About Millie Njezic: Millie Njezic works as an eCommerce Specialist for Famous Footwear in Saint Louis, Missouri. Her job involves planning digital marketing strategies based on consumer behavior, as well as optimizing user experience for the company’s customers on the web. Ms. Njezic has an extensive background in online marketing and communications, having worked in various strategic, analytic, and design roles for companies such as Scientific Games and LocateSmarter.
Ms. Njezic earned a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and International Relations from Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. She completed her master’s in 2018 through the Master of Arts in Communication Studies program at the University of Northern Iowa.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Millie Njezic] I earned my BA in Public Relations and International Relations from Wartburg College (Waverly, IA) and my MA in Communication Studies from the University of Northern Iowa (Cedar Falls, IA). As a part of my assistantship, I taught Oral Communication classes and helped the Interpreters Theatre with publicity.
My professional background is colorful, but mainly housed in marketing and communications. I worked as a marketing analyst, digital marketing specialist, graphic designer, and currently hold a position of an eCommerce Specialist for a footwear brand. My regular day is a combination of highly technical work (building user experiences for web and mobile) and strategy (planning and conceptualizing campaigns). At my current job, I get to apply a lot of the skills I obtained in grad school with research methods proving to be central to being successful in my position. I am always doing in-depth research and often come up with qualitative/quantitative studies in order to understand our customer’s behavior. I am so grateful that grad school prepared me for finding, interpreting, and communicating these highly technical findings to the cross-functional and cross-departmental teams I work with.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the Master of Arts in Communication Studies program at the University of Northern Iowa?
[Millie Njezic] I come from Bosnia and Herzegovina where I lived until I finished high school. My country went through many conflicts and those conflicts affected all areas of life. Once I came to the US to pursue education, I was exposed to studies and materials I have not been familiar with. I quickly learned how much my education back home had been politicized and how communication was central to creating power structures and manipulation of information. I knew that I wanted to understand why and how this happens, and how can I make concrete contributions. Hence, pursuing an MA seemed appropriate in that journey.
I heard about UNI’s MA in Communication Studies program from my advisors at Wartburg College and met with the Director of Graduate Studies at UNI, Dr. Tom Hall, who told me about the structure of the program. I had no doubt that UNI would provide me with an amazing education and assistantship program. For international students like myself, it is very important to be able to have access to assistantships and other scholarship opportunities. UNI’s program offered a Public Relations emphasis, which at the time seemed most in line with my interests. I later switched to be a generalist, as I learned more about the program, but also about my own interests.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is UNI’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?
[Millie Njezic] At UNI, students can choose either a thesis or a non-thesis track, focusing in one of these areas: Public Relations, Communication Education, Mass Communication, General Communication, Organizational Communication, or Performance Studies. Students have plenty of time to familiarize themselves with these areas of interest by taking classes, meeting the faculty, and engaging with their assistantships (teaching or research).
The first class students take is Introduction to Graduate Studies, which really helps in understanding the program, meeting the faculty, and learning how to learn in grad school. The program for traditional students is two years, and each year students have to take a comprehensive exam in theory as well as research methods. The program at UNI provides a high-quality balanced education in theory and methods, as well as a very supportive graduate teaching assistantship program.
[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.)?
[Millie Njezic] Coming from a collectivist culture, it was unusual to me not to know all my neighbors and interact with them on a daily basis. Seeing that this topic is under-researched in Communication Studies, I decided to explore the topic of neighboring. I used the autoethnographic method in order to use my own experiences with neighbors back home and then I conducted qualitative interviews with Bosnian refugees in Waterloo, IA. The data from both areas was analyzed using poetic inquiry and I came up with a script for a play: Live Thy Neighbor. I then directed the play and over the course of three showings at the Interpreters Theatre, I had amazing discussions with the audience as well as the cast. Finally, I wrote the traditional thesis chapters and defended in front of my committee. Most students talk about the dreaded process of writing a thesis. However, I was very fortunate to be able to do research in such a liberating and creative way. I believe research should be closer to lay audiences, and engaging in dialogic performance made my thesis a pleasure to work on. The defense was also pleasurable in my case. The committee and I conversed as equals and as people who genuinely cared about the topic.
For students who are thinking about their thesis, I would say that you should be researching what truly resonates with you. Ask your questions and then see which method can help you answer them best. Work closely with your thesis chair/committee and divide the work into weeks to hold yourself accountable. My thesis chair, Dr. Danielle McGeough, held weekly touch base meetings with me and helped me determine my writing goals for the next week. This helped me stay organized and focused on my work. Also, don’t be afraid to ask the questions. There is so much value in asking early and asking often. Lastly, remember that you’re doing this research because you’re curious about it. That does not mean that you will have all the answers, neither do you need to have all the answers in the end.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from UNI’s MA in Communication Studies program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Millie Njezic] UNI’s MA program would not be nearly as great if it wasn’t for the amazing culture it fosters. The faculty consists of intelligent and approachable professors who encourage you to develop relationships with your peers as well as with the faculty. I graduated knowing that I have several faculty members and students who I now consider friends. The advice and connections which grew out of those relationships proved to be useful for job hunting as well.
Some of the classes I took, such as research methods and organizational communication classes, help me do projects and communicate with different teams on a daily basis. My experience teaching Oral Communication helped me tremendously in situations where I have to do some training/workshops or simply hold a presentation in front of teams which are not familiar with the subject matter. At UNI, Dr. Ryan McGeough made sure that all of the GTAs graduated with extensive feedback and confidence about their teaching, which now proves to be so valuable in the workplace.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the Master of Arts in Communication Studies program at the University of Northern Iowa? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at UNI or another university?
[Millie Njezic] For those who are considering pursuing an MA in Communication Studies, I would advise them to make sure that they have enough time to dedicate to their studies. MA programs are demanding and the way to do it successfully is to find enough time to attend classes, do research, and have a life outside of the program. Most importantly, make sure that the questions you have about things that intrigue you are communication ones. If your heart is not in communication, then you should probably consider other programs.
The advice I would give to students just starting the Master of Arts in Communication Studies program at the University of Northern Iowa (or anywhere) is that you should allow yourself to be uncomfortable. Things will not simply click right away, but in the end it will all come together so don’t be afraid to try new things. Take classes in other departments, ask questions you’re curious about, find unexpected and weird ways to do some projects creatively, and teach a class. And above all, treasure every moment of it, because programs like these can change your life in so many ways.
Thank you, Ms. Njezic, for your excellent insights on the University of Northern Iowa’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program!