UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As the social media manager for an international bicycle manufacturer, Haley Gustafson needs to measure the effectiveness of her advertising campaigns for her company’s brands. 

Through her master’s degree from Penn State, she is certified in Google Analytics, a service that measures web traffic, and can better leverage the data to inform decision-making at her company.

“I had basic knowledge — I was not an expert,” she said. “In one of the courses, you go through the Google Analytics suite and you get a certificate. Now I feel a lot more confident and empowered using it in my job.”

Gustafson is one of the first graduates to receive a Master of Professional Studies in Strategic Communications, which Penn State offers online through Penn State World Campus. The program will graduate 10 students during the University’s summer virtual commencement on Saturday, Aug. 15.

Haley Gustafson is seen riding a bike
Haley Gustafson works for an international bicycle manufacturer and is one of the first graduates of the Master of Strategic Communications program.
Haley Gustafson

The 30-credit program launched in 2018, with courses developed and taught by the faculty from the Penn State Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

“Our faculty brought decades of professional and academic experience to the development of the program’s course content,” said Michelle Baker, the director of online programs in strategic communications for the Bellisario College of Communications. “Students can feel confident that they are learning the most up-to-date information related to designing, implementing, and analyzing the efficacy of strategic communications campaigns.”

A highlight of this professional master’s program is the inclusion of digital media analytics, which focuses on the collection, analysis, and utilization of digital media audience data.

“All of the things that we’ve learned throughout my courses I get to apply to my job every day,” said Gustafson, of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. “I needed a program that allowed me to work full-time and also apply what I was learning in school to what I was doing every day. That’s one of the things that attracted me to the program.”

Marcus Rauhut, of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, is another one of the 10 graduates. He works in digital marketing for a nonprofit health system in central Pennsylvania. 

“About two years ago I just started looking at my career and asking myself what is next,” Rauhut said. “In order to get to what is next, I needed a master’s degree.”

Marcus Rauhut stands to the left of a statue of the Nittany Lion Shrine at the Mont Alto campus.
Marcus Rauhut works for a central Pennsylvania health system and is one of the first graduates of the Master of Professional Studies in Strategic Communications program at Penn State.
Marcus Rauhut

Rauhut said an online degree was the right fit for him because of his full-time job and family.

He said he was particularly interested in digital media ethics and analytics, and like Gustafson, he was able to apply his course work to his job.

“This degree has given me more confidence, and it’s allowed me to take on greater responsibility and take more initiative in this organization,” he said.

a headshot of Michelle Baker

The program has more than 60 students who come from a variety of sectors, such as health care, higher education, K–12 education, the food industry, and more. 

Baker said the program builds on the academic and professional experiences its students have, and it aims to provide them with the theoretical foundation to implement strategic communications campaigns and initiatives. Students also learn the skills to determine if those initiatives were successful.

She said the online master’s degree is different from the Bellisario College of Communications' other graduate options because it is a professional program rather than a research-based program.

“The College has taken the professional purpose that it serves at the undergraduate level and broadened it to the graduate level so communications practitioners who are early- or mid-career can gain the knowledge they need to advance in their careers,” Baker said.