Academic Cover Letter

To Whom It May Concern,

I am thrilled about my May 2015 graduation from the famously beautiful Elon University. My last four years full of classes, events, clubs, and master guest speakers have contributed to my personal growth, social awareness, and global citizenship. The Elon community has molded my scholarly identity into one that any college graduate can be proud of. I’m delighted to say that I chose an academic and professional path that will exemplify my strengths and passions for many years to come.

My Mission

 The label "Strategic Communications and International Studies double major with a Spanish minor" doesn't begin to explain my personal, collegiate, and professional endeavors. I’m a college student transitioning into the professional world exploring my strengths and passions through networking, internships, side jobs, clubs and overall experiences.

My mission is to learn as much as I can through each and every one of my experiences to gain the most knowledge and expertise that will prove me to be an asset to my future employer.

My experiences range from social media marketing and blog and article writing to graphic design, photography and event planning and promotion. I’m proud to say that I will be working as a Public Relations Intern with Tierney Communications in Philadelphia after graduation on a track to become an Account Coordinator and the Executive Assistant to the COO of Tierney, Molly Watson. Tierney is a full-service agency that helps clients with public relations, advertising, social media, digital, media planning, and many other opportunities and challenges.

Academics

I've always been a communicative persuader. Whether it was presenting my argument to the class or displaying complex information through an infographic (exemplified in my Alzheimer's Epidemic post), I have used my words and design skills to strategically convey a certain message. To develop this strength is why I decided to be a strategic communications major.

At Elon University and though my internships, I've studied a very diverse Strategic Communications curriculum where I've looked at advertising, public relations, social media, writing, and production. I'm interested in account services. I love building and maintaining client relationships in both advertising and public relations and exploring traditional and emerging ways of communicating with people. Organizing agency resources and team members for solving client problems has always been a fun challenge for me.

 I gained valuable professional experiences as a Marketing and PR intern for Uplifted in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In this capacity, I learned strong communications skills using a variety of mediums as well as the importance of research and how to work independently and under a strict deadline. Working directly with clients’ needs enhanced my interpersonal communication skills as well. I applied that knowledge to my other internships. As the Social Media and Marketing intern for the Give of Life Institute, I expanded my communication skills to include graphic design, social media planning and management, and website development. I also worked directly with CEOs and other leaders in the field to develop a strategic plan for the launch of the company’s new website.

I’m fascinated by the different ways a brand can display itself to its audience. I recently gave a presentation about Coca-Cola and included the Open Happiness campaign. This was a class full of a variety of majors and I was surprised with the comments and responses I received. Some students didn't believe it was ethical for Coca-Cola to convince people that Coca-Cola equaled happiness since it’s an unhealthy drink and because of its “negative” influence in poorer areas. It was the first time I had to defend strategic communications and it caught me a bit off-guard. I always thought that being a persuader was a strength, not an ethical weakness. I responded to those negative comments saying that the job of a strategic communicator is to give the public an authentic description of what a brand stands for. Coca-Cola hires probably 50 agencies at a time to work on different projects in order to portray its true brand. It is interesting that while a public health major would see the Open Happiness campaign as an ethical disaster, strategic communications majors would think of it as public relations and advertising masterpiece.

I am also an international studies major and Spanish minor. I've been lucky to choose areas of study that I truly love. Exploring international studies has allowed me to learn how my society and I fit in the global community. I, fortunately, inherited the travel bug from my mother and that is basically what I spend all my money on. Instead of getting a car in college, I studied in Buenos Aires, Argentina for four months and traveled all around South America. When I was 17 I spent all the money from my summer jobs to go to Spain with my best friend. Becoming an international studies major has deepened my passion for international travel and putting myself in other cultures. This area of study showed me, though, that international travel and international study is not just about me—it’s about the people I meet when I’m in Spain or Argentina. It’s about the people with whom I spend time in the hostels in Peru or hike a glacier in Patagonia. My only hope is that these individuals from all over the world learn from me just as much as I learn from them.

