Special Bond Among MSIT Students and Staff

Associate Director Abi Shay explains how a unique approach to support helps Northwestern's MSIT program create a close community among students and staff.

By Abi Shay

The Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) program at Northwestern University is a niche program for people in IT who seek to understand and communicate its essential business value to the larger organization. Within the program, we seek to create a community of students who feel comfortable taking intellectual risks in the classroom. In order to build this community and support this kind of academic risk-taking requires an understanding of the individuals within the program, particularly her/his goals and interests.

My colleagues and I delve into these topics as part of the admission process and work closely with the students throughout their time in the program to understand how the lessons they learn in the MSIT program change or influence their career aspirations. 

Many graduate programs have a disparate staff that each deal with a single part of the student experience and students are passed on to different offices depending on the issue or need. In the MSIT program at Northwestern, we feel it's best for the same staff members to continue to work with students from the time they consider applying all the way through their time as alumni. Students in the MSIT program are interviewed by the same staff team that later will greet them on Saturday class days, advise and register them for quarterly classes, talk with them about individual outside-of-class needs, host quarterly student and faculty parties, arrange for graduates to walk across the stage at graduation, and who keep in touch with alumni about events, program updates and re-engagement opportunities.

When MSIT staff get to know students well, we are better able to address their needs quickly. This allows busy students to focus on their studies and not waste time worrying about a registration deadline or where to get their textbooks in time for classes, for example. When we know students from application to graduation, we are able to have a sense of the full cohort of students, their outside pressures and/or family issues and how to support the students and advise the professors if any issues arise. MSIT wants its students to feel like coming to class on Saturdays is a safe “home away from home,” where students can challenge and be challenged by faculty and one another in order to learn and grow. Personalized support is a natural component of this program model.

As Associate Director of Northwestern's MSIT program, I feel that I get to know the MSIT students very well. I am part of the marketing, admission, and new student orientation process, and I join students on Saturday class days, take calls from students who seek a contact in different University departments, and email with students, faculty and alumni throughout the week as I keep everyone up to date on needs, events and timelines. 

I love to see a student who I saw begin the MSIT program reach graduation — and I fondly look back with them on the worries that they had when they started the program and the amazing confidence they have when they end the program. It is a risk to go back to school as a working adult, and talking with and supporting students as they struggle and grow through this process is awesome. Frankly, these are my fondest moments!

As we prepare to welcome a new class of full-time and part-time students to the MSIT program, I look forward to getting to know these students and helping them along their MSIT journey. If you're thinking the MSIT community might be a good fit for you, please reach out to me and let me know. I'd love to answer your questions or help in any way I can.