Informational Q and A Webinar With a GW Graduate
Date: May 6, 2016
Time: 12:00pm EST
We were delighted to welcome back to the George Washington University one of our graduates from the Master’s in Strategic Public Relations online program, Sultana Ali. She was able to join us in conversation and to share with our audience her perspective as a GW student, alum, and PR professional.
The Pew Charitable Trusts
Sultan works as a communications officer within the Family Economic Stability portfolio at The Pew Charitable Trusts. In her role, she serves as the media and communications lead for a range of consumer finance and economic mobility issues. Prior to Pew, she was the Director of Public Relations for Liquidity Services, a DC-based technology company, and also previously worked for Ketchum’s Washington, D.C. office in its social marketing department serving clients such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, FedEx, and Bayer Consumer Health Care. She began her PR career 12 years ago at an agency in Orlando, Florida where she directed communications strategy for clients ranging from an NBA player’s foundation, to a Congressional campaign, to one of the leading Supervisor of Elections offices in the U.S., where she served as spokeswoman during the 2008 and 2010 elections. Sultana is a lifelong volunteer and in addition to serving in various board leadership roles and as a youth mentor in high schools, she has spoken at the United Nations and successfully engaged groups on how to impact youth and to increase dialogue on global issues. She has a Master’s degree in Strategic Public Relations from The George Washington University and received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida in Marketing with a focus on International Business, and a minor in Political Science. She currently serves as the president of PRSA-NCC, the largest chapter of PR professionals in the U.S.
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Kira: Happy Friday and welcome to today’s webinar. Thank you so much for your patience. We are happy to have invited back to the George Washington University one of our graduates from the Master’s in Strategic Public Relations online program, Sultana Ali.
We’re delighted that she’s able to join us in conversation today, where she’ll be sharing with you her perspective as a GW student, alum and PR professional. We’ll be taking your questions throughout today’s events as well. So please be sure to send it my way. My name is Kira and I will be your moderator for the day.
Now I know everyone’s excited to hear from Sultana, so let’s go over to the logistics of today’s event. Please note our participant conference lines are currently placed on mute or in listen-only mode to ensure a smoother line of communication as this presentation is being recorded and to communicate with me.
Please type your messages to me via the chat box, it’s the roundish bubbly looking thing on the top right hand corner of your screen. And if it’s greyed right now, just click on it, it should light up.
So welcome, everyone and now please allow me to introduce to you Sultana F Ali. A graduate of our Master’s in Strategic Public Relations Online Program. Sultana works as a communications officer within the family economic stability portfolio at the Pew Charitable Trust. She serves as the Media and Communications lead for a range of consumer finance and economic mobility issues.
Prior to Pew, she was the Director of Public Relations for Liquidity Services, a DC based technology company. And also previously worked for Ketchum Washington, DC office in its social marketing department servicing clients such as the US Department of Health and Human Services, FedEx, the Bayer Consumer Healthcare.
She began her PR career 12 years ago in Florida when she directed communications strategy for clients ranging from an MBA player’s foundation to congressional campaign to one of the leading supervisor of electronic offices in the US where she served as the spokeswoman during the 2008 and 2010 elections.
Sultana also is a lifelong volunteer in addition to serving in various board leadership roles and as a use mentor in high schools. She has spoken at the United Nations and successfully engage groups on how to impact youth and [unintelligible 00:02:40] dialogue on global issues.
She has a Master’s degree in public relations from the George Washington university and received her bachelor’s from the University of Central Florida in Marketing with a focus on international business and a minor in political science.
She currently serves as the President of PRSANCC, the largest chapter of peer professionals in the US. Hi everyone, thanks for joining us today and welcome Sultana.
Sultana: Thank you very much.
Kira: Absolutely. So to begin, we’re all very thrilled to have you here, so welcome. And this is going to take on the platform of a conversation where we will be discussing top of mind questions that many of our prospective students may have about the George Washington program, Master’s in Strategic Public Relations. Your experience as a student and just sharing your insights.
So we will have a few questions to go through. After that, we’ll go through the program information and of course we’ll be taking questions from our audience as well. So please feel free to send them along my way and we’ll pass them along to Sultana for the Q&A session.