Developing my Spanish skills all throughout middle school, high school, and college helped me pursue these relationships. I believe that without studying a second or third language, it is impossible to fully emerge oneself in that language’s culture.  For example, even though I spoke Spanish, it was very difficult for me to understand Argentine Spanish because it is much different from the Spanish I learned in school or in Spain. At first, I thought that my host mom was always in a bad mood or upset with me because she would speak somewhat rudely to me. Turns out, that is just the language. People in Argentina are very blunt with their words and if translated directly to English, one could interpret it as rudeness. It’s important to not only know the language but also understand the characteristics of it. Once I fully embraced the Argentine dialect, I was able to bond with my host mom and Argentine friends more than ever before which enriched my experience.

Elon has given me many opportunities to add to my online portfolio. Next, I will explore some of my best work that adds to my personal and academic development.

Strategic Communications Disciplinary Theory

The assignment called Effective Brand Communications consisted of research, analysis and a report on a brand from which Strategic Communications experts can learn. I identified a company and brand that I believed illustrated effective Strategic Communications and is “doing it right.” The company I chose was Always and I focused on its “Like a Girl” campaign. I wanted to display how Always engaged its publics, used multiple communications platforms, and created memorable “sticky” messages. I discussed how these various “tactics” and activities they engage in illustrates this. I identified and analyzed the differences or “blurred” lines between traditional Public Relations and Advertising with this campaign and described what lessons other brands could learn from their strategies. 

Modes of Inquiry

I facilitated in a survey report for my Strategic Research Methods class. In this report, we reviewed our goals and objectives, methodology and our data analysis and detailed findings. After that, we described the implications and knowledge gained from our survey research. Finally, the report included any of our shortcomings and future research as well as our survey questionnaire and SPSS data.

Global Citizenship

The assignment called Honest Streets: Informal Work in Buenos Aires consisted of immense research, analysis, and a complete final paper reporting on my findings.  I wrote this thesis about the culture of informal work in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This paper allowed me to reflect on the daily struggles that the people of Buenos Aires must go through with a weak economy and lack of jobs.

Personal Responsibility

I designed and produced an infographic in my Corporate Publishing course using Adobe InDesign and Adobe Photoshop. I created this infographic for a Sigma Kappa Cupcake Bar event on Elon University’s campus to raise awareness and money for Alzheimer’s disease. As a strategic communicator, it is my responsibility to present a message to a target audience in a way that they can clearly understand and remember. infographics rely on visual representations of information, data, and knowledge to present complex information quickly and clearly. Infographics can improve cognition by utilizing graphics to enhance the human visual system’s ability to see patterns and trends. 

Looking Towards the Future

My two majors and minors have given me the opportunity to develop my own skills to assist a future employer. I have learned to think creatively and open-mindedly. I’m excited to show my future employer, Tierney, that my liberal arts education will not just provide them with an excellent communicator, but also a well-rounded global citizen.

If you would like to see examples of academic work or have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at shelly.maxwell13@gmail.com or (610) 659-8749.

Global Citizenship

 

The Assignment

This assignment called Honest Streets: Informal Work in Buenos Aires consisted of immense research, analysis, and a complete final paper reporting on my findings. My professor, who just finished her 400-page dissertation, organized the process into nine separate, specific steps. First, within the first few weeks, we had to define a topic and research questions. This step took longer than expected because we learned that in order to develop a focus paper, we needed an extremely focused topic and questions.

In Greater Buenos Aires, 2.3 million workers are informal, according to the ILM module in 2005 (Esquivel 2010, 1). Because of the global economic crisis, informal work has become a widely prevalent coping mechanism, especially in regions with underemployment and flexible labor policies, such as Argentina. Risa Whitson, a professor of geography and women’s studies at Ohio University, defines informal work as “work that deals with legal products or services, but the production and distribution of these is either unregulated or illegal” (2007, 26). It provides no standard benefits, lacks a permanent contract, and excludes legal labor protection and representation. Moreover, informal work is unregistered and untaxed.

