve created, a podcast, or a multimedia strategy. Almost every class has some concrete output for them to be able to demonstrate a practical application.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in the University of Washington’s MCDM and MCCN programs, and how can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems? Additionally, what career development resources and academic services are available to students of this program?

[Hanson Hosein] I actually do not call our program a graduate program. It is fundamentally a learning community, of which students, alumni, faculty, and our partners all play essential roles. We are all constantly in a state of learning because the subject matter is so fluid and always changing. And this state of flux not only encourages, but also necessitates a collaborative learning environment. Students learn from their teachers, and vice versa; our industry partners teach our students invaluable skills in the communication field, while also benefiting from our students’ fresh insights and approaches to communication challenges.

We have very high expectations of our community, and there’s a certain level of accountability, for both our faculty and our students. Most of our faculty members are industry practitioners, and we expect that they are going to mentor and provide very concrete feedback to their students. Often, our faculty members help our students get jobs or refer them. It’s a very symbiotic relationship because our faculty are so well placed in the community, and our students see them as credible leaders who give them information, expertise, and the potential next steps to a new career. In turn, our students teach our instructors every day about new ways to approach a course concept or a contemporary issue in communication. And with every class they teach, faculty further hone their teaching craft (which oftentimes enhances their industry work). We do evaluations every class for our faculty and we hold them to a very high standard. We mentor our faculty quite a bit, to help them optimize course content and structure.

In addition to the opportunities that are inherently present in the program’s coursework, we create as many outside opportunities as we can for the students to collaborate and network with each other, and to meet potential employers. For example, the first Friday of every month we host an event where companies who want to hire our students attend a happy hour where they can network with our students and alumni. We’ve had Facebook, Starbucks, and Amazon attend these events in the past. We also host master classes that are open to students, alumni, and the public. For example, a couple of years ago we developed a master class on the future of storytelling beyond the screen, and we partnered with both Facebook and Amazon. Our students were welcome to attend that event for free, and the event was also open to alumni, members of the public, and our corporate and non-profit partners. We recognize that we are teaching our students in and outside of the classroom, while also serving our community through the lifelong education of our alumni, our faculty, and the people and organizations who work with us. Through the caliber of the students who graduate from our program, and events such as these, which present the quality of our curriculum to the public, we have created a strong brand that encourages employers to actively seek us out to help them fill job positions.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for the University of Washington’s MCDM and MCCN programs?

[Hanson Hosein] You know, the last few years we have had a record number of applications, it has been crazy. And while the influx of applications has been challenging, we devote a great deal of time to each application. We are not looking for cookie-cutter applications, naturally because we are not looking for cookie-cutter students. As mentioned previously, we expect a lot out of our students–we expect them to engage with clients in high-level projects, and we expect them to support, collaborate, and innovate with their peers. We focus a great deal on students’ letter of intent. Of course, their grades have to hit a certain standard, so we look at the transcripts, and letters of recommendation matter to a certain degree. However, it is that letter of intent that truly tells us who the student is and how they align their objectives and interests with what we have to offer.

I can always tell when students apply to multiple programs and they just repurpose the letter for us. Similarly, I can tell when a student has really paid attention to what we have to offer and how it meets their needs–those are the people we pay very close attention to. There are no prerequisites for our program. You do not have to have any video editing experience, any camera experience, or five years of professional experience with an agency doing communications. We are fundamentally looking for a state of mind and an ability to communicate well already.

In addition to the personal statement, letters of recommendation, and transcripts, we also require a 90-second video wherein you to tell us a story either about your life or a pivotal chapter in your life. This video is a really good way to assess how well somebody expresses him or herself and thinks about the stories in communication.

We construct our cohorts of students very carefully, because we want a cohort that is comprised of students who can teach each other different perspectives and skills just by virtue of who they are, and their background. Approximately 20 percent of our student cohorts are international students, because they are remarkable in terms of what they bring to the table in a collective and collaborative setting. Everybody brings some level of expertise, whether they’re just out of undergrad or they’re a senior communications executive at a large company. Everybody is looking to learn something but they also have something that they can bring to the table. We want to make sure that students are encouraged to bring those skills, insights, and other contributions to the classroom.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the University of Washington’s Communication Leadership graduate program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Hanson Hosein] I’d say what makes us unique is our combination of classes that emphasize the latest skills and developments in the field, our prioritization of industry connections and hands-on work for clients, and our focus on bringing the community into the classroom and vice versa through internship opportunities, extracurricular events, and outreach initiatives. I’m proud to say that we are almost near full employment for our graduates, and this is due in large part to the skills they learn that make them so marketable. It is also due to the incredibly strong and growing network that we have in Seattle, which is a very strong job market right now.

I tell students when they are applying that 50 percent of the benefit is the curriculum, and 50 percent is how we connect each of our students to the outside world. I went to Columbia University many years ago, and I went to the journalism school. And the reason I chose Columbia when I didn’t have a journalism background is because I recognized that it was such a big, powerful brand that could open a lot of doors for me. And so when I took over this program, I wanted to build exactly that same culture for our degree–a program that has a brand of excellence and unfailing industry relevance, and a program that remains connected to its students no matter how long ago they graduated. It is a little bit like that song Hotel California: you can check out any time you like but you can never leave, we’ll always support you–not just our faculty, but also our students. Our students have been known to hire each other after they graduate, and we now have 600 alumni around the world and we’ve built this critical mass in our community where our current and former students are now leaders who look back to our program and readily support our faculty, current students, and new graduates.

One of our students is Melinda Gates’s digital officer, for example, and she is now influencing the direction of the subject matter in our program. Furthermore, she and her colleagues are helping place students into other jobs and mentoring them as well. This is what I take the most pride of in our program–that it really is a connected learning community and we will always continue to support and help each other so that we can all be successful in our professional transformation.

Thank you, Hanson Hosein, for your excellent insight into the University of Washington’s Communication Leadership graduate program!