Balancing a career while also completing a graduate degree can be difficult. The College of Communication and Information recently introduced an online master’s degree program with a concentration in strategic and digital communication which allows students to receive their graduate degree on their own schedule. The program consists of asynchronous courses which incorporate all four of the college’s concentrations into one program, including courses in public relations, advertising, journalism and electronic media, communications studies, and information sciences.
Kealy Moriarty is working towards her master’s degree while also balancing a career with the National Guard. She currently works for the Tennessee National Guard as a Public Affairs Officer within the Tennessee Military Department. During her time in the National Guard, she has worked in several different countries, including Poland, Ukraine, and Romania. Upon completing a mission in Romania, she was offered a position as a Public Affairs Officer, which led her to pursue a master’s degree in strategic and digital communication.
She received her undergraduate degree in American History from Mississippi State in 2016.
What are your career goals?
Currently, I am a Public Affairs Officer in the Joint Strategic Communications Office for the Tennessee Military Department. I wear many hats in this position, but I would say I work mostly in media outreach, community outreach, and communication plans. My goal after this position is to advance to a national position and work for the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C. I’d like to work in developing communication strategies and campaigns. Following this, I’d like to work for U.S. Army Europe or NATO one more time and then eventually pursue a teaching career.
Why did you choose to complete your master’s degree online instead of the traditional format? How has your experience been so far?
Whether I was in Tennessee or overseas, I knew I wanted to complete my masters online because I have already advanced in my career, and I do not have the ability to put my career on pause to live in Knoxville and attend in-person classes (as much as I’d like to!).
This online program allows me to pursue my education while I continue my job and I am able to apply what I’ve learned in real time. I have really enjoyed this program and my experience so far. The staff and professors have been beyond helpful. There is a fair amount of work, as expected, but the schedule is flexible and allows students to complete the work with flexibility.
Why did you choose to complete your master’s in strategic and digital communication as opposed to continuing your education in American history?
When I graduated from Mississippi State University, it was almost immediately clear that I was going to pursue a career in the military. I received my commission upon graduation and moved to Nashville, Tennessee.
My military career did not start in public relations, and I was not even aware that was a career path. After my first mission in Romania, the Tennessee National Guard offered me an opportunity to further my military education and become a Public Affairs Officer (essentially public relations). I applied for the Department of Defense Public Affairs Qualification Course and was soon sent to Fort Meade, Maryland, to earn my functional area in public affairs. Soon after graduating the course, I deployed to Ukraine and Poland with Tennessee’s 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment for 18 months. I worked directly for U.S. Army Europe, U.S. Embassies and NATO in a public relations role.
After returning to the States in January 2020, I began researching programs that would fit my schedule and allow me to advance my knowledge in journalism, public relations, and strategic communications. In a world with ever evolving technology and communication tactics, I found it highly necessary to continue my education in communications.
What is a day in life as a public affairs officer like? How do you balance it while completing your graduate studies?
I work at our headquarters in Nashville with a team of public affairs specialists and we handle public outreach, media relations and communications for the Tennessee Military Department. A typical day consists of everything and anything from developing social media content to preparing speeches to answering media queries.
This year has had a lot of crisis communication, and we needed to consistently provide Tennesseans with information involving the National Guard. This included tornado relief efforts, PPE collections, Unified Command efforts with other agencies and COVID-19 testing sites. Our ultimate goal is to provide Tennesseans with fast and accurate information that could be useful to them in these situations while also keeping the public informed of our involvement.
Thankfully, because this graduate program is flexible, I have time after work to complete my homework. There is a lot of time management involved, but that comes with anything in life. For the most part, the adjustment has been challenging but not too difficult.
How did you know you wanted to be part of the National Guard?
I come from a military family. My dad and grandfather were in the Navy so the idea of joining the military was not outlandish for me. I grew up with five siblings, played several sports, and always had a team mentality. My freshman year of college, I tried out for the ROTC program and quickly realized I really enjoyed the lifestyle. I love to run and push my physical limits, so I fit right in.
When deciding between active duty and the National Guard, I decided on the Tennessee National Guard because I wanted to move to Nashville and could feel it was the right call. I am incredibly grateful for all the opportunities the Guard has provided me as well as the amazing people I have met along the way. The military is a unique community filled with talented and selfless people who look out for one another. There are several who pushed me and helped me get to where I am today, and for that, I will always be grateful. I would not change a thing.