So first question for you Sultana, now how did you get into PR? What or who motivated you to pursue your career path?
Sultana: That’s a great question, Kira. I kind of tumbled into PR. I have gotten my undergrad and marketing as you talked about the University of Central Florida and I had taken on a variety of roles in marketing and also sales, which was a really interesting way to just gain some career experience.
And through my volunteer roles that I was working, I graduated during the tech [unintelligible 00:04:32] when a lot of these dotcom companies were going bust. And so there weren’t a lot of marketing positions even available when I graduated from my undergrad in the early 2000s.
So I had a teaching position for a year but really I was looking to move into the private sector. So through a volunteer role I ended up meeting some really connected folks and I just working on building my network and they passed my resume to the head of a PR agency, of the TPR agency in Orlando, Florida where I lived.
And they ended up bringing me in for an interview and before I knew it, I was working for a small PR agency and I just had a feeling. I actually had another offer on the table at the time as a Marketing Director for another company.
And I just had a feeling even though he was essentially a lesser title, less salary, that I was going to stepping into a world that was going to suit me better for my career. And it was the best decision I could have made for myself at that point.
So I ended up working with one of the top crisis communicators in the State of Florida and one of the best media relations people that lived in Orlando and that was great experience for me early on in my career. And also being able to work at a small agency where I got really excellent exposure to a variety of different issues and types of clients. So it’s kind of a happy accident.
Kira: Wonderful. And tell us about your work [experience]. Do you have any memorable stories that you can share with us?
Sultana: There are so many great memories. I think working elections is a really – and I’m sure a lot of folks that tuning and are interested in politics, so if you do have an opportunity to work on an election campaign, I definitely recommend it.
I was the Press Secretary for a couple of Congressional campaign. In addition to the work that I did as a spokeswoman of the Supervisor of Elections office. It was probably one of the more exciting times in my career.
I actually was in the back of the elections office with about 10 local reporters when Barack Obama won his first election back in 2008. And Twitter was just coming on the scene and so I was reading live tweets out to the reporters because I was finding that the news coverage was getting through Twitter first.
And I’ll never forget that because even though there was all this excitement going on in the world, we were literally in the back of this elections office with a whole bunch of cameras. That’s the place that I’m very comfortable being is behind the scenes.
So I was arranging for the Supervisor of Elections to get on camera. I was working with the reporters, feeding them facts and that’s really the life of the PR professional. You’re working behind the scenes but you were the trusted person that’s the messenger between those two parties. And there’s a lot of integrity that’s wrapped up in that role. So I think that was a very memorable occasion.
Another one that comes to mind is helping to open the space launch shuttle experience at the Kennedy Space Centre. There were about 40 astronauts that “blasted off” on the first inaugural launch of that ride that simulates going up in the space shuttle.
And among them was Buzz Aldrin. And as a lifelong space nerd, it was very exciting to be in the presence of so many people who had been in space and even walk on the face of the moon.
So those are just a couple – I mean there’s so many that I could share from throughout my career. But I think one exciting thing about working in PR is that not every moment is exciting but when you do have those exciting moments, you really do appreciate it.
Kira: Wow, so your career has really taken off since you began your PR past 12 years ago. But what compelled you like how did you choose that you felt you needed to get back into school to pursue your Master’s, what triggered that?
Sultana: I’m a lifelong learner. So for me, it was always just a matter of time before I was going to pursue my graduate degree. I always wanted to have my Master’s degree. So I wanted to have some work experience before I did that. My undergraduate was in business and international marketing. So I really wanted to hone in on what career path I was on before I pursued.
Well, I had enough time in PR to know that I was on the right path, I wanted to continue my communications experience but like some of you who maybe listening in, I didn’t have the degree in communications or PR that a lot of the other folks that worked in agencies had. And so I really felt sometimes like I didn’t have that validation as a professional.
And even though I had the work experience and I had great work experience in marketing and sales, that was missing. And so being able to pursue my Master’s degree was a huge hallmark and milestone in my career. So really it was just about finding the right program, finding the right degree and there weren’t a lot of online programs back then.
