About Ted Dahlstrom: Ted Dahlstrom is a Communications Consultant based in Seattle, Washington with an extensive background in strategic communication, advocacy, and public policy. He has worked on projects for a number of companies and organizations, including GradFin, The Spur Group, and Refugee Women’s Alliance. In the past, Mr. Dahlstrom has served as Government Relations Manager at Options Clearing Corporation, Executive Director of the Forward Washington Foundation, and Legislative Aide for Senator Mike Crapo and Congresswoman Judy Biggert.
Mr. Dahlstrom attended the University of Montana for his undergraduate studies, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Business with a minor in Political Science. He also holds a Certificate in Public Relations and Strategic Communications from the University of Washington. In 2019, he completed his master’s degree through Gonzaga University’s Master of Arts in Communication and Leadership Studies program.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Ted Dahlstrom] My name is Ted Dahlstrom. I am from Yakima, Washington. I graduated from the University of Montana in 2000 with a degree in Business and a minor in Political Science. After discovering the excitement of government and politics during my studies in college, I decided to move to Washington, DC, to try my hand at the political game.
Through luck and good timing, I realized my vision and got a job working for Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho. Working for the Senator taught me the writing and interpersonal skills necessary to succeed in communication and advocacy. Since then my career has taken many positive turns, including working for a Congresswoman from Illinois, running a small Seattle-based non-profit educational foundation, and managing the government affairs operations for a financial services company.
I am currently consulting on various projects while seeking a more permanent communications-focused career opportunity in Seattle, where I live with my wife, four-year-old son, and cat.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the online Master of Arts in Communication and Leadership Studies program at Gonzaga University?
[Ted Dahlstrom] The ability to explain complicated issues in simple terms to a variety of audiences has been central to my professional development. Telling the story of the organizations for which I have worked has been the most rewarding aspect of my career. That realization has driven me to continually improve my writing and communication skills in order to tell an even better story.
In order to broaden my base of knowledge and become more marketable to companies here in the Northwest, I enrolled in the Communication and Leadership Studies (COML) program at Gonzaga University. During my two years in the program, I grew as a scholar and gained many useful skills.
The program’s focus on ethics, servant leadership, and Jesuit principles were particularly appealing to me, as was the university’s stellar academic reputation and its outstanding basketball team. Earning a master’s degree from Gonzaga has given me an in-depth understanding of communication that will allow me to apply my skills in career fields outside of government, including communications, public affairs, and public relations.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is Gonzaga’s Communication and Leadership Studies 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?
[Ted Dahlstrom] Students in the COML program must complete 30 credits (10 classes) and students are admitted on a rolling admissions process. I started in Spring 2017. Each class is eight weeks and students take one class at a time. Each student’s matriculation process is set up by a Gonzaga employee; classes are chosen based on availability and scheduling with input from the student and his/her academic goals. All classes are online aside from one on-campus visit for a three-day practicum.
I personally learned how to research more effectively and how to stay disciplined. I logged onto the Blackboard online portal at least five days each week because it was important for me to stay engaged and not fall behind. I also learned to closely follow the syllabus and to always ask questions about the assignments. I applied these techniques to my classes and approached every assignment with confidence, knowing that even the most daunting assignments could be broken down and accomplished by completing one task at a time and doing work consistently each day rather than waiting until the last minute.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please elaborate on your experience with Gonzaga’s online platform? Were courses asynchronous (prerecorded), synchronous (live), or a combination of both? Did the school’s online platform enable you to interact with faculty members and classmates? How?
[Ted Dahlstrom] Each class was different based on the professor’s preferences. Some professors prerecorded a weekly video or audio message outlining the week’s assignments. Other professors only described the assignments in writing and did not comment each week. There were no prerecorded lectures, which was a surprise to me when I started. Students interacted with each other and the professor using the Blackboard portal. We posted our assignments to Blackboard and commented on each other’s work. Professors also gave us feedback on Blackboard. I always felt like I could interact with the professors and they were listening and understood my questions and concerns.
[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?
[Ted Dahlstrom] For my final project I created a website detailing effective communication techniques for newly elected state and federal representatives and senators. This six-page website features real-world examples of social media content and constituent communication techniques rooted in ethical leadership.
