About Autumn Thatcher: Autumn Thatcher is a writer and editor based in Salt Lake City with extensive experience covering the arts and entertainment. She currently serves as editorial director in the Office of Marketing and Communication at Westminster College, where she provides editorial and strategic direction for communication pieces produced by the college and serves as the managing editor for the school’s alumni magazine, Westminster Review. In the past, Ms. Thatcher has contributed to such publications as The Salt Lake Tribune and In This Week magazine, as well as worked in public relations for a number of organizations, including Make-A-Wish Utah.
Ms. Thatcher earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature with a minor in art history from the University of Utah in 2003. She completed her master’s in 2015, graduating from Westminster’s Master of Strategic Communication program.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Autumn Thatcher] I earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature with a minor in art history from the University of Utah. At the time of my degree completion, I was deciding between pursuing a doctorate in Shakespearean literature or media relations. I was writing for the U’s art and entertainment magazine, focusing on art and music. I knew that no matter what I decided, I wanted to keep writing. I elected to take time off from school and work toward building a career.
My first job out of college was in public relations for a nonprofit organization in Utah. From there I went on to do outreach for UEN Channel 9 TV, and I helped launch the station’s UEN SciFi Friday, a project that allowed me to watch classic low-budget horror and science fiction films and identify an educational element in each film. From there, I interviewed local experts in the field of that educational element and did a podcast for each movie we aired on Sci-Fi Friday nights. I won a national award in outreach for the success of this program. From there I moved on to events organizing for University of Utah Health Sciences and ultimately became a full-time staff writer for In This Week magazine, a local weekly arts and entertainment magazine owned by The Salt Lake Tribune. This particular job had become my dream job, and I was freelancing for the publication while also working full time until I was hired to be their music editor. I received a bronze award in entertainment writing from the Society of Professional Journalists while writing for the magazine. The publication folded in 2012, and it was then that I had no idea what to do next.
I soon decided to purse a master’s degree and that is how I came to Westminster. I quit working full time and became a student worker in the office of marketing and communication at Westminster College while pursuing my degree in strategic communication. I was ultimately hired to be the editorial director in the communication office at Westminster. I continue to freelance write for local media outlets, and I also do freelance editing and writing for organizations and/or individuals in a variety of areas.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose Westminster College’s Master of Strategic Communication?
[Autumn Thatcher] When I became interested in graduate school, I was feeling quite confused about what to do with my career. It was devastating to lose my dream job and since that magazine folded, many other journalists have lost theirs. The decline of print media is one of the sacrifices that has been made in light of the internet. My career thus far had involved nearly every aspect of communications: public relations, interviewing, writing, editing, and representing organizations on television and radio. I even dabbled in using Adobe InDesign. I figured at this point in my career that while I still loved the idea of Shakespearean literature, I was very much involved in media relations and communications. I also knew I wanted to keep writing. A degree in communications made sense for what I had done up to that point in my career.
I was introduced to Westminster’s program through my sister-in-law, who had just completed the college’s Master in Community Arts and Leadership program. I was a first-generation college student and did not really get what I would consider an authentic college experience during my undergrad (I commuted to school and was a transfer student). I liked the idea of attending a small college with small class sizes and really getting to know my professors. I knew at orientation that I had made the right decision. The faculty mentors in the program were so accomplished and I was excited by the expertise they had to offer. I liked that the MSC program was a program that you could do online but it still provided one-on-one mentoring from the faculty and required weekly meetings with my cohort, which we usually did online. My faculty mentors genuinely cared about my success both as a student and as a working professional. I know that I can still go to any one of them with questions or advice (and I do this often), and they will be there.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of your experience completing the curriculum for this program? What key concepts did the program emphasize, and how did the five specific content areas (Rhetoric and Strategic Public Relations, Visual Communication and Brand Strategy, Organizational Communication and Culture, Integrated Marketing Communication, and Instructional Design) inform your learning outcomes? What skills and strategies did you learn in your classes, and how did you apply them to course assignments?
[Autumn Thatcher] I actually transferred into the MSC program from the Master’s of Professional Communication (MPC) program that Westminster had. Because of the classes that I had already taken during my first semester, I transferred into the third sequence of the MSC program, which is organizational communication. I credit that sequence for helping me get the job I have today. I used the individual project in the org comm sequence to examine the management and production process of the Westminster Review alumni magazine, which my former boss was in charge of and I was also working on. She retired while I was her student worker and I had the opportunity to fill in for her position. The project I did in the third sequence allowed me to look at how the magazine was being produced, interview all those involved with the process all the way up to the president of the college, and propose a new strategy for producing the magazine. I presented this to the chief marketing officer and implemented the new process in my role as interim editorial director. Two semesters later, by the end of the MSC program, I was in my current role full time and had successfully put out the alumni magazine on time.