There are more choices today but I do still feel like you have to be very careful and really detailed oriented when you’re looking at what school you want to go to and make sure that it’s going to be the right fit for you, for your time and schedule. But mostly for your career path because either way, you do have to give up some things when you start pursuing that because you only have a limited plate.
You have one plate and there’s only so much you can put in that plate when it comes to your life. So I did have to take some things off of my plate in order to pursue my Master’s. But it was really just a matter of making sure that I had enough work experience and I was pursuing it at the right time.
Kira: Wonderful. Now your past started in Orlando, Florida as your bio mentioned. What led you to GW? What was your process like when you’re choosing the different graduate schools?
Sultana: I definitely commend the marketing efforts of GW because I actually got an email and I’m sure many of you on this phone probably got an email. I had an email, I was sitting at work and just thinking I was feeling stagnant in my career. I had been at the same agency at that point for almost 6 years.
So that’s a long time in this in age to be somewhere. I was feeling a little bit stagnant and so I was really ready to make that next step. And I think an email had just come into my inbox from GW for the college of professional studies.
So I said let me click on this. And I had done other research, I had looked into some other schools I was more familiar with, both Florida schools and some schools in other areas of the country. And none of them really spoke to me but when I read the material, looked at the website, I then called an enrollment advisor and had a conversation.
And I would definitely encourage anyone listening to do that because we had a really great conversation about my life, about my career path. I was very concerned with the time commitment and she really helped to allay my concerns and help me understand what it would take for me to do that.
But more than that and not to be too cliché, but there’s a big Gally poet who actually said something that I think is relevant. He said, “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” And I think that that’s really good analogy for life. I kept thinking what am I going to do this? When am I going to start down that path?”
But you can only look at that other side of the river and where you want to be for so long before you finally decide to put your plans in motions. So it’s kind of like I finally just said, “Okay, here’s the canoe. I’m going to put it in the water and I’m going to start paddle. I’m going to take this on so I can cross to the other side.”
And once you make that decision, it’s interesting how everything in your life sort of falls in place in order to allow you to make that happen. There’s challenges that come up as well but that sort of tests your commitment to what it is you decided to do.
Kira: Right and why the online Master’s in Strategic PR?
Sultana: That’s a good question. I think it goes back to what I was just saying in terms of time commitment and having that plate. So for me, I had a full-time job. I had volunteer commitments, I had friends and family that were relying on me.
And I felt like I was being pulled in a lot of different directions which I feel like people even more so nowadays with technology and social media and smartphones, you can’t sit for 5 minutes without a text message coming in and you feel compelled to respond to it. So I was looking at my plate and going, “What is going to work for me?” And sitting in a classroom several nights a week was just not going to work for me.
However, doing an online program that would allow me to be in a class, focus on that and fit it into my schedule, even if that was at 8 or 9 o’clock at night after I’ve been able to take care of all my other activities, that was going to work best for me and that was a really smart decision because it worked very well for my schedule and my needs.
And even though it was about a 2-year commitment, it went by quickly. And before I knew it, it was over. So for those of you that get intimidated by, “Oh my gosh, how am I going to do this?” The sooner you start, the sooner you finish. But not starting, you’re never going to finish.
Kira: That is so true. That was something that my Grade 10 math teacher would have said. I remember that. That makes a lot of sense. And how do you manage all that? Can you share with us what your scheduled looked like when you’re in the program juggling your professional commitments and school work and all of that? How do you manage that? What’s your advice to our audience?
Sultana: It was all PR all the time between 8 and 10 hours of my work day, I was a PR professional servicing clients, also managing business development efforts for the agency. I was bringing in new business, writing proposals, I was developing new liens of services. So that was my 8 to 10-hour work day.
Then there was a couple of hours trying to have any kind of social life and then the rest of the time was really dedicated to my studies, so my social life definitely took a hit during that period. But I think that that’s just something that when you make this kind of decision to go back to school, you’re going to probably have conversation with people that are in your life and of course this is where I give you another cliché quote but I think it’s a useful one.
