About Christine Osborne: Christine Osborne is an accomplished musician, communication professional, and educator who specializes in strategic communication and content development. For the past seven years, she has worked for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality as a Content Strategist and Communications Specialist. Ms. Osborne is also an Adjunct Faculty Member at Westminster College, where she teaches courses in Integrated Marketing Communication and Strategic Public Relations. In her spare time, she works as a Freelance Writer, Editor, and Content Consultant, and volunteers with a number of charitable organizations.

Ms. Osborne played with the Utah Symphony for 26 years, and holds a Bachelor of Music from Eastman School of Music, as well as a Master of Music from the University of Southern California. In 2015, she completed her second master’s degree through Westminster’s Master of Strategic Communication program.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?

[Christine Osborne] I was an orchestra musician with the Utah Symphony for 26 years and received bassoon performance degrees from the Eastman School of Music (Bachelor of Music/Performer’s Certificate) and the University of Southern California (Master of Music). During my tenure with the symphony, I was a member of numerous musician committees and participated in four contract negotiations. External and internal communications were critical to our ability to bargain effectively during negotiations and several financial crises, which led to a lot of “on-the-job” learning! I was eventually appointed media spokesperson for the symphony musicians, a position I held for 15 years.

As my children grew older, I decided that working nights and weekends (musician hours) left me little time to spend time with them when they weren’t in school. If I wanted to be there for them as they grew up, I needed to switch careers. My education and experience were primarily in music, but I had volunteered for several local environmental groups (serving in media-related positions) for many years and made contacts in state government through my volunteer activities. I reached out to these contacts and was able to secure an internship that ultimately led to my current position as a web content strategist/communications specialist in the Communications Office at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

My lack of a conventional communications education led me to the Westminster College Master’s in Strategic Communications (MSC) program. Following graduation, I was asked to become an adjunct professor in the program, and I have taught at the college for four years. I earned my Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) several years after graduation.

[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?

[Christine Osborne] Soon after I began my job at DEQ, I realized I needed an advanced degree in communications to keep pace with the changes that were occurring in the industry. I had very little experience with digital media, branding, strategic public relations, rhetoric, and messaging for target audiences. At the time, our office was shifting its focus from traditional to social media and undergoing a brand refresh. I wanted to improve and expand my skillset to better support my agency’s communications needs.

Since I was working full-time and still had young children at home, I was interested in finding a robust online program that fit well with my schedule. Once I looked through the MSC curriculum at Westminster College, I was sold. The range of topics, chance to work with clients, opportunities to learn about project management and effective team-building, freedom to work on assignments after the kids were in bed, and one-on-one faculty mentoring made the program unique among the graduate programs I evaluated.

[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?

[Christine Osborne] The beauty of the program is that the skills developed during each sequence (semester) provide students with a strong foundation for the competencies required in subsequent sequences. For example, a solid understanding of the power of rhetoric helps students create effective brand strategies. Students learn how to conduct primary and secondary research for their organizational communication projects, which serves them well when conducting the extensive research required to prepare an Integrated Marketing Communication plan. Brand strategy skills help students create a personal brand for their digital portfolio during their Capstone project.

As I stated earlier, I entered the program with significant gaps in my education and experience, and I appreciated the comprehensive, competency-based nature of the curriculum. Deliverables and competencies were clearly articulated for every assignment, so I always understood course expectations. The textbooks were valuable resources that supplemented the detailed guidance provided for each assignment.

Key concepts emphasized in the program fall into two categories:

  1. The development of communication and marketing skills from course content, including:
    • The use of rhetoric to craft effective messaging and facilitate clear communication with a variety of audiences based on needs/wants
    • Strategic responses to public relations problems, including crisis communication
    • The application of visual design and visual communication concepts to branding and brand strategies
    • The impacts of internal communication problems to the productivity and success of an organization. Primary and secondary research to support recommendations to address problems.
    • The development of a strategic integrated marketing plan that includes a detailed assessment of current market and organizational conditions, primary and secondary research on target markets, formulation of the plan’s goal, objectives, strategies, and tactics (with an emphasis on SMART objectives), creation of marketing collateral that align with these goals and objectives, evaluation of criteria to determine plan success, and ethical considerations for plan implementation.
    • Instructional design that meets people where they are and responds to the different ways they learn new concepts and skills.
  2. The professional skills to successfully manage projects, interface with clients, and work on a team. While applicants won’t find these key concepts/skills in the course descriptions, they ultimately form a major part of the learning experience, including:
    • The discipline, resourcefulness, effective time management, patience, and boundless curiosity needed to be a self-directed learner.
    • The challenges of working with clients on short-term projects. Good client relations/communication are important to success. Students need to address client expectations at the beginning of the project so the client understands the time constraints on project completion. Regular contact between students and clients creates an effective working relationship and ensures projects meet the needs of clients and students alike.
    • The personal and professional capabilities needed to work effectively on a team. Students learn not only about project and team management, but also interpersonal conflict management, flexibility when merging different working styles and skill levels–how to work together and learn from each other.