Next, I developed my preliminary argument. On this step, it was important to analyze what evidence I already had to support my point of view and what evidence I still needed to find. This step is when I also considered any counterarguments someone would have for my thesis statement and if I had any evidence to deny them. In addition, step two allowed me to see what key debates my research contributed. For example, my final argument was that self-help initiatives, like informal work, have been more successful in helping residents of Buenos Aires cope with the national economic crisis. I had plenty of evidence for this argument, such as, about half of all workers in Buenos Aires work informally and the corrupt government mainly provides workfare programs in order to get loyalty points. My research contributed to the debate that although the informal economy helps citizens and the state, it is, in the long run, harming the city residents because it lacks any benefits, payroll, or job security.

The third step was to understand and refine my core concepts; basically, what does my topic deal with? This helped me with my secondary research—forcing me to focus only on what will help me support my argument. Next, I refined my argument. I was able to use more of my research in order to define it even more in depth. On the fifth step, I was able to compile my thoughts into an abstract. The goal was to make it as concise, clear, and explicit as possible. In my abstract, I included the reason for my writing, the problem my work attempted to solve, my methodology and evidence, results, implications, and keywords. Obviously, this step took a few tries before it was finalized.

The outline preparation was the sixth step of the process. This is arguably one of the biggest and most time-consuming stages. I broke the outline up into four parts. First, I created a thesis statement. Second was the literature review. Here, I defined my four main concepts around which my literature review was organized, and then offered the scholarly sources to support the discussion for each concept. Next, I identified the main articulations of my argument and the key data. Finally, I explored my conclusions from primary and secondary research as well as my own arguments.

The seventh step consisted of exploring the responses to counterarguments. In the eighth step, I prepared for my first draft. I first dove deep into my literature review, linking my sources together around my topic. In addition, I listed some general debates and answered the “So what?” question of why everyone should be interested in reading my paper. Finally, I included my arguments and ideas by stating my research questions and working responses to them. After that, I was ready to write the research paper. We spent the majority of the semester on research and preparation which gave us only about two and a half weeks to write the actual paper. This was sufficient though because the paper was easy to write because of the intense preparation.

The Class

I developed and composed this capstone research paper for my International Studies Senior Seminar (INT 461). My professor’s expertise is sustaining heritage in rural France so she decided to focus the class around the city, instead. For the first time in history more people live in cities than in rural areas, so much so, that scholars refer our time as the “metropolitan age.” The course explored how urban development is shaped by and shapes processes of global change. In particular, it examines how as cities strengthen their international and cultural influence, globalization is acted out in the world’s urban hubs through diverse cultures, networks, and new styles of governance.

Every international studies major must study abroad for at least one semester so for our final papers, we focused on the city in which we each studied. Around this theme, I learned standard social science skills such as research paper design and scholarly literature reviews. I worked both individually and in a small group to identify and peer-review research questions. At the end, I delivered an individual presentation of my research findings toward the end of the semester.

In addition to the 15-page, single-spaced paper and individual presentation, we also studied different dynamics of “the city” in modern times. These readings helped me explore many different elements of the city including monopolization, informal work, and urban multiculturalism.

Global Citizenship

Elon prides itself on its emphasis on global citizenship. Students and faculty here at Elon are encouraged to engage and learn from each other as well as cultures from all around the world in order to develop into true global citizens. Elon prepares students for successful lives in this diverse 21st-century world by providing in- and out-of-class experiences that contribute to students’ national and international identity. Nevertheless, Elon still wants to get better. Elon wants to provide 100 percent study abroad access, triple the international student enrollment, create a campus community that better reflects the world’s diversity and be a national leader in preparing students to succeed in a multicultural world. Even with these future objectives, one can argue that Elon University is already the school to watch when it comes to global awareness in its students. For example, Elon leads the nation in the number of students with a study abroad experience. This shows the emphasis Elon puts on global citizenship.

