Rachel Hitchcock: Building Communication Skills That Last a Career

This year’s alumni recipient of the Dean’s Excellence Award, Rachel Hitchcock (’06SPS, Strategic Communication), is Senior Director of Principal Gifts at Johns Hopkins University, and despite a demanding role overseeing a global portfolio of top donors, she has remained an active leader in the Columbia community.

She helped further develop an alumni club on the West Coast and has served for several years on planning committees for Columbia Alumni Association events - including the annual Columbia Alumni Leaders Weekend. In 2018, she was voted to the Board for ColumbiaDC and has just completed two consecutive terms representing the School of Professional Studies on the Board of Overseers for the Columbia Alumni Association.

What initially attracted you to the M.S. in Strategic Communication program?

Public relations was one of my majors as an undergraduate at Syracuse University, and at the time I applied to the program, I was working in athletics communications and very keen to remain in that business. I was also advised by a mentor that earning a master’s degree would be beneficial, no matter the field of study, and that I should look towards a degree that would be applicable across the spectrum of professional opportunities. I have very much found that to be the case with my Strategic Communication degree.

What skills have you been able to build and improve on through the program?

At the time—more than a decade ago!—I developed my practical research skills, building a crisis communications plan and an integrated communications plan. The intro to research class we were required to take was very beneficial and built upon skills I had been introduced to as an undergraduate. I would also say that, of course, there were so many intangibles that I picked up just by being in the same cohort as smart, intellectually curious, and ambitious classmates who were working in a variety of fields.

How have these skills helped you succeed at your job?

So many ways! I frequently use the skills of applying research, benchmarking, and developing a story to make a case. Strong writing skills and articulating a position statement, whether it is to be used in a marketing plan or not, are always going to help someone succeed in their job regardless the field. It has been such a pleasure to see how SPS has continued to evolve and grow, particularly now under the leadership of Dean Wingard, while maintaining a continued commitment to supporting the values of lifelong learning and professional growth. For me, giving back and being involved with the University, SPS, and the Columbia Alumni Association is just a small way that I can show my gratitude and pay it forward.

Watch an interview with Hitchcock on ColumbiaYou and learn more about the Executive Master of Science in Strategic Communication at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies.