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Reception Honors MSC’s 35th Anniversary and its Founders

The reception’s honorees: Kathleen Galvin, Mike Roloff, Irv Rein, and Paul Arntson.

More than 200 School of Communication alumni, students, and faculty gathered to honor the founders of the Master of Science in Communication program, now in its 35th year, in a reception at the Hilton Orrington Hotel in Evanston on September 15.

Department of Communication Studies Professor and MSC co-founder Irving Rein, Professor Emeritus and MSC co-founder Paul Arntson, as well as professors Kathleen Galvin and Michael Roloff were all honored at the event for their pioneering work in building the program.

School of Communication Dean Barbara O’Keefe

“(The MSC’s founding) was a groundbreaking experiment in creating a new kind of curriculum for communication studies,” said School of Communication Dean Barbara O’Keefe during the ceremony, “one that bridged directly to industry and showed how useful our field could be to working professionals. It was the first of its kind.”

In more than three decades, the program has graduated thirty-three classes, O’Keefe said, and has grown and evolved over the years, as well as inspired other graduate programs at the School of Communication, including the Master of Science in Health Communication and the Master of Science in Leadership for the Creative Enterprises.

“We’re here to honor this amazing program and the four teachers who have served this program so well for so many years,” said Randall Iden, the new faculty director of the MSC program. “We’re so proud of all that they’ve accomplished.”

Rein, who this winter will celebrate his 50th year teaching his Northwestern-famous course, “Persuasive Images: Rhetoric of Popular Culture,” said the program’s first year is still fresh in his mind.

“I remember walking into the class of twelve people, and I just couldn’t believe they were there,” he said. “It was a moment in time where I was stunned because we’d fought so many battles to get this program off the ground…. But now, all these years later, it’s been a great run.” 

Rein remarked on the buttons handed out at the reception stamped with the phrase, “I Survived Irv,” referencing a tradition in his class of putting students in a hotbox where they’d be tasked with playing what could feel like a futile game of “devil’s advocate.” 

“I’d ask them to take a topic that was completely outrageous to defend,” he said, and that person would have to reasonably and coherently attempt it. Sort of like defending certain controversial politicians today, he added.

Roloff also spoke, sharing humorous stories with the crowd about being a new and not-quite-so-confident faculty member on campus when Rein first proposed he get involved he teach in the new MSC program.

“He told me that it would be my opportunity to take all my theory and research and translate it into action. Well, I told him I’d avoided that all of my academic career,” Roloff joked. “He told me that I’d have these knowledgeable students, and I said I was barely holding my own with 18-year-olds. But then he told me there might be a stipend…Now, suddenly, he had my interest.”

All joking aside, Roloff said the program changed his academic life for the better.

“My participation in this program made me a better scholar,” he said. “It also made me expand my areas of expertise. Students asked me questions that I didn’t have an answer for, and so I was reading things I’d never read before, and incorporating them into the classroom.”

Alumni at the event talked about how much the MSC program improved their professional lives.

Craig Pugh (MSC90) and the president of the MSC Alumni Association, recalled his first job after graduating.

“I was the CEO of a nonprofit zoo in Palm Beach. I’d never done anything like this before, but with my notes from my classes and all I’d learned, I raised $18 million in 18 months,” he said. “I could not do that work without what I learned in the MSC program. There’s a timelessness about the program.”

Naazish YarKhan (MSC 11) said she loved her time in the graduate program and said it’s greatly influenced her work with the Islamic Circle of North America Relief Fund, which feeds 450 women and children a month with their food pantry, among other noteworthy programs.

“I love the energy in the MSC program and I always love coming back,” YarKhan said. “I have such good memories of Professor Roloff and Paul Arnston and so much of what I learned in their classes I’ve used in my career.”

Current MSC students also attended the event and said they looked forward to expanding their horizons.

“I want to use what I learn to give back to the community and to help teach immigrants, particularly Nigerian immigrants, how to communicate and achieve their goals,” said Abbey Okubadejo, who will graduate in 2019 and plans to help launch a start-up nonprofit organization, which will help students in other countries come to America. “I’ve really learned how communication can be so very personal and how essential it is, whether you’re working in the tech industry or for a nonprofit. Communication is an interesting part of any industry.” 

By Cara Lockwood