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Varied Backgrounds but Common Themes: Columbia Strategic Communication Alumni Share Their Trailblazing Journeys

By Andrew Shodell (’24SPS, Strategic Communication)

The path to an M.S. in Strategic Communication is littered with obstacles, and sometimes the clearest direction comes after the hardest of decisions.

“I left my full-time job.”

“If you’re not nervous, you’re too comfortable.”

“I started to question everything.”

These were some themes shared by six Columbia University M.S. in Strategic Communication alumni at a September 8 orientation panel to kick off the 2023–24 academic year. As a key component of the orientation activities for incoming students, alumni panels provide a platform for new students to gain firsthand insights from program graduates. During these sessions, alumni share their student experiences, advice, and reflections on their career trajectories since completing the program. Ranging from a professional wrestler to an opera singer, the alums also discussed their diverse backgrounds and obstacles they faced on the path to a career they love. 

Upending Life and Putting the Pieces Back Together: Clement Gibson (’21)

Gibson led a personal revolution. He decided to leave his full-time job to pursue a master’s degree in Strategic Communication at Columbia. He excelled and cofounded the Strategic Community Society, uniting Columbia students around their passion for the craft.

Gibson honed his skills and became a media supervisor at Performics, helping lead clients’ online marketing programs. He was recognized in his role as a Top 30 U.S. Changemaker by PerformanceIN.

After getting the job, Gibson emailed his lecturers to thank them for assigning case studies, analytics, and hours of studying. He smiles with the clarity that “it was something I didn’t know I needed.”

SCOM panel

Left to right: Mik Pandit, Sharnice Neale-Ottley, Jin Han, Ihsène Benmaiza, Matilda Ivarsson, Clement Gibson. 

Discovering Paths Never Imagined: Ihsène Benmaiza (’23)                                                                         

Benmaiza worked a lot, studied a lot, and left nothing unearthed during her time at Columbia. The unique courses were a highlight for her.

When one course didn’t interest her, she dropped it—leading her to replace it with one of her all-time favorites, Purpose-Driven Communication. As senior growth manager for media and partnerships at Zepz, Benmaiza now performs purpose-driven responsibilities every day.

Another course, The Compelling Communicator, introduced her to the book Made to Stick, which—you guessed it—stuck with her. “I use it every day, whether I’m talking to my team, delivering a speech, writing an email, crafting content with influencers, or talking to creative agencies,” she says.

And then she shares, “I got to do something I had never done before—hosting a podcast” at Columbia’s Career Design Lab.

Leaping from Good to Great: Matilda Ivarsson (’23)

Compared with Ivarsson’s home in Sweden, “everything is done very differently” in the U.S., she found. She came to Columbia having enjoyed previous communications experiences but relied mostly on gut instincts and wondered how to raise her contributions to a higher level.

She was eager to build bridges with her homeland from the U.S. market, so the M.S. in Strategic Communication connected her with the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce NY, where she found the niche of helping Swedish companies communicate in a market so different from back home.

By taking the leap toward supporting your passions with education and new experiences, she says, “you will feel confident enough to do something crazy.” For Ivarsson, that meant founding the STHLM-NYC Agency, which specializes in helping Swedish companies position themselves in a new market.

Becoming a Polyglot of Professions: Mik Pandit (’21)

Those who find it difficult to understand the unique words used in specific business units spanning public relations, finance, and legal work are not alone.

Pandit learned the ropes—literally—during several years as a professional wrestler, including time at WWE. The sport has a distinctive communication style, so encountering people in other industries made it difficult to connect.

Columbia’s M.S. in Strategic Communication taught him to “speak the different languages” of professional worlds, enhancing his ability to collaborate. As director of business affairs at NBCUniversal, Pandit frequently relies on these skills across the organization.

Digging to the Core: Sharnice Neale-Ottley (’23)

Neale-Ottley arrived at Columbia confident in her moral foundation but wondered, “No matter where I go past this program and in life, how am I going to make sure I hold on to these core values?”

Enrolling in Columbia’s M.S. in Strategic Communication gave her the answer. She unearthed the ability to access her core values professionally by being open-minded, bridging out of her comfort zone, and valuing her communities.

Neale-Ottley now applies these lessons to inspire future generations of great minds as senior manager of communications at Generation Citizen, a leading national civic-education nonprofit organization.

Finding Her Art: Jin Han (’22)

Han attained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the field of music performance. She discovered that her passion for crafting compelling stories expanded to communications.

By pursuing the M.S. in Strategic Communication, she says, “I discovered my passion for user-centered messaging and design” and shifted her career trajectory.

Han is now the UX designer at LG Electronics and credits Columbia with her “starting a new career I never imagined I could do.”

She feels the artistry involved in her daily work is a bridge back and forth between designer and musician.


About the Program

The business world’s around-the-clock communications challenges are demanding a new level of strategic thinking. Columbia University’s Master of Science in Strategic Communication graduates emerge equipped with all the essential skills and tools for a successful career in a wide range of communication fields.