About Karalee Harhaji: Karalee Harhaji works in higher education marketing and fundraising, and currently serves as Senior Associate Director of Annual Giving Direct Mail Marketing and Operations at Georgetown University. Prior to this, she worked for various other universities raising philanthropic support for students. Ms. Harhaji lives in Washington D.C. with her husband, Boris, and their Dutch Shepherd mix puppy, Jax. In her free time, she likes to go hiking and visit family.
Ms. Harhaji earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. In 2018, she completed her master’s degree through the Master of Professional Studies in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program at Georgetown.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Karalee Harhaji] I graduated in 2013 from the University of Scranton where I completed my undergraduate degree in psychology. During my time there as a student, I began working with the Office of Advancement and found a passion for marketing and fundraising in the higher education setting. That started me on my career trajectory which first landed me at the Bloomsburg University Foundation and now more recently, Georgetown University.
For the past three and a half years, I’ve worked on the annual giving team within the Office of Advancement at Georgetown. My role has transformed from building out an integrated marketing communications plan for the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and other medical center initiatives to focusing on undergraduate alumni giving. All the while with the common thread between my roles being marketing to raise philanthropic support for Georgetown.
While at Georgetown, I knew I wanted to capitalize on the opportunity to complete my master’s degree, so I applied and was accepted to the IMC program. This program has already had an impact on what I’ve been able to do in my current role and has given me an understanding of marketing communications that will serve me well throughout my entire career.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the Master of Professional Studies in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program at Georgetown University?
[Karalee Harhaji] Higher education values higher education! I knew that for long term progression in my career, a master’s degree would not only be valued but potentially required. I also discovered myself with the unique opportunity of being able to accomplish my degree while working at Georgetown, which I knew was a benefit I wanted to capitalize on. After reading more about Georgetown’s Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program and having the opportunity to discuss the curriculum with the program’s professional staff, I knew this degree would not only serve me well but would be exciting and enjoyable along the way. It easily related to the work I was currently doing, marketing fundraising which targets audiences with specific messaging driven by research and insight.
Georgetown’s IMC program is flexible and that was a big part of what I was looking for as a full-time employee, part-time student. It has a variety of on-campus and online classes of which you can take in either variety throughout your experience. I did most of my classes on campus as the program also connects you with an amazing network of students and faculty in the beautiful School of Continuing Studies building in downtown D.C., but I did utilize the online option as well when my schedule became hectic.
While I plan to stay in higher education marketing communications for a while, so many career paths have opened up post-graduation that I wouldn’t even consider had I not completed this program.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is Georgetown’s IMC program structured, and what concepts did the program emphasize? What skills and strategies did you learn in your classes, and how did you apply them to course assignments?
[Karalee Harhaji] Georgetown’s IMC program is structured thoughtfully and requires you to complete a handful of foundational courses so that you can apply those basic concepts throughout the entirety of your educational experience. Emphasized within those fundamentals, and throughout the program, is the idea that marketing is not simply the distribution of a catchy campaign, but is driven by audience selection, consumer research, and ultimately the insight you derive from the intersection of those two things. I remember thinking early on that marketing communications is so much more a science than people typically think from the outside and that part fascinated me.
Every assignment, presentation, or discussion from that point on was driven by that basic idea. Furthermore, other key concepts included differentiation and how brands can set themselves apart from the competition mainly by the way they choose to market themselves.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience completing your capstone project? What communication issue or challenge did it address, and what were your primary deliverables (i.e. communications plan, tutorial, video, visual marketing materials, etc.)? What advice do you have for students in terms of successfully completing their project?
[Karalee Harhaji] Capstone initially seems daunting for most students and I would consider myself of the same mindset. That said, the instructors in the IMC program do a great job making you feel confident in what you’ve learned throughout your education and give you the tools needed to be successful in this final project. They do so without providing too much guidance as to avoid putting you in a box where you have to pursue a certain path or angle. Capstone is about connecting with your client and figuring out how to best serve them in order to solve for a business problem they are currently facing, and for every student, every client, that looks different. The faculty in the IMC program realize that so they emphasize the idea that one size doesn’t fit all and you should pursue this final project with an open mind to assess the true needs of the client.
I worked with a startup fitness company who were gracious in sharing with me their thoughts and aspirations for their business. Their primary goal was to educate their audience on their unique offerings, which would in turn help to attract and retain clientele. My goal and deliverables followed suit with helping them accomplish that goal. I provided an integrated marketing plan on how to message to a specific key audience in their market, and some visual marketing materials to demonstrate the look and feel of what would resonate with them. At the end of the semester, I presented to both my faculty and peers and also my client.
Capstone is heavily dependent on research which again looks different for each student and client grouping. I completed some primary research by attending a few fitness classes and chatting with current clientele. I also completed a handful of one-on-one interviews to try to best understand the wants and needs of the key market. Complementary to that, I completed heavy secondary research for the fitness industry in general, which gave me a better understanding of trends and challenges throughout the industry as well as the competitive landscape.
If I could provide advice to a future capstone student I would tell them first and foremost, don’t procrastinate! It’s much less stressful when you keep a good cadence throughout the semester instead of trying to cram it all in at the end. Secondly, I would say (as the program faculty will emphasis) research but don’t research to death! You might find yourself in a bit of analysis paralysis if you continue to harp over your research findings. Sometimes insights are kind of obvious, and there is a point in the semester where you probably have found a great insight and so you need to move forward with the remainder of your deliverables; don’t keep going back to do more research or it will never end!
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from Georgetown’s MPS in Integrated Marketing Communications program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Karalee Harhaji] For me, the biggest takeaway I have from the IMC program is that there truly is a reason behind all (good) marketing. In hindsight now, I love watching commercials or seeing or reading ads because I usually have the epiphany moment of “ah-ha this is what they are trying to make viewers think/feel and this is why.” The program has also given me the tools necessary to feel confident about consumer research, campaign planning, and a guide to how to be successful while marketing ethically. I have such a better understanding of what resources are out there to help me be successful in this field – including everything from google analytics to social media and various marketing techniques and mediums.
Beyond the curriculum, the experiences and connections I have from this program have been such a high point in my professional career. I feel like I have a terrific network of people that I can bounce ideas off of or just go and grab a coffee with. It’s truly a supportive group that will leave you connected as Hoyas for as long as you wish.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting Georgetown University’s Master of Professional Studies in Integrated Marking Communications program? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at Georgetown or another university?
[Karalee Harhaji] I would say, just go for it! Whether you think the program you are considering will directly impact your life/career or not, I promise you, it will. Marketing and communications are things we are so immersed in every day that even if you take the career implications out of it, you still will be fascinated and learn so much that is just applicable to everyday living.
I also suggest really approaching your education with an open mind and getting to know your faculty, who are likely extraordinary professionals that bring with them such unique experiences. It’s so rare to be a part of something that brings such a conglomerate of people together, and to have all that knowledge and passion in one place is really inspiring so utilize it to your full capacity.
Lastly, of course I would also suggest that you DO consider the Georgetown program because I consider it to be at the top of educational programs throughout the country.
Thank you, Ms. Harhaji, for your excellent insights on Georgetown University’s Master of Professional Studies in Integrated Marking Communications program!