While the org comm sequence is near and dear to my heart, I learned a lot from the other sequences as well. I also appreciated the integrated marketing and communication sequence because we learned a lot about how to help organizations identify and own their brand. This really came in handy when our office led the rebrand for Westminster College. My colleague (who is also an MSC alum) was key in working with our CMO and leading the campus through this initiative. My role in writing and editing has played a part in the way the brand voice and tone is used in communication materials. Gaining an understanding of how to do this successfully and advising other organizations on brand strategy helped prepare me to do this better in my own role.
One aspect of the MSC program that I appreciated was the fact that we had to do real work for real clients. This ensured that we were not just retaining newly acquired skill sets but actually putting them to use and learning from the results, whether they worked or didn’t.
[MastersinCommunications.com] As a student of Westminster College’s online/hybrid program format, what were your experiences interacting with course faculty and peers both in and outside of classes? What learning technologies did this program use, and were they effective in helping you feel connected to your professors and class cohort?
[Autumn Thatcher] I spoke to this in one of the earlier questions, but I had a great experience interacting with my faculty and peers. I met with my faculty mentors in person on a weekly basis, and my peers and I met via Google Hangout weekly. We also met in person as needed. Faculty were quick to get projects back to us with their feedback tracked in Word. We had to revise assignments until we met the core competencies of each one.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Westminster College’s program is unique in that it includes a fully funded international trip during which students work collaboratively on a field project for a nonprofit or other organization. Could you describe your experiences on this trip, and what learning outcomes, professional connections, and hands-on experience you gained from it?
[Autumn Thatcher] The international trip was a motivating factor for me when choosing to transfer to the MSC program. My sequence provided work for Peruvian Hearts as part of one of our sequences. We were able to take the work we did to Peru and help educate the organization’s leaders on the recommendations we were making and why. We also did service work in the form of helping paint a home in Peru. We learned a lot from the girls that the organization served. The trip felt short when compared to the things we needed to accomplish while we were there, but some of my peers continued to work for Peruvian Hearts after the trip, providing more work for them as needed.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience completing your Corporate Training and Capstone Project? Which client did you work with, and how did you collaborate with your team of peers on a strategic communication project? How did your faculty advisor(s) support you in your research and work?
[Autumn Thatcher] The corporate training element of the program may be a new addition since my time in the MSC program. We did a group project and individual project for each sequence, conducting both qualitative and quantitative research. The work we did was based on the core competencies that we were learning in the particular sequence. My cohort did a great job of providing our clients with strategies for accomplishing their goals. We provided each client with in-depth information as well as the reasoning behind why we were making the suggestions we made. Each client received a formal presentation by our team (and individually for the individual projects). We rehearsed presentations with our faculty mentors before giving the final presentation. The faculty were very helpful in advising us and making sure we were delivering the information in a way that made sense to the client.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from Westminster College’s Master of Strategic Communication have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Autumn Thatcher] Working with a cohort of individuals from different backgrounds was a great way to strengthen my collaboration skills. Each member of the team had professional experience in different areas and we all brought our own strengths and skill sets to the program. We worked together really well, but we also experienced difficult moments where we did not all agree on things. In order to complete the projects, we had to work through our disagreements and find a compromise. I found this to be valuable in preparing me for the work I do now because I work with different departments on campus with different priorities. My colleagues and I must be effective communicators and be good at problem solving in order to successfully do our jobs.
The organizational communication and integrated marketing and communication sequences proved to be the most valuable courses for me because they paralleled the work I do now.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting Westminster College’s Master of Strategic Communication program? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it is at Westminster College or another university?
[Autumn Thatcher] I would say to be prepared for a lot of work. It took me a little while to adjust to life in graduate school, but it was a rewarding experience that I would not trade. In today’s world, higher education is deemed less important than it once was. I would argue that it is more important than ever. Continued learning is crucial for personal development and it plays an important role in helping humans understand one another and become more familiar with the lived experiences of others.
I chose to attend graduate school because I did not know what to do next in my career. I found a job that I love and get to work in an environment that I am passionate about because I returned to school. But more than that, I connected with peers and learned about concepts in the world of communication that I had not previously studied. I dove into tough work and helped develop exciting solutions that we presented to organizations that, for example, advocate for youth suicide prevention and help young women in Peru achieve an education. The MSC program gave me the opportunity to do real work and feel connected to those we were trying to help—and learn more about myself and where my strengths lie in the process. I do not think I would have done anything differently other than try and relax more and not stress so much. As with most things, graduate school was over before I knew it. Future students should give the program their all because it is designed specifically for helping students grow and excel in the field of communication. You never know what kind of opportunities will arise from the program, so take advantage of the direct link with expert faculty and get to know them—as well as your peers—and don’t be afraid to try new things.
Thank you, Ms. Thatcher, for your excellent insights on Westminster College’s Master of Strategic Communication program!