Omar Bradley was a General of the army during World War II. He was known as a Soldier’s General because he was intensely compassionate and caring for his soldiers. But he said, “Set your course by the scars, not by the lights of every passing ships.” And it’s so easy that when you get into these conversations with friends and family who are looking out for your best interests.
They’ll sometimes say things like, “You don’t have time for that or that’s too much money or you don’t want to be in school – have school loans.” People said things like that to me, “Are you crazy, Sultana? You’re so busy, you can’t take on a Master’s degree program.” But I was setting my course by the stars.
And I was really focused on achieving my goals and what I knew was where I wanted to get, I was not going to get there without a Master’s degree from a reputable and creditable university that could help me to expand on my scope as give me the opportunities to help build my network and really give me that validation that I needed as a PR professional but also to achieve that real big hallmark on my resume of a Master’s degree.
So I did talk with friends and family and there was some discouragement, which was disappointing but I did have a few friends who said, “You know what, Sultana, anything that you set your mind to you can do.” And I really tried to focus on the positive words and language that I heard.
And the thing was those friends and family did understand that during that course while I was essentially working full-time and in school part-time, I wasn’t available as much. However, the investment that I made in my education really helped to launch me to the next phase in my career and I don’t believe that I would have gotten there without my education from GW and I’m intensely grateful for that.
Kira: Wonderful. So one of our audience members would like to know on average, how was your studying schedule? How many hours were you spending per evening on average?
Sultana: I love PR people, it’s like get down to the nuts and bolts.
Sultana: Yeah, so that’s a good question. So it really varied from week to week. So with a lot of the online programs, you end up doing a lot of reading, you end up doing a lot of group work, there’s a lot of discussions where you’re logging in online, you’re showing that you’ve read the work, you’re responding to discussions, you’re having those interactions with students and contributing to the dialogue. That’s going to take time.
On the easier evening, it might have been anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour of work. there were some harder evenings where I had to get through several hundred pages of material in a week. And again, I think when you go back to school as an adult, your focus is different than when you’re younger where you may try to procrastinate and get away with doing a lot of studying.
But as an adult, your brain works a little bit differently and spending that extra time. I didn’t want to be unprepared for any of the assignment. So I read everything that my professor asked me to read and recommended that I read.
So I did probably put in more time than the average student but I would say on the low end, you’re probably going to spend 5 hours a week. On the high end, it could be 15 to 20 but that’s not every week. It’s going to depend on what class you were taking, what the requirements are for that class.
So if you have group work, there’s going to be weeks where you might have a conference call with your group mates and you just have to take notes and maybe generate a couple of slides. And so it’s not that many hours but towards the end when you’re preparing the project and you’re really doing a lot of editing, you’re having to pull in case study examples, that’s going to take a lot more time.
So one of the things that I did was I took a very holistic look at my schedule and my commitments and said which of these might interfere with my ability to get my studying and learning done.
And what I started doing was taking away some of the commitments and a lot of them I’ve been involved in for years. Some of these volunteer commitments and it was just time for me to hand that over to somebody else. And that gives somebody else the leadership opportunities. For those of you who are bleeding hearts and you volunteer a lot, sometimes you got to hand that of to somebody else. Give them the opportunity to lead.
That was certainly what I did and that was a good thing. And it allowed me to clear my plate a little bit and have that extra time because I think the most important thing is having some flexibility. Now some of you have families and have responsibilities for your children and may be worried about working around that.
I would say having a conversation with your spouse or having a conversation with your family to help you out with your childcare needs, that’s really important but once the kids go to bed, that your time to study and maybe you’re spending that time now watching TV or on social media.
You’re just going to be studying instead and you’re going to enjoy it. Because I really enjoyed all of the reading that I did. It really did prepare me but I did have to take a good hard look at my schedule and create some flexibility so that I would be able to adapt on the weeks when the workload was bigger.
Kira: So when you were doing your Bachelors, was that the traditional kind of campus setting or online?
Sultana: Yeah, it was traditional.
Kira: Yeah, so GW is like your first experience but online learning, right?
Sultana: It was, yeah. I mean other than probably taking a couple of online HR things that I had done, it was really my first experience with that and I know you don’t believe me when I say this but I am introvert. So it actually worked really well for me.