The MSC degree provides students with a well-rounded education that prepares them for both the profession and the professional workplace.

[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?

[Christine Osborne] Professors made themselves readily available to students, much more so than I’ve seen in other degree programs. Students can schedule in-person and phone appointments, set up a Google video chat, email questions about assignments, or connect through Slack. When I was a student, I met one professor at a coffee shop to ask questions about assignments. Another faculty member in the program scheduled time to talk with me each week about a work-related, communications design issue before I had even taken his class. Some professors provide video introductions to assignments, offer verbal feedback through media messages, or share written and video resources on Canvas. Discussion threads, student reflections, and peer reviews ensure students and professors stay connected.

Since I became an adjunct professor, I’ve met with students through Google chats, at the campus library, by phone, by text, and through email. Professors are required to respond to student emails within 24 hours, so students are assured their questions and concerns won’t languish in an inbox for days without a response.

While some MSC teams are a mixture of out-of-town students and Salt Lake City residents, the members of my cohort all lived in Salt Lake. We preferred to meet in person, but some teams prefer to meet virtually. Both methods seem to work well. As a professor, I’ve often been invited to virtual and in-person team meetings to answer questions and help students brainstorm solutions.

When I was a student, residencies lasted two days. I believe the current one-day format is more effective; it condenses the introduction to the course while ensuring students have the foundational information they need to proceed with their assignments. The residencies also give students an opportunity to establish relationships with their professor, members of their cohort, and professors and students in other cohorts.

[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?

[Christine Osborne] I was a member of the second cohort in the program, and at that time, a corporate training program wasn’t part of the curriculum. However, we did complete an individual digital portfolio, which gave us the opportunity to create websites using WordPress, compile and refine previous work, and present ourselves as accomplished professionals to prospective employers.

Our client was Peruvian Hearts, a nonprofit that educates and empowers girls from small villages in Peru. The website needed updating, and we were tasked with creating a user-friendly digital platform with compelling content, clear navigation, and persuasive visual design. We compared their website with similar nonprofits, used primary research from our client for content development, conducted secondary research into best practices for nonprofit web design, and developed a template for restructuring the website. We edited content, improved the user experience, and worked with the client to revamp website design. In addition, we developed a short-term fundraising campaign to coincide with the unveiling of the new web design. We conducted extensive secondary research on nonprofit fundraising strategies and tactics and provided Peruvian Hearts with a comprehensive but workable campaign.

Our faculty advisor was our primary point of contact with our client since they had an established relationship. Professor Newbold supported us throughout the project to ensure its success.

Our cohort did not have the option for a Capstone project, although subsequent cohorts do.

[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?

[Christine Osborne] It would be difficult to identify specific classes that were standouts in terms of my professional development. Each sequence offered foundational skills that continue to serve me well in my current position. The strategic communications thread that runs through the coursework, particularly the Rhetoric and Integrated Marketing Communication sequences, has made me the “go-to” person for strategic planning and crisis communication in my agency. My course curriculum also included a Technical Writing sequence that blended instructional design with clear, concise writing and a strong emphasis on proper grammar. Although my writing was strong before I took the class, it improved dramatically after the class. As a result, my supervisor and agency directors rely on me to write and edit important documents, audits, letters, blogs, and web content.

Westminster provides excellent career counseling services and a post-graduation mentoring program called Master Track that pairs recent graduates with communications mentors from the community. Students have found it to be a valuable resource that often leads to improved job opportunities and career growth.

[MastersinCommunications.com] You currently work as an adjunct professor for the MSC program and have also been a performance coach. How has the curriculum changed and evolved since you completed the program?

[Christine Osborne] The curriculum for the MSC program is constantly evolving. Dr. Seifert and Dr. Newbold are continually looking for ways to improve the curriculum, both in response to student feedback and from their own extensive research and experience with competency-based learning. They are always willing to take new approaches and adjust the curriculum to match changes in the communications landscape. Over the past few years, for example, the curriculum has shifted away from technical writing to visual communication and brand strategies as proficiency with Adobe Creative Suite and brand management have become a requisite for most marketing or communication positions. The grading system has become more responsive to student needs, and the recent development of a module-based curriculum categorizes the material in a way that helps students organize their projects more effectively and efficiently.

The two major changes to the curriculum since I was a student–the replacement of the technical writing class with the visual communication course and the addition of corporate training–were the result of much thought and deliberation. I anticipate that the MSC program will continue to grow and change as the needs of the students and the marketing/communications profession change. I’m looking forward to seeing how the program continues to develop over the next five to ten years.

Thank you, Ms. Osborne, for your excellent insights on Westminster College’s Master of Strategic Communication program!