Since 2014, Rashad Benton has worked at some of the most prominent names in fashion and music, such as Billboard, Elle, GQ, Vogue and InStyle, but he knew he wanted to pursue graduate study to pivot into the field of strategic communication. He just wasn’t sure how he would fit coursework in while hustling full-time in the fashion industry. So he took the next logical step: He emailed Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger.
The president’s response led him to the Strategic Communication Master’s program at the School of Professional Studies.
“The conversation made me realize how perfectly I fit with the program,” Benton says. “Even though I have always worked with fashion, I’ve found that a degree in communication is more practical than a degree in design or fashion-related subjects as communication skills are transferable to many different industries and have fewer limitations.”
We sat down with Rashad to learn more about his journey through the Strategic Communication program at SPS:
How has the Strategic Communication program helped you change your career focus from fashion?
The industries I work with, fashion and publishing, are rapidly changing and having to adapt to new norms. When you think about it, people are not buying as many magazines, stores are closing and companies are laying off staff. With so many changes, even before COVID-19, I had to be adaptable and ensure I am ready if and when a certain industry shuts down. The Strategic Communication program has given me exposure to different industries such as higher education, technology, and entertainment. The program also brings together different panels and speakers; talking to the presenters after their sessions and getting their point of view is a great opportunity to learn and network. I have also participated in site visits, which have given me a lot of insight into who I am and where I might belong.
I can offer new perspectives based on what I have experienced in my career to complement and challenge the scenarios professors describe. Everyone’s point of view and critical thinking are strongly encouraged in Strategic Communication classes.
As I approach graduation, my career goal has become clearer. I want to be involved in education and I would love to become an instructor someday. I love learning and I want to share knowledge, especially with underprivileged people who may not have had the chance to go to school. It's important to teach concepts such as Black history, to keep people from being forgotten.
How has your professional experience in fashion helped you in the Strategic Communication program?
I am lucky because I have a bit more work experience than some of my full-time cohort compatriots. As a result, I’ve already experienced some of the concepts we talk about in class, such as how to reach out to people or the agency experience. Although I have a stronger foundation, I find many of the courses challenging, especially Principles in Persuasion, Strategic Communication Management, and Compelling Communicators.
These courses are business-driven and I walked away with new business and communication skills, more insights, critical thinking, and different perspectives. I enjoy the class environment as I can offer new perspectives based on what I have experienced in my career to complement and challenge the scenarios professors describe. Everyone’s point of view and critical thinking are strongly encouraged in Strategic Communication classes.
In Strategic Communication Management, I learned how to build a project by crafting and presenting insights, researching, digging into companies’ profiles, and presenting the project to the class.
One big difference between completing a project in fashion and Strategic Communication is that in fashion, you can do whatever you want as long as you can execute it, but in Strategic Communication it’s more technical and business-driven. In communication, every word matters.
What are your favorite things about the program?
We can always openly share ideas in the classroom and challenge others, including professors, classmates, and guests. No one is bothered by this and, as a result, we all learn new points of view. The diversity of the program is also one of my favorite parts of the program. I share the classroom with people from India, China, and Brazil, among others. My classmates are always exposing me to their culture, giving me cultural context and teaching me new things.
Do you have any advice for future students?
Go to every class and don’t just sit in the classroom: listen, give your insights, and, engage. You won’t regret it. Columbia offers many opportunities academically and professionally, so make the best of your time.
Learn more about the M.S. in Strategic Communication program at Columbia University.