I’m just an introvert who’s trained myself to be an extrovert. And now there’s that term ambivert, so I know there’s a lot of ambivert. So I know there’s a lot of ambiverts out there. But it worked out really well for me because I could just sit in my pyjamas, I didn’t have to dress up and go to school and sit in the classroom.
I could be sitting from the comfort of my own home and in my pyjamas working on my discussions forums. And it was very convenient and I love that. And it also gave me the ability to really – if you’re in a classroom, you’re trying to focus on what the professor’s saying, whereas with my brain it’s working in a lot of different directions where I might be listening to a video of the professor lecture I could pause it and say, “Oh, that’s interesting. I’m going to look that up and maybe they quoted a resource”.
So then I could go to Google and look it up immediately because I’m in an online and learning environment. And it’s very convenient in that way.
Kira: So what’s really surprised you the most about your experience with online learning at GW?
Sultana: I think one of the most surprising things for me was just how much I really enjoyed getting to know not only my professors but my fellow students. The students are just – they were a diverse range of professions and worked in a variety of industries.
You have to have to some work experience in addition in your undergrad to be able to get into the program at GW which I think is really a great thing because it means that there’s a higher level of dialogue.
It’s not just people who gotten out of school and are going straight to their next program. It’s people that bring work experience to there. And so having these real life examples lead to very robust conversations so when we were – one of the projects that we had to do was actually building out and designing a PR agency. And it was really focused on the business public relations and running an agency.
And we had so much fun just talking about well, what would I do if I was an entrepreneur and I was setting up an agency? And it gave me the ability like having worked as an associate and relatively entry level up to a midlevel person and agency and saying, “Well, how would I do things if I was running the agency?”
And really, that’s just [unintelligible 00:24:19] and throw ideas at an wall. And come up with a tangible proposal that I think would work in the reality. I kind of looked at that and I said, “You know what, if I wanted to run an agency someday, I could do that now.” And it gave me the confidence to be able to do that.
Kira: Wow, that’s tremendous. And then can you share some memorable moments in the program or what stands out to the most about your experience as a student?
Sultana: Yeah, there were some really great moments. I think one of my favourite classes was a class that dealt with corporate social responsibility. I’ve always been interested in that line of work. Again going back to my volunteerism roots, but I think that for me, I just didn’t feel like I had enough experience in my career and in my work life to take that on.
So taking that class, I really learned about the criteria that you look at as a company because companies in private sectors are very focused on our ROI. And I think there’s a big wall for PR folks to play when it comes to corporate communication. But you have to look at return on your investment and so it helped me to look at it through a different lens. Not just what is the right thing to do.
But when companies are looking to invest in giving back what the science is to that. So as part as of that I wrote a plan that was a corporate social responsibility for plan and I did it for one of my real life client. I went ahead and said, “Hey, we could do that like hypothetically.”
But I said, “You know what, I want to actually put some real experience behind this.” I called up one of my clients and I said, “Can I do this project for you? I’m not going to charge you for it. Can I put this plan together?” And I ended up putting together corporate social responsibility plan for an international hotel chain.
Because they referred me up to their corporate office. And not only did they love the plan and say we’re going to consider some of these things for looking at our corporate social responsibility but professor said, “This is the best plan that I’ve ever seen that I’d like to be able to use this as a sample for my students.”
And later on in my career, not that much further down the road like a year later, I was working for one of the biggest PR agencies in the world in Washington, D.C. And I ended up because of my experience through GW, I ended up helping run corporate social responsibility efforts for the DC office.
And I also had a seat on their global social responsibility team. And that was how I started doing work for FedEx. So I became the trusted communications person that they would then refer corporate social responsibility requests to and I would compare that to the criteria we looked at for FedEx and I would provide these recommendations for them.
And it was that experience at GW that really translated to something that really catapulted by career forward and of course, now I’m working for one of the biggest non-profits in the world. And all of that fed into my pathway getting here where I am.
Kira: That’s incredible. Thanks for sharing that. And one of our audience as well has concerned about the focus on the number side of things. Because as a PR professional, you really have to quantify the success of your campaigns.