The project also includes an analysis of Twitter and Facebook posts created by 20 new members of the 116th Congress (10 Representatives and 10 Senators) during their first eight weeks in office. The website will help newly elected politicians better understand how to effectively communicate with their constituents and fulfills a currently unmet need.
The capstone project was preceded by a class, COML 601, that prepared me for my capstone project by creating a project topic, conducting a thorough literature review, and completing a project proposal. These assignments were then used in the capstone class, COML 602, thereby preparing me to succeed in my final project.
I conducted most of my research using the Gonzaga University online library. I was able to find many peer-reviewed journal articles and other scholarly research through the library’s online portal. I also used simple Google searches to find additional information. I determined the project’s necessary components and scope on my own and, with the feedback of my advisor, continued to refine the project due mostly to time constraints. My original idea was much broader than what I ended up doing.
My advisor helped me every step of the way. I checked in with her regularly and she gave me feedback on my website and other deliverables. When my project was done, I presented it to a faculty committee.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for students in terms of successfully completing their capstone project?
- Keep in constant contact with your advisor
- Don’t make your research question too broad or difficult to answer
- Find a topic that interests you
- Create a research question that has peer-reviewed scholarly articles readily available
- Work on your project at least four days per week
- Create a project plan that details what you need to accomplish each week and stick to it
- Don’t try to do everything at once and don’t put anything off
- Keep steady and try not to get overwhelmed
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from the Communication and Leadership Studies program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Ted Dahlstrom] Creating two websites using Wix and Weebly was the highlight of my time in the program. Using programs such as iPhoto, Audacity, iMovie, and other web applications to create audio, photo, and video projects was particularly interesting and relevant. Writing critical analysis papers was the most challenging part of the program.
Successfully creating a media kit, communications checklist, corporate social responsibility (CSR) action plan, communication audit, blog posts, Wikipedia page updates, and a literature review prepared me to be a communications professional and helped me on my career path.
The program helped me become a more confident writer and communicator. I hadn’t worked on any of the aforementioned projects before the program, and I was able to complete all of them by breaking down each assignment into manageable components and working on them every day until they were completed.
Keeping up with the latest developments in communication technology was clearly important to many of my professors. Some of my assignments were dated and could have used some freshening up, but overall I felt like I was at the forefront of communication pedagogy throughout my time in the program.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting Gonzaga University’s online Master of Arts in Communication and Leadership Studies 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 Gonzaga or another university?
[Ted Dahlstrom] I would advise anyone just starting out in the COML program to pay close attention to the syllabus. The professors want their students to complete the assignments in a certain manner, and they describe exactly what they are looking for in the syllabus. If you follow the assignments closely and ask questions in Blackboard, you should do well. Don’t assume anything. Always ask questions if anything is ambiguous or unclear.
I would also advise students to log into Blackboard several times each week. Don’t just do it once a week when you have time. I read other people’s posts all the time and kept up with what was going on in the class. The more time you put into Blackboard and your assignments the better you will do.
More broadly, I would advise anyone considering a master’s in communications to consider why they want to be in the program. I wanted to be in the program because I enjoy writing and communicating and want to be a communications professional. If you already have a job in communications, getting a master’s makes some sense, but it may not be necessary for your own career progression. I wanted to learn new skills and become more marketable in order to get a job in Seattle, so it was worth it for me because I had the time and focus necessary to succeed in the program. Others who are busy with their own lives and careers may not be able to spend enough time on the coursework to succeed in the program.
I would also consider the university and its relevance to your own location. For example, Purdue has an excellent communications program, but most employers in Seattle don’t know that because they are not familiar with the university since it is in Indiana. Gonzaga is well-known throughout the northwest and has a reputation for academic excellence, plus many Gonzaga alumni live and work in Seattle. My connection to Gonzaga is invaluable and will help me much more than a degree from Purdue would, even if Purdue has a higher-ranked program.
Thank you, Mr. Dahlstrom, for your excellent insights on Gonzaga University’s Master of Arts in Communication and Leadership Studies program!