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Meant to Be a Demon Deacon: Finding a Home in the Master of Communications Program

Growing up in Idaho, Ellie Matthews enjoyed the gifts her father would bring back from his business trips across the country. After traveling to the east coast, he brought back a t-shirt  from Wake Forest University.   Ellie Matthews, SPS Masters of Communications student

“It was so random, but I remember I really liked the colors,” she says. “I wore it all the time.”

Fast forward, Ellie became more familiar with Wake Forest throughout her career in admissions and recruiting in higher education: “You start to understand what schools tend to have a lot of quality students, and Wake Forest is one of them.” 

Then it all came together for Ellie as she began researching to find the right graduate degree program for herself. She knew she wanted something online to provide her the flexibility as a working professional but also wanted to be challenged academically. 

“As I was doing research, Wake Forest University popped up,” Ellie says. “It was a lightbulb moment. There was that random memory of my dad bringing the Wake Forest shirt home combined with my knowledge that Wake Forest has really quality education and is always top rated.”

Today, Ellie has finished her first full semester as part of the first cohort of Wake Forest University’s School of Professional Studies Master of Communications program. 

In this Q&A, Ellie shares with us why she landed on Wake Forest, some insight into her life as a graduate student in the Master of Communications program, and what she looks forward to in the future. 

Wake Forest University School of Professional Studies (Wake SPS): What led you to pursue a graduate degree in the first place? 

Ellie Matthews (EM): I’ve worked in higher education for almost six years. I started out as a recruiter and am now Assistant Director of Admissions for a medical school in Idaho. As I’ve looked around, it’s hard not to notice the credentials of others. If you want to grow and continue to progress in any organization, you kind of see a pattern of job descriptions that say “a master’s degree preferred.”

Especially by focusing on communications, I feel as if It’s only going to make me a more quality employee no matter if I’m working in higher education or another industry. The skills apply across the board. 

Wake SPS: When it came to finding a program, you did your research. So even though you had some familiarity with Wake Forest, what was the moment when you knew “this is the program I want”?

EM: When I found the program, I reached out for more information. Almost immediately, someone got back to me. Eric, who’s a student success manager, spent a couple hours on the phone with me. He talked me through the price, financial aid, what to expect, what it looks like as a day in the life of a student. Out of everything, what really sold me was that connection with Eric and the time that somebody from Wake Forest took to discuss what my future would look like. 

Wake SPS: That’s amazing. Now that you have some classes under your belt, what’s it been like as a student of the Master of Communications program? 

EM: To be honest, it’s been an absolute joy. The first class we had was called Communications Today and the framework that was laid out within that course has been extremely helpful. It helped me understand how research needs to happen. As I move along in the program, having that foundational understanding has been key. 

Beyond that, it’s been great to take things I’m learning and put them into practice. It was something that Eric and the entire SPS really kind of drove home for me was that they understand that I’m a working individual. They created this program for people like me to not only learn what I need to receive a degree but also apply it to what I’m doing now. 

Wake SPS: You bring up a good point. You’re a working professional, so as you’re taking classes, what are some examples of ideas or concepts you’ve come across that you realize you can apply to your job today?

EM: I feel like there’s been something from every class I’ve taken to apply something in my current position. Specifically, in Strategic Communications, we went through the types of communications, and when we learned about each one of those, we were able to apply it to kind of a real-world situation. On my end, I was able to look at what I’m doing right now, which is very heavy in communication to applicants and people who are interested in our program. It made me realize, “wow, we have so much to do and grow.” 

Every single chapter or module that we’ve done in Strategic Communications , I have gleaned something from it and used it. I’d be reading something in my homework, highlight it, and bring it to my boss the next day and say, “we need to be doing this.”  

Wake SPS: What’s your secret to balancing graduate school and working full time? 

EM: Well, it looks different for everyone. For me, it started with choosing an online program, which is another reason Wake Forest attracted me. I knew in-person was not something I could manage at this point in my life.

Beyond that, I’m the type of person that needs a schedule. I feel like if you’re going to invest in something as big as a graduate degree then time management is key. It’s been important to set aside time every night for homework but also making sure I schedule in time for my mental health. I like to hike and be outdoors, so I wanted to be mindful of making sure I carved out time for that as well. 

Wake SPS: That’s a great point. Has there been any additional support from Wake to help you manage your time?

EM: I’ve noticed that the professors and the staff in general at SPS are really invested in my success. At the beginning, I reached out to one of my professors to make sure I was doing things productively. I basically asked if they had any suggestions for time management, and they helped me with those skills as well.

Wake SPS: That’s wonderful. What about the others in your cohort? How has it been connecting with people in an online program?

EM: There are a few individuals that I’ve really connected with. With the technology that Wake Forest uses, I can email other people in my class directly. I did that in one of the first classes just to say, “hey, if you ever want to touch base. Here’s my number.” We started a group chat to stay connected and have been able to build camaraderie through that.

It’s also been more than just connecting with other people but it’s a wide range of individuals who have different experiences. We’ve had a lot of group projects, and it’s been mind blowing to be able to work alongside someone who may have just graduated from their bachelor’s  to someone who has a full-blown established career as a lawyer. You’re learning from your professors and through the program, but you’re also learning from other professionals in different fields. I feel like I have grown immensely by interacting with people across the country. I’ve made friends, and I anticipate maintaining those friendships. 

Wake SPS: Looking to the future, what’s next for you as you move through and complete your Masters in Communications? 

EM: I want to be happy and to continue to build a life that brings me joy and happiness. Career-wise, I’m still trying to figure out what that will look like honestly. Recently, I was talking to the director of the program and told him that I was trying to decide what I wanted my future to look like. Not only did he listen and provide sound advice, he also put me in touch with somebody he knows here in Boise who might be able to help. I was just overcome with gratitude that he would do that. 

So I feel like even though I don’t necessarily know where my future is going to take me, I know that I’m going to have support along the way.

Learn more about our online Master of Communications program today.