Obviously, in the curriculum, it does include courses that you calculate to come up with those calculations or the finance courses for example. Can you give advice on someone who may not have the strongest forte in math or numbers and how they would be able to kind of overcome that in the program?
Sultana: It’s funny that you ask that because I’m one of those students that I never did well at math. I made it through. I was a barely A, B student in math my whole life. I ended up becoming a math teacher, a high school math teacher right out of college. And that was before my PR career started.
So I had to learn math by teaching it and I was a really good math teacher. But one of the things that I told my students was it doesn’t matter what career you’re in, you’re going to use math at some level. And you are going to use it as a PR person. So we may not like it, we may have gotten into PR because of we love words and English has always been my favourite subject.
I love literature, I’m a veracious reader but there is a role for numbers. But I also think going back to the importance of looking at strategy, it goes beyond numbers. So a lot of us in PR positions struggle because we’re viewed as order takers within our organizations. Not as strategic leaders and that’s something that we’re working to change.
And for those of you who are PRSA members that are more familiar with the APR credential, I decided to get my accreditation in PR and I did it actually towards the end of my program at GW. The reason I did that is because the program was a perfect fit to prepare me to get my accreditation.
Getting that really helped me to pivot into more of the strategic leader within my organization that while I brought the numbers and a lot of that was impression, how many eyeballs looked at this. Advertising equivalency, how much would it have cost to have placed an ad with the same amount of space that this article got whether that was online or in print media or even broadcast.
And then of course an actual earned media ad is considered I think this number probably still holds up is about 6 times more creditable than a place advertisement. So you have to take that into account.
So I think I’ve done things like that over my career. I tried to get away from that as I’ve gone down the road to where I’m communicating how public relation and communications play the role in helping the organization achieve its goals.
So the role that I’m in now, we are working on policy measures. I’ll sit there and I’ll provide some numbers sometimes on how many people visit. I work with the Wall Street Journal in Washington. How many millions of people visit those websites each and every day? But really what they want is this helping me change the conversation?
Are our messages getting placed into the media articles? And that our most credible, are we helping to change the dialogue around the issue? So depending on – I’m kind of a one-size fits all PR person. I worked on a lot of different issues for a lot of different campaigns and organizations.
So the goals are going to be different depending on what role you’re in. so I would encourage you to take a step back and look at the goals and say, “Who are my target audiences? Who is it that I’m trying to reach? What does success look like?”
It’s always a good time to check back in with your clients or with the people that you work with and say, “Let’s take a look at what success looks like. Has that changed over the last year?” And make sure that your efforts that you’re doing day in and day out are really targeting you to be able to achieve those goals.
Because if you’re spending your time on managing social media, but that’s not going to help you move the needle, that’s something you can outsource. Being a strategic leader helps you to make those decisions and make those recommendations so that you can allocate budget where it needs to be.
Now some of you may be saying, “Now hold on, I don’t have much of a budget. Or I don’t make those decisions.” I have been there, I have been the scrappy PR person with no budget. But look at the resources that you do have and figure out how you could bring those to bear, to help achieve your goals.
Because numbers are important and math is important but that’s just the piece of pie. You’re going to have to start educating the clients that you work with, to help them see what success looks like and how PR plays a role in that.
Kira: That’s great insight. And then just going back to your career, you’ve really touched on everything from the private sector to politics, being involved in Congressional campaign and now being in a non-profit organization, one of the largest in America. Can you relate to how the curriculum – has it benefitted you because your career path is so rich and diverse and how has it benefitted you?
Sultana: I think I’ve been able to draw on a number of examples from my GW education in my career. And I think it’s more or less rather than looking at one time, it’s just the sum of my experience.
And who I was at the beginning of the program was not who I was at the end of the program. And Ralph Martin said, “What you do today can improve all your tomorrows.” And making the decision to get my education really helped me to improve all my tomorrows.
I’ve given some very I think explicit examples of how some of the work that I did in GW and the curriculum helped influence me. Even to the extent of building at a PR agency through a class in GW helped me to see that I had the capacity and the capability to lead.
