Shotgun graduates, but have a solid foundationBy Mark Motley
President, Mass Communications Alumni Board
VP Communications at the Simmons Law Firm
mmotley@simmonsfirm.com

We mass communications graduates are a funny breed.

Not quite so prudent as our fellow classmates who chose the business school’s marketing or speech communications programs, yet sensible enough to have not majored in English (most of us only minored, of course), mass communications graduates occupy a unique space of professional real estate.

It’s a neighborhood nestled somewhere between political science — with its straight lines and neatly manicured lawns — and the theatre department, who, much to the city’s chagrin, simply pitch a tent and refuse to build.

Ours is a neighborhood of compromise, populated by an eclectic convergence of left and right-brained professionals:  writers, researchers, entrepreneurs, creative thinkers, academics and artists. Sure, the graphic designers and journalists on the corner may cause a stir every now and again, but the public relations folks are never too far away.
When you tell someone you have a degree in “mass communications,” the standard response is a slight raise of the eyebrow, quickly followed by, “What does that mean?” or “So, when do you plan on going back to school?”

I used to nod my head in sheepish agreement, acknowledging my foolishness for not opting for a career with a more specific set of skills, like computer systems analyst or ceramic engineer.  Lately, I’ve tried being more specific: “I specialize in communications strategy, writing, design, creative direction, advertising, public relations and internal communications.”

Sometimes I’ll throw in “trapeze artistry” for good measure.  This doesn’t seem to be helping.

When it comes time to leave the neighborhood and venture on to greener pastures, mass communications grads often find themselves sprinkled across a variety of industries, as if we were handed our degrees, loaded into a shotgun and fired point blank into the Monster.com server.

I attribute this phenomenon to our flexible nature. Businesses and media outlets of all types need savvy, creative thinkers and communicators. Able to thrive in a variety of professional settings, Mass Commers are able to adapt as needed, bending and stretching ourselves until we achieve that ever-elusive position of professional Zen.

I, for one, landed in an advertising agency in St. Louis, where I cut my teeth writing ad copy for a bank, utility companies and even a circus. I can’t help but grin when I think of that time in my life. I was green, eager to please, and lucky enough to find myself under the wings of some very clever folks who were gracious enough to teach me a few of their tricks.

Still high from my post-graduation honeymoon, I bounced over to a private equity investment firm where I got my hands dirty helping start-up businesses formulate and implement their business and marketing plans. I floated in and out of multiple industries, including apparel, sports and entertainment. It’s been 10 years since I graduated, and today I manage marketing and communications for a national law firm.

I’d be lying if I told you it was all planned. It wasn’t. I’d be lying if I told you that a degree in mass communications gave me everything I needed.  It didn’t. The learning process marches on in spite of my temptation to stop at the corner coffee shop for a latte and slice of pumpkin bread.

Indeed, we are a funny breed.  But the neighborhood is a good one, and the bricks and mortar laid during the countless hours spent in Dunham Hall have provided a solid foundation on which to build a career. I am confident that as the years pass and technology tweets forward, we are well equipped to fill any cracks in the mortar with a little ingenuity and elbow grease.

Speaking of which, what have you been building since graduation?  What sort of adventures have you had bouncing around the Monster.com server? I hear there’s a fancy new neighborhood called Facebook that’s just perfect for mass communicating about this sort of thing.

Don’t be a stranger. Stop by the Facebook alumni group page and share your news.