MA in Communication

Melissa Urbansky, 2021

Melissa Urbansky

Describe your dissertation, thesis, or capstone (if you completed one):

My capstone project is titled, "Communicating with Intentional Leadership: A Formative Study on the 8 Essential Questions Leaders Ask." My research was first inspired during my first semester at GMU when I took Instructional Communication and read the book 8 Essential Questions Teachers Ask by Deanna Dannels (2015). As an Air Force officer, I read the book through the lens of leadership. Every time I read the word teacher, my brain subconsciously thought leader; every time I read the word student, my brain subconsciously thought Airman (subordinate). It led me to wonder why a book designed as a communication guide to communicate with Airmen did not already exist for Air Force leaders. Thus, my study focused on interviewing current/former Squadron Commanders in the Air Force to hear their perspectives and stories on how they communicated through various situations. I conducted 27 interviews asking questions about establishing credibility, negotiating power, managing communication anxieties, engaging with Airmen, navigating relational dynamics, acknowledging differences, providing effective feedback and making a difference. The study found that the best way to align a leaders' purpose with their actions through communication is to intentionally connect with their subordinates. In addition to completing my capstone paper, the data I gathered is currently being consolidated into a communication guide for future Squadron Commanders to reference as they navigate their own path of intentional leadership.

How did you choose your specific area of study?

I was selected by the Air Force to attend George Mason University as a Strategic Communication Fellow. This program has been a dream come true and I am so grateful my career brought me to Mason.

How did your academic experiences in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences impact you?

My time here at Mason has been 100% during the pandemic. This program taught me how to persevere through the unknown. Every professor I took a class with made the best of the situation we were in. As a mom of three, I am forever thankful for the patience and the grace my professors shared with me the first semester when we were all at home, all of the time. Additionally, I send a big "THANK YOU" to the peers that I took classes with who made the effort to connect through the computer screen. I have made lifelong friends here at Mason, yet never took one single graduate class in person.

Of which accomplishment(s) during your time at Mason are you most proud?

Receiving the Lt Col William Schroeder Memorial Award for Excellence in Strategic Communication is hands down what I am most proud of. You see, Lt Col Schroeder did the same program I am completing. He had some of the same professors. Unfortunately, five years ago as a Squadron Commander, he had a member of his unit facing disciplinary action. This member came to work one day with intent to harm the First Sergeant and Lt Col Schroeder jumped in the way and sacrificed his life to save another. The George Mason University Communication Department created this award to keep his memory alive. The George Mason University Communication Department has sparked a passion in me. A passion for people. Just as Lt Col Schroeder exemplified. And in his honor, I will live every day with courage to do what is right.

Are there faculty or staff members who made a difference during your Mason career?

Every single professor I took a course with has made a difference in my life during my Mason career. I've taken courses with and would like to express my gratitude to Dr. Nicotera, Dr. Broeckelman-Post, Dr. Craig, Dr. Kim, Dr. Kreps, Dr. Wright, Dr. Gibson, and Dr. Rowan. They all have an impressive ability to teach and value their students and for the time they spend instructing, encouraging, and inspiring their students, I say ""thank you!"

I especially want to recognize Dr. Broeckelman-Post and Dr. Mathis. The summer before I began my program, they took a chance on me to teach COMM 101. Teaching COMM 101 virtually and in person for three semesters is certainly one of the most memorable experiences I'll take away from my time at Mason. I thank them for believing in me, for mentoring me, and for supporting me (and all of their instructors) as I grew in my teaching role. I am a better human because of this opportunity.

What advice would you give to an incoming cohort of graduate students?

If I could offer five pieces of advice I would say:
1. JUMP IN with your eyes wide open.
2. Be yourself.
3. Get to know your classmates.
4. Have confidence in your abilities.
5. Communicate with your instructors. They are humans too.

What are your current career plans following graduation? What are your long-term career goals?

Following graduation, I return to the Air Force full-time. I am excited to work in the Public Affairs field for 18 months and have the opportunity to apply all I have learned here at Mason.