I think moving to Washington DC it was a scary decision for me because I wasn’t bran new in my career where you might be willing to sort of do whatever it takes or take whatever comes your way. You have to be a little bit more – you have to look at things a little bit differently when you’re further in your career and saying, “Is this the position the right fit?”
Is this going to be a positive move and step forward in my career and you have to look at things a little bit differently and that was scary for me to leave my community, to leave everybody that I knew. My clients who loved me, the job I’ve been at for 7 years, to move to DC, be in a new environment. Smaller fish, bigger pond.
But I think getting my GW education and working with students from all over the world in a variety of industries helped me to see that I was right up there. I was a very capable PR professional and I didn’t always feel confident or secure in myself before the program. But going through the program helped me to build those skills but also to help me feel proud of who I was and feel confident when I was giving advice.
Of course everybody thinks that their expert in PR. So you have clients that are sometimes questioning your judgement. So being able to stand firmly in these concepts that you learn like integrated marketing communications and knowing –
And in my last role, I actually reported up to the Vice President of Marketing, who didn’t have PR training. Had never written a press release in her life, had never put together a PR plan. And so I was constantly, constantly having to stand firm on my feet and provide value for what I did day in and day out with my team. And that resulted in me being promoted to Director.
And I think that experience of being at GW really, really motivated me to be a leader, to even go for – put my name in to be elected to be the President of the largest PRSA Chapter in America and I think that leadership is about servanthood. It’s about understanding the needs of your constituent and being able to serve them and being willing to do anything else within the organization, within the chapter, not feeling like you’re above anything.
And in my GW experience, that’s what I was doing. I was picking into the group projects. If I could do something, if somebody else had something come up and I could pitch in and help out or finish the presentation, I did that. And it’s actually made me a better person, a better professional, a better leader.
Kira: And then when you spoke earlier, you mentioned the relationship you had with professors in the program as well as the interaction you have with your classmates that really impressed you. And I hear this a lot from our graduates too. Can you share with us or just elaborate a little bit, are you still in touch with your colleagues or classmates and how are they doing? What are you finding?
Sultana: Yeah, I’m in touch with a number of my classmates I wouldn’t say on regular basis. But we’re Facebook friends and when they come into town, sometimes we visit with each other. I’ve been references for them for jobs. We sort of having gone through that shared experience, definitely bonded us.
And having my professors, I’ve stayed in touch with some of my professors. In fact, last night we renewed an effort to bring together past Presidents of the DCPR Chapter.
And I was sitting next to one of my former professors and she was actually the person who recommended that I get into PRSA. I remember I attended an in-person GW event and she was there. And she and I were talking and I was asking her about how to expand my network in DC because I’d just moved there.
And she said, “You should really get involved with the PRSA and you should look at becoming a leader.” And it was so funny because literally you fast forward not quite 5 years, she and I are sitting next each other at the National Press Club. She’s the past President, I’m the current President. How life changes.
And so I have this really great network of people and of course, Larry Cornell, who’s just a fabulous person and I run into him at PRSA events. And he’s such a phenomenal leader of this program and a great, great networker and contact to have in your rolodex.
Kira: Excellent. Yeah, people have mentioned that a lot just being able to leverage on the network with the faculty as well as other classmates, that is like lifelong relationships that you get to attain over the course of your studies. So that’s wonderful. And what would you tell a friend or a colleague who’s considering this program?
Sultana: Well, I would say just number one, do the research. Number two, schedule a conversation with somebody from admissions that to talk about any concerns you have, ask any questions. I’m always raising my hand and asking questions because I’d rather find out than be blindsided by something later on.
I ask a ton of questions and they were so nice and patient with me. The main thing I think above all and Mark Twain said this really well is, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” So I just think start now. Like there’s no time like the present. So figure out what your next steps are and get moving.
Take a look at your schedule, figure out what kind of time you have. If you’re concerned about something in your schedule, see what you can take off your plate or give to somebody else and give them the opportunity to take that on and then just get started.
Kira: That a perfect segue because we have the admission requirements slide up right now. So let me just go through that and take a moment to do that. So we are accepting right now for the Summer 2 start date and that begins June 27. The enrollment advisor is very, very helpful.
