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Q&A With Alissa Sommerfeldt

The College of Communications and Information offers a master’s program in Communication and Information with four different concentrations: advertising, public relations, communication studies, and journalism and electronic media. The program equips students with the knowledge and skills needed to pursue a career in both professional and management positions. Students gain knowledge in each concentration, regardless of which they choose to pursue, to ensure a well-rounded education. The program also provides students with opportunities to study abroad, receive scholarships, and to participate in research projects.

Alissa Sommerfeldt is working toward her master’s degree with a concentration in public relations, balancing the time commitment and dedication she gives to her graduate studies program with her full-time position as a communications specialist in the Provost’s Office. She also participates in freelance jobs with local businesses, where she offers her expertise in public relations and marketing. She earned her undergraduate degree in public relations from Murray State University in 2018. 

How do you manage your time between working a full-time job and grad school? Do you have any time management tips for students looking to do the same?

It’s all about determining your priorities one week at a time. I’ve managed grad school and working full-time by following daily and weekly to-do lists. I triage the most time sensitive projects first and work my way down the list. My biggest tip is double-dipping: If you can find a way to tie a graduate school project into a goal for work, that makes everything so much easier.

What are your career goals? 

I would like to stay within higher education and lead my own team one day for a college as a communications director or something of that nature.

What made you decide to pursue your graduate degree at UT? 

I knew I wanted to obtain a master’s degree right after college, and I knew I loved working in higher ed from an alumni internship experience during my undergrad degree. So, upon graduating, I applied to several universities and got an interview at UT, and the rest is history. I am very grateful that UT provides tuition benefits to its employees.

What advice would you give to a student looking to apply to the program? 

When I first started my program, I told myself I had four priorities during the process: my job, my degree, my loved ones and my health. I wasn’t going to compromise my physical/mental

health or neglect relationships during the program. It requires a balancing act for sure, but figure out your priorities before you begin and find a way to maintain those priorities. It’s easy to let graduate school consume your life; just be mindful of your other needs and don’t let yourself run on empty.

What is it like juggling graduate school during a pandemic? Are your classes online? 

I’m very fortunate to be able to work from home during this pandemic, and all my classes have transferred to online. It’s a little harder for me to find motivation in an online classroom environment, but, all in all, this hasn’t affected my educational experience.

What would you say has been your favorite part of the master’s program so far?

I went to a smaller public university for undergrad, so I was honestly apprehensive going to a larger institution for my master’s degree. I was worried I wouldn’t receive that one-on-one attention from faculty. I was so wrong. The faculty in CCI have all been wonderful and extremely helpful in providing one-on-one guidance and feedback. They are all accessible and willing to work with you to form your own graduate school experience. The faculty have been the best part, by far.

Why did you choose to study public relations? What made you want to continue your studies?

My major in undergrad was public relations, and I had a minor in advertising. My undergraduate experience was very tactical and practical in knowledge. Since I knew the “how,” I wanted to learn the “why” and be able to think more critically about messaging and strategy. And honestly, knowing I wanted to stay in higher education for my career, I knew a master’s degree would make me more competitive for management-level careers down the road.