About Olivia Hook Frey: Olivia Hook Frey works in higher education relations for a national association based in Lexington, Kentucky, where she lives with her husband, Kody, and their pug, Pete. Before her current position, she worked in association management, namely for state government associations. In her free time, Ms. Frey teaches barre classes and volunteers as a public relations advisor for a sorority at Morehead State University, as well as for a local pug rescue group. She also started an Illinois State University (ISU) alumni group in the summer of 2015, which brings local ISU alumni together several times a year.
Ms. Frey earned both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from ISU. She graduated from their Bachelor of Science in Organizational Communication and Leadership program in 2013, and in 2015, completed her master’s degree in communication with an emphasis in training and development.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Olivia Hook Frey] I attended Illinois State University for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, from 2009-2015. My undergraduate degree is in Organizational Communication and Leadership, and my graduate degree is in Communication, with an emphasis in Training and Development. During my time as a graduate student at ISU, I taught several undergraduate-level communication courses, including public speaking, interpersonal communication and organizational communication.
Since graduating from Illinois State in 2015, my now-husband and I moved to Lexington, Kentucky. My first job out of graduate school was in association management. I was a research and digital communications coordinator for a national technology association for about two years, where I used many of the skills I learned at Illinois State daily. While in this position, I received my CAE (Certified Association Executive) Certification.
For the past year, I have worked for another national association managing relationships between the association, state purchasing offices, and our academic partners across the country. I work to build and maintain relationships with our college and university partners, build programs, and travel to partner events on a regular basis. In 2017, I also taught an online Business Communication course through the University of Kentucky.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the Master’s in Communication program at Illinois State University?
[Olivia Hook Frey] I always knew that I wanted to pursue my Master’s degree, but I assumed I would work for a few years and go back for an MBA or similar degree. While approaching undergraduate graduation, a professor of mine at Illinois State approached me and told me to consider the ISU Master’s program. After doing some research and finding out that there were assistantship options for the program, I decided to apply. Since my Bachelor’s degree was in communication and I already knew many of the faculty, I felt comfortable making the transition to the Master’s program.
I was so excited to be able to teach my own 100-level classes as a first year Master’s student. I appreciated the autonomy that ISU gives its graduate students, which is not the norm in similar graduate programs. I knew this experience would be invaluable to me in my own professional development, as well as increasing my career options post-grad. Ultimately, teaching these courses helped me realize that I didn’t want to pursue teaching full-time. However, several years later, I decided to go back to teaching part-time because I missed the student interaction. Even though I do not currently teach, I use the skills I learned in this program daily in my current role.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is ISU’s 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?
[Olivia Hook Frey] ISU’s program begins with two introductory courses: communication theory and quantitative methods. These courses are completed during the first two semesters of the program, and are the building blocks upon which the rest of your coursework and research are based. Student can choose from one of two paths: the thesis or non-thesis route. If you choose to not write a thesis, you are required to take one additional class and project for that class.
Like I mentioned, theory and quantitative methods are the two core courses, from which everything else grows. ISU does a fantastic job of making sure each graduate student has a solid understanding of the fundamentals of each before they begin their thesis research. For that reason, many of my colleagues chose the professors from these two courses as thesis chairs or committee members.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience completing your thesis? What was your primary research inquiry, and how did you decide upon it? Could you describe the process you undertook to research your topic and form your final conclusions? What advice do you have for students in terms of completing their thesis (i.e. determining a research topic of appropriate scope, conducting thorough research and analysis, and crafting a strong presentation, etc.)?
[Olivia Hook Frey] Writing a thesis is a daunting task, one which I dreaded from the start of my graduate program. A 100+ research paper that will be critiqued by scholars who are experts in the field is quite intimidating. Illinois State’s program allows its students to take liberty in deciding their research area. The great thing about communication is that it is so broad, that almost anything you want to research has some communication component.
I stumbled upon my research idea in a training and development course. I was intrigued by the onboarding and socialization processes across different organizations. Retention is something all organizations are concerned about, so I decided to investigate how the initial new employee socialization process predicts retention. It made sense for me to ask the professor for that class, as well as another esteemed organizational communication professor, to be on my thesis committee. I knew that theory was much stronger than my methods, so I asked my quantitative methods professor to be my thesis chair. I will be forever grateful for the hours upon hours we spent running data in his office. I made the decision to utilize quantitative versus qualitative data for two reasons: 1) I had a stronger foundation of quantitative than qualitative, and 2) I thought it made more sense, predictability-wise, to use quantitative methods.
My committee members and thesis chair were nothing but supportive throughout the entire year-long process. They gave me constructive criticism and made me think about my research in ways I would have never come up with on my own. When it came time to defend, I was incredibly nervous, as graduating depends on your successful defense. My committee asked tough questions, but ones they had prepped me for ahead of time. I appreciated this, because it gave me the opportunity to research my answers and come prepared. I ended up passing the defense on the first attempt, and graduated a few short weeks later.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from Illinois State’s Master’s in Communication program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Olivia Hook Frey] The skills I use most often in my current career are those I learned in my organizational communication and training courses. Those are the courses that were most interesting to me because of the theories that applied to the business world. Outside of those organizational communication theories, the relationship building and maintenance skills I learned through the professional relationships I made with the ISU graduate faculty were invaluable. The main role I play in my current position is to create and maintain relationships with distinguished scholars across the country, and I think the main reason I feel so comfortable doing so is because of the fantastic experience I had at ISU. A handful of my ISU graduate professors even attended my wedding, several years after graduating!
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting ISU’s Master’s Degree in Communication 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 Illinois State or another university?
[Olivia Hook Frey] My biggest piece of advice to students looking to start a master’s degree (in any discipline) is to choose classes and a thesis topic that interests you. You will be working on your thesis for at least a year, so it is important that you think that research area is significant and that it will apply to your future career.
Also, enjoy it! Two years go by in the blink of an eye, and it is an experience unlike any other!
Thank you, Ms. Frey, for your excellent insights on Illinois State University’s Master’s Degree in Communication program!