Her name is Marie Alouche, super nice. And she’d be working with you, assisting you every step of the way to help you build your application portfolio, which consistent of the online application form. There’s an application fee of $75. Of course, your statement of purpose, your resume, three manager recommendations, official transcripts from schools attended and writing samples.
Our admissions committee are curious to see your professional portfolio through your writing samples. And the good news is that there is GRE or thesis required as part of the application process. So now Sultana, one of our audience as well like wants to know – you mentioned that you had a few years of experience under your belt before you went back to your Master’s.
So for someone who is eager, wants to get started but may not have as many years, what would be your advice?
Sultana: I would say you don’t always have to look at work experience as having a full time job. If you have experience like internship experience, volunteer experience, try to look multi-dimensionally at your experience because long before I took my job in PR, I had to have a resume to get even my name through the door.
So my volunteer experience made up a big bulk of my resume because a lot of the jobs that I had worked, I worked at Disney World as a character. That’s a fun fact about me. I wasn’t going to necessarily list of my resume, not that I wasn’t proud of working – I was very proud. But that didn’t really leverage the experience that I needed for that role.
So I really bumped up all my volunteer experience and expanded on that. So I’d say look at your experience a little bit differently and any experience is better than none of course. And I’m sure if you’ve gotten this far, you have some experience that you can lend to it.
So try to figure it out, look at it and say, “In what ways have I used PR tactics in my work experience? Have I [unintelligible 00:43:05] written anything? Have I blogged? Have I been using social media on a regular basis or further goals for any organizations?”
And if you feel like you have something that’s missing from your experience, go ahead and start building those opportunities today because if you feel like you’re not in a place to start right this second, then maybe spend the next year building that base of experience, get some volunteer experience and leadership experience that you can’t always get in a paid role.
But you can often get in unpaid roles so that you can be ready for the next fall in 2017. So that you can have a stronger base of experience to draw on.
Kira: That’s great advice. Thanks, Sultana. So I hope that’s helpful to our audience. And just want to give you a quick synopsis of our program. It is 10 very well strategic well planned and organized curriculum. So when we designed this program, it was geared for PR professionals who are looking for advanced skills to take their careers to the next level.
So all the courses are very relevant to where you are at in your career, involves 10 courses, 3 credit hour each. And all the courses can be completely entirely online. One course at a time, runs for about 6 weeks, which is a pretty good pace considering that the majority of our students are full-time PR professionals.
And it can be completed in around 18 months and even though you’re studying online, you do receive the exact same degree and you are invited to come to campus for graduation each year. And also we do have really wonderful DC residency opportunities as well as a global resident that are available to both campus and online students.
So really I encourage you to take part in that, where you can further network with the GW students on campus as well as online. And of course, get to meet your professor and come to DC area and experience that as well. So just to recap once again, applications are being accepted right now for Summer 2 with a June 27 start date.
And please get in touch with your enrollment advisor, Marie Alouche. She can be contacted 1-888-989-7068 ext. 3382 or of course you can also email her – that is on your screen right now. And we are just coming up to the one-hour mark.
I really thank our audience for your patience and also for reserving your wonderful hour during this Friday afternoon to spend with us. And of course to our panelist and GW alum, Sultana Ali, for your wonderful insights.
We’ve really learned a lot about your experience and we really appreciate the advice that you’ve given us. Any final thoughts for us, Sultana, before we say goodbye?
Sultana: I guess I would say if there’s something that you’ve been wanting to do and that includes your Master’s Degree or a dream that you have, put a plan behind it and think about how to achieve it. So kind of like I talked through my Master’s Program, that was really what I did and breakdown the steps that it’s going to take to get you there.
Because all of those things are going to make you a better PR professional, it’s going to make you a better person, a better friend. And try to be your own best friend in the process because sometimes you don’t always have the support around you that you may need.
So go easy on yourself and just believe in yourself because I think that that’s sort of is the first spark that you need to get moving. And GW has a great program and highly recommend it and I thank you for your time and attention today and thank you, Kira, for allowing me this opportunity to speak with so many wonderful people.
Kira: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Sultana and to our audience. Have a wonderful rest of your day and enjoy your weekend, everyone. Take care.
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