My Journey as an Atypical Communication Masters Student

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Chris Burch, Student & Alumni

A graduate program in communication usually conjures up job titles and descriptions of jobs involving mass media and/or public relations.  Marketing Director or Public Relations Manager might be a typical job title for someone enrolled in the Brian Lamb School of Communication graduate program.  Many times these job descriptions include marketing, advertising, sales, public relations, and all other activities that one associates with a communication skillset. My job title and description then, would be considered atypical of a graduate communication student.
My path to the Purdue graduate program in communications has not included any of the above.  My professional background is in manufacturing, first in quality and now in Environmental Health and Safety.  I am responsible for the health and safety of more than 300 employees and associates from all levels of the organization while they are on company property.  I am also responsible for proactively protecting against loss of life, limb, and property in the event of a natural or man-made emergency.  You’re probably at this point asking yourself, “what’s communication got to do with any of that?”  My answer would be, “everything!”
As the individual in charge of security, I am the primary contact for all external inquiries from the community and from government regulatory agencies.  The neighbor wants to complain about the noise or dust from our factory, that’s on me.  The Fire Marshall wants to inspect our facility, that one’s mine too.  Much of the public perception that an organization has in the local community comes not only from their presence on social media or through press releases, but also from face-to-face contact with local community leaders and neighbors.  As part of my job I’m the first, and many times only, contact that these local groups and individuals have.
Without a doubt the best part of my job is being able to work with people from all levels of the organization.  As I am responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of not only all our employees, but the surrounding environment as well, I spend a lot of my time educating people on what the right thing to do is.  Whether it’s spending money on the next big project to reduce our waste streams or trying to convince a line operator that they need to wear their safety equipment; I’ve had the opportunity to engage everyone from V.P.s  to the janitor.  

This is to me the essence of what I do and how communication plays into my role.  Being able to interact with all individuals, on their own terms, regardless of education or socio-economic status is a must.  The graduate communication program at Purdue has given me the tools I need to do just that.
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Chris Burch is a student in Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.