From our freshman year required reading to our core classes focused on the interdisciplinary mindset, I am confident that Elon has turned me into even more of a global citizen than before my time here. My passion has always been traveling. Even though I have been fortunate enough to have my parents’ help, most of my savings has been dedicated to not a car, but traveling to amazing places such as Australia, Spain, and Argentina. In addition, I usually either travel by myself or with peers. Even though I’ve always had the “travel bug,” Elon allowed me to view national and international travel not just as a change of location, but also a change of mindset. One cannot be in the “Elon bubble” mindset when studying abroad for a semester.

When I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the fall of 2013, I did not go on an Elon-affiliated program—for financial and academic reasons—so I didn’t know anyone going on my trip. Instead of spending four months alone, I did what every true global citizen should do: walk around the city, hang out at a bar, and communicate with the locals to make friendships. I did know Spanish before living in Buenos Aires, but I didn’t realize how different Argentine Spanish was to any other Spanish I’ve ever learned before. But even with that cultural barrier, I was able to embrace the personalities and culture around me right away, which allowed me to learn much more about the country and its people than just sitting in my homestay’s apartment for four months and being “located” in Argentina. Study abroad is much more than the location; it’s the experience.

The International Studies major is, quite obviously, the number one major that emphasizes global citizenship within its students. International Relations (INT 141) and The World in the 20th Century (INT 221) are the foundation courses for the major. These classes allow students to prepare for their next steps at Elon through study abroad, Model UN, or any other path they wish to take.  The major also requires at least eight study hours of one modern foreign language and must also demonstrate foreign language proficiency by successfully completing a foreign language course at the mid-200 level. I, along with many other International Studies majors, take this opportunity to add a foreign language minor to our curriculum. Being a Spanish minor helped me immensely when I traveled to Argentina. It really allowed me to dive deep into the culture, language, and people. Of course, the International Studies department also provides classes in politics and economics, history and geography, literature and world language, and society and culture.

Work Criticism

I am extremely proud of my International Studies Senior Seminar final research paper. I worked closely with my professor to make it clear, concise, and worthwhile to read. I provided much important evidence and included a number of visuals to back up that evidence.  My 30+ scholarly sources gave power to my paper, showing the reader that my argument and information is credible.  In 15 single-spaced pages, I was able to review scholarship about informal work and neoliberal globalization in developing economies, assert my argument about those affected by the neoliberal policies and failed governmental intervention leading to the 2001 collapse, and finally, draw conclusions of what that implies and answer the “So what?” question.

Works Cited

Esquivel, Valeria. "The Informal Economy in Greater Buenos Aires: A Statistical Profile." Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing Working Paper, 2010: 1-43.

Whitson, Risa. "Beyond the Economic Crisis: Economic globalization and informal work in urban Argentina." Journal of Latin American Geography 6, no. 2 (2007): 121.

 

 

Strategic Communication Modes of Inquiry

The Assignment

                I facilitated in creating this survey report for my Strategic Research Methods course in the fall of 2014. In this report, my team and I reviewed our goals and objectives, methodology, data analysis and detailed findings. After that, we described the implications and knowledge gained from our survey research. Finally, the report included any of our shortcomings and future research as well as our survey questionnaired and SPSS data.

