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Matching Students with the Tools They Need to Succeed

Whenever an MS in Health Communication student has questions or needs guidance, they can look to Monica Degenhardt. As the program’s coordinator, she acts as a cheerleader, advisor,  and motivator.

From the first few days of class to graduation—and beyond—Degenhardt’s goal is to help students excel. “Whenever they have concerns or just need to talk, we’re here to support them,” she says. From writing assistance to counseling and career services, she helps connect students with the Northwestern resources they need to be successful in any situation.

Degenhardt attends classes with each cohort, giving her a chance to develop relationships with students and offer in-person support while also making sure the day goes smoothly. Degenhardt makes it a point to touch base regularly with students via phone and email as well.

Because Northwestern follows the quarter system, the MS in Health Communication is a fast-paced, Saturdays-only program. While students can always reach out to her, she also proactively watches for situations where students may need additional support. If someone is struggling academically, for example, she walks through the steps they have been taking to prepare for class each week and helps them find ways to improve. From there, she matches them to tools and services they may need and works side by side with the student to devise a plan to move forward.

She also encourages students to make the most of their networks, reaching out to TAs, instructors, and even alumni they meet. “To add a rich dynamic to our program, we offer a Proseminar course that connects students with health communications professionals who talk about their experiences in the field.” She says students often resonate with the stories shared by these experts and ask for their contact information so they can keep in touch.

“I’m here not only to help with academics, but also when personal things arise or students just want to think through something,” says Degenhardt. When an upcoming wedding, a big work project, applying to medical school, or family life presents an obstacle, for example, she has helped students weigh the pros and cons of taking a quarter off so they can make the best decision for their situation.

Each student enters the program with vastly different experiences—some coming directly from undergraduate school while others enroll with nearly three decades of professional experience. She’s ready to offer guidance on everything from adjusting to graduate school to juggling professional and academic settings simultaneously. “No student is ever alone in what they feel,” she explains. “Earning a graduate degree is a transition for every student.”

In one example, a student was worried about their grade at the beginning of the quarter and talked to Degenhardt about their desire to perform well in class. “We talked about what was going well—and what wasn’t. To help put things in perspective, we walked through the remaining assignments and how those could influence their grade. We then discussed strategies for how to be successful, such as planning out their weeks with which class assignments they would work on each day. By talking through some strategies and what would work best for them, students are supported and feel prepared to finish out the rest of the quarter and program strong.”

To build community, she compiles and sends out a monthly newsletter to students, faculty, and staff featuring class updates, reminders to complete feedback surveys, upcoming event information, and job opportunities in the Chicago area. She also works with the program’s Student Leadership Council to plan monthly activities and events—including attending Chicago Bulls games, volunteering in the community, and a holiday party.

“I truly love working at Northwestern, the culture, and working in this capacity with these students,” she says. “It’s inspiring to see their influence and growth throughout the program and beyond.”