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Mitchell Moen: Balancing Academics, Military Career, and Family

Mitchell Moen (’SPS20, Strategic Communication) has over 1,000 C-130 flight hours, including 200 combat hours. He is the Executive Officer to the Commander in the 55th Electronic Combat Group, which provides aircraft, crews, and operational support to combatant commanders. Moen is currently stationed at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. He also acts as the Senior Combat Systems Officer and previously served as a United Nations Staff Officer in South Sudan.

What initially attracted you to the Strategic Communication program at Columbia University?

I was searching for a degree program that would continue my investment in my current military career as well as a future career move into public policy. I would encourage anyone who is considering this degree to look past the title and to the core skill-sets that are provided by the program. You’ll grow as a writer, orator, and as a strategic leader.

How did these skills help you succeed in your role at the United Nations?

I once held the belief that I was an excellent communicator—that is, until I worked for the UN in South Sudan. This program has aided me in developing a more fluid and quickly adaptable style of communication. Whether I am communicating with someone from a high-context culture or a low-context culture, I am now able to reach them with improved clarity.

Was the format of the program helpful?

The program’s greatest strength is that it is mostly but not fully online. I graduated with my first fully online master’s degree feeling dissatisfied with the lack of face-to-face networking and the entire process felt transactional. Columbia’s Strategic Communication program differs drastically in that it’s one of the only programs of its kind that allows you to work around your schedule and yet affords you the professional network and mentorship from the faculty.

What was your experience like for the face-to-face elements of the program?

When I attended the first intensive study, I traveled from my United Nations posting in Africa to San Francisco. After day three, I knew I made the right decision in choosing the Columbia program. The professors and instructors expressed personal interest in helping our cohort and our careers succeed and went to great lengths to ensure the cohort jelled in such a brief time. Additionally, the program offers block week courses in both New York and San Francisco, and I attended one on Columbia’s New York campus, which gave me the traditional student experience that I was searching for.

How do you balance school, work, and family?

I live in a very busy household with my wife, three children, two lizards, and one huge Great Dane. I’m also 17 years into a full-time military career, which can require travel with little to no notice. My strategy for trying to accomplish everything life throws my way is block scheduling, and I receive tremendous support from my wife. When I’m in my zone and hammering out the next school project, that’s all I’m focused on. When I’m with my children, I do my best to be present and living in the moment. In my opinion, humans can’t multitask, so I don’t try to.