            In order for our client, Elon University’s Health and Human Performance Department, to understand why we conducted this survey and why we asked the questions we did, this survey report was necessary. In the background section, we described the study context. Here, we reviewed the survey target audiences and total participants. Our objectives were to first gauge the respondents’ knowledge of the Health and Human Performance Department, as well as their general knowledge of the Wellness and Health Education minor. The other objective was to determine the best communication techniques to use when introducing the new minor to students at Elon. We reviewed our hypotheses and research questions to confirm our hypotheses. It was important that our team also added conceptual definitions. A conceptual definition is a critical element in the research process that involves scientifically defining a specific concept (or variable) so it can be systematically measured. For example, one variable we explored was how respondents receive information about minors; therefore, participants were asked where they have received information about choosing a minor in the past or how they would like to receive the information. Explaining our methodology is also a very crucial element of the survey report. In our methodology section, we reviewed our sampling plan with our sample population, participants, sample frame, and procedures.

            The most important part of our survey report is the data analysis and detailed findings. In this section, we briefed the client on a summary of responses to our survey questions. Under each of our survey questions, we analyzed the responses, keeping in mind the objectives of our research for the Health and Human Performance Department. For example, in our survey we asked, “If you have a minor, what influenced you to select your minor?” We concluded that many students select a minor because it related to a subject that was of interest to them. These implications suggest that it may be worthwhile to target students who express an interest in health and wellness outside of the classroom. These segments may include but are not limited to those who reside in the Health and Wellness living and learning community, S.P.A.R.K.S., The Public Health Society, or any other student organization that places an emphasis on health and wellness. These implications are probably the most important part for our client to read. It is the go-to section for our client to understand what our research will do for our shared objectives.

            With all ethical research, it is important to include any shortcomings of the specific study and recommendations for future research. In our survey report, we admitted that our sample size could have been larger. We found that our sample size was a limitation from the start. We aimed to survey those students who had taken one or more classes that are required for the Health and Wellness minor as well as students in the Health and Wellness Living and Learning Community. The total population of these students is around 45. While 47% of our sample size responded, all 45 students would have had to respond in order for our research to have reached a truly substantial and accurate level.

The Class

                My team and I developed this research in our Strategic Research Methods class incorporated in the Strategic Communications major. Successful communications strategy relies on good research. It is the glue that holds together all future communications plans. In the class, I learned theoretical and methodological concepts for conducting applied research in communications. The course explored quantitative methods such as surveys, and qualitative methods such as focus groups, marketing research methods, and public opinion polling. From this course, I developed research and critical evaluation skills used in strategic communications by media professionals and was able to apply qualitative and quantitative research methods and appropriate data collection, numerical concepts, and statistical procedures. I learned how to plan research design, use instruments, collect data, and analyze and synthesize research findings to produce written and oral reports.

Like most strategic communications classes, almost all class assignments required us to work in teams through the use of hands-on projects. In my group of 5, we each had individual leadership opportunities. In our group, my position was the Survey Design and Execution Director. I was responsible for overseeing the survey assignment logistics and was the go-to person for questions, advice, planning, etc. for the survey portion of the project.

To introduce us to survey research, our class participated in the Elon Poll. Telephone surveys offer more control and higher response rates than most mail surveys but are limited to the types of questions that can be asked. The survey I conducted had a mix of questions that were both close-ended questions (ex. “Do you approve or disapprove how Barak Obama is doing his job as president?”) and open-ended questions (ex. “What is the most important issue in the United States?”). One thing I learned from the Elon Poll is that it is very difficult to get people to stay on the phone with you for ten minutes to answer political questions. Out of about 100 telephone numbers I dialed, only about 5 respondents completed the entire survey—which is actually a better response rate than most callers.

We also researched different examples of research in the media. For this assignment, I chose to research digital video recording (DVR) and its effect on primetime television. A study I found from GfK Media shows that DVR usage represents a growing portion of TV time. I delivered an oral and written presentation for this project.

For the majority of our class, we worked on research for the Health and Human performance Department at Elon University unveiling its new minor, Wellness and Health Education. The department was hoping to generate undergraduate interest and ultimately enrollment in the minor. The survey report, in which I facilitated, serves as a review of quantitative findings from our survey. In addition to this part of the research report, our team also developed a literature review and focus group.

