New skills development program prepares professionals to collaborate with, manage and lead diverse teams

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Public Relations and Advertising master’s student Emily Chae is Korean American and her breakout room partner, Communication management Masters student Jenisty Colon, is Latinx. Although they are in different university programs, they met virtually during a conversation about the difficulties of growing up in the United States, where they feel their cultural identities are not always fully accepted.

“I’m not American enough,” Chae said. “Or I’m not Korean enough. “Through character-building or problem-solving tasks, we were able to get personal with each other and share bonds.”

This fall, Chae is among the first master’s students in Manage complexity in various organizations (MCDO), a new online professional skills-building program at USC Annenberg that prepares future communications professionals to create and support inclusive environments, and help advance equity and representation in the communication and media landscape.

“Being encouraged, but never pushed by our instructor, helped break down the barriers I was used to,” Chae said. “The whole structure of the class was to make everyone’s voice heard.”

This fall, more than 100 students are taking the eight-week, learner-centered program that equips them with the skills to collaborate, manage and lead teams of diverse backgrounds and expertise.

Working in small groups led by faculty facilitators, students explore topics such as fostering connection and inclusive cultures; dealing with implicit bias and power; understand the impact of technology on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA); create representative and inclusive content; and develop habits and strategies to effect lasting change. Participants also engage in relevant case studies, simulations, and problem-solving activities that provide opportunities to apply new skills in the context of contemporary DEIA issues.

“We developed the MCDO program to address an essential skill for 21st century professionals: the ability to create, sustain and thrive in diverse work environments,” said USC Annenberg Dean. willow bay. “We believe this innovative program will complement and enhance what students learn in their degree programs.”

According to Suzanne Alcantara, Associate Dean of Student Affairs, these skills are in high demand.

“We are increasingly seeing ‘cultural sensitivity’ included as a required skill in job postings,” Alcantara said. “Demonstrating these skills will be a strong differentiator for our graduates.”

Likewise, Chae recognizes the value of the MCDO program for herself personally and for her future employer.

“I think specifically with our generation, we’re moving towards a more diverse culture and so it’s really important to implement those characteristics in the industries that we’re moving into,” Chae said. “We have to create this chain reaction within companies.”

More than a dozen USC Annenberg faculty members have worked closely with Bay, principals Hector Amaya and Gordon Stablesand the Minerva project to develop the MCDO program. Minerva’s learning management platform, Forumis used to provide a synchronous virtual classroom environment that facilitates active learning.

Earlier this year, 80 USC Annenberg students, faculty, and alumni were invited to participate in MCDO’s pilot program to help test and refine the course’s scope and learning outcomes before its official launch this fall.

USC Annenberg Alumni Advisory Council members Hannah Vega and Marissa Borjon both have completed the pilot program. Vega, who earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2018, said the course helped him understand how to navigate existing electrical structures and help facilitate new pipelines.

“Everything is very significant and it is built; something you read two weeks before continues,” said Vega, a talent manager for Warner Bros.’ Magnolia Network. Discovery. “I think this course really lets you have a voice.”

Borjon, who earned his master’s degree in strategic public relations in 2019, said USC Annenberg students preparing to take the course can expect a journey of personal growth.

“The MCDO program is going to make even stronger and better agents of change coming out of USC Annenberg,” Borjon said. “Future leaders leave this course better informed about what it means to lead with empathy, and what it means to be an attentive listener, have a people-oriented mindset, and encourage and foster collaboration, motivation, and engagement.”

The MCDO program was recently piloted with a group of global technology communications executives, who reported a 95% satisfaction rate. All respondents strongly agreed or agreed that they can use what they learned in the course in the future and that the course stimulated new ways of applying the skills and knowledge they they learned. Similar data was gathered following the first MCDO pilot in April 2022 in which 91% of USC Annenberg students said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the program.

“Consistency between impact measurement data from our corporate and master’s student cohorts serves to further validate the impact and ability of learners to immediately apply their new skill set,” said Abha Ahuja, Director of the academic program at Minerva Project.

Video of the interview of a participant in the management of complexity in various organizations — Emily Chae


The MCDO program is a core and required experience for all graduate students of the School of Communication and the School of Journalism’s Public Relations and Advertising program.

Members of the MCDO Program Development Committee include: Laura Castañeda (Academic Lead), Morten Bay, Clarissa Beyah, Melanie Cherry, Adam Day, Joseph Itaya, Elizabeth Luke, Freddy Tran Nager, Courtney Pade, Brad Shipley, Christopher H. Smith , Lindsay Stanton , Neil Teixeira and Tina Vennegaard.

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