Modes of Inquiry

                In its most basic form, research is the process of asking questions and finding answers. Before perusing a project in any profession or position, it is smart to do some preliminary research to start you off on the right foot. For a strategic communications plan, the research portion is the Alpha and the Omega. It holds everything you do afterward together. At the beginning of a communications plan, we research and learn all we can and plan effectively. In the middle, we’re able to use our research to track, observe, and improve the plan. In the end, research allows us to look at our results and learn from it. In order to take action in a communications plan, a communications researcher must ask the right question, choose the right method of research, and interpret the findings accurately.

            We research to make great communications. In order to engage a person, we use research to educate and inform, then transform that thought into a belief then an action. This process must be sticky, memorable, heartfelt, and must create emotional consumer bonds to the message. This process allows the client to achieve successful communications and business results.

            To approach research, a communicator can generate a hypothesis and a causal relationship theory. From this, secondary research can help build insight on the problem or opportunity. Then, educated primary research can be conducted. In  order to prove or disprove the hypothesis, the communicator can use the research then act on the findings to yield business success. The point is, the communicator drives research, it does not drive the communicator. Research is meant to seek answers to questions and hypotheses.

            Next, it’s important to review what to research. In our strategic communications discipline, we research the 7 C’s: Company, Category, Consumer, Competition, Culture, Media Convergence, and Delivery Channel.

            To research the company, a communicator must understand the business model and mission, the history of the company, brand perception, and product or service characteristics. The category is the business environment, whether it's automotive, pharmaceuticals, beauty aids, apparel, mobile phones, etc. Then a communicator must look at its trends; is the category growing? Shrinking? Consist of high or low involvement? Is it seasonal? Is it an impulse or deliberate purchase? Is there an opportunity to create a new category? Researching the consumer is crucial for a good research report. A communicator has to research the consumer’s age, gender, income, household situation, life stage, personality traits, buying behaviors, self-identity, etc. Competition is also an important element to research because in order to understand what the client is up against, one must look at the market size, brand identity, public relations initiatives, ad strategy, public perceptions, and media engagement choices.

            Researching the culture shows us societal shifts and trends, the brand’s place in the world today and in the future, as well as the values and attitudes. Media convergence is how media shapes the product’s identity and people’s engagement with the brand. Researching media convergence can answer how people use media in relation to the client’s challenge or opportunity. It’ll also answer how media use and humans’ processing of it  can affect what, when, and how the client should communicate. Delivery channel asks how the product or service gets to the consumer. Is it easy to obtain? Is it received through a store, internet mail-order, or digital delivery? Does it require consumer action? Does it require exclusive, sought after, high involvement action or low involvement, low emotion commodity? How does the consumer access the brand?

            These 7 C’s are individually very important to the strategic communications research method, but also all weave into one another. The question is commonly asked, “Where does one begin and another end?” Even though the 7 C's were extremely important in our team's secondary research steps before the survey, we also applied this concept to develop the survey and survey report. For example, we studied our consumer and target audience through primary research and made sure to send our survey to only our target audience to avoid error. We had to understand elements such as the minor category, the department's current media convergence, and through which delivery channel information of a minor gets to the student/consumer. 

            Along with the 7 C’s it’s also important to review primary research methods of strategic communications. As seen in the survey report, communicators often conduct quantitative research like a survey, whether it’s online, over the phone or through the mail. Each has pros and cons and the method of quantitative research depends very much on the target audience. Qualitative research can also be done through focus groups and in-depth interviews. To determine what method to use depends highly on the mission of the communications plan.

Work Criticism

            Our team worked on this survey research report for weeks and I am very proud of it. We deeply analyzed our findings and even included graphs and crosstabs to illustrate our findings. Cosmetically, we clearly organized and labeled our report so it’s easy for our client to find elements quickly. We also openly displayed the shortcomings of our research. The client emailed our team after reviewing our survey report and was extremely impressed with our thoughtfulness and completeness of our research.