After a highly competitive application process, Kristen Kier was recently selected for a crisis communication team within the American Red Cross.
Kier was selected for the Red Cross’ Advanced Public Affairs Team (APAT), a group of employees specially trained to assist with communication responses during natural disasters. As part of the team and for eight weeks of the year, Kier will be deployed to crisis areas to handle press interviews and social media messaging on behalf of the nonprofit’s national headquarters.
The appointment is a huge honor for Kier — a student enrolled in the dual M.A. in Strategic Communication/Diplomacy and International Relations program within the College of Communication and the Arts and the School of Diplomacy and International Relations — but it almost never happened. In fact, she did not even know about the APAT until interviewing the Red Cross’ director of international communications for an assignment in Professor Martha Whiteley’s Crisis Communication class. The director suggested that she apply to the team, and after doing so Kier was accepted.
“It turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” Kier said. “I would not have known of the opportunity if it was not for coming to Seton Hall, taking the crisis communication course and completing that assignment. It led to a great opportunity.”
Although Kier has not been deployed to a disaster yet, she is receiving media training. Over the summer she participated in a weeklong seminar involving mock on-camera and Skype interviews in addition to identifying story angles she could pitch to journalists covering a disaster. Additionally, she learned the guidelines and techniques the Red Cross uses in public addresses.
Aside from the training, Kier learned a lot from her experienced colleagues on the team, which she found helpful considering she does not come from a communication background. Rather, Kier works as the headquarters liaison for business and international operations within the Red Cross’ international services division, which typically entails logistics instead of communication. Specifically, she is involved with coordinating head of state visits.
Another one of her responsibilities is deploying and mobilizing resources to help those impacted by natural disasters. Most recently, Kier sent technical experts and supplies in the wake of Indonesia’s earthquake and tsunami. And she loved the opportunity to make a difference.
“When you are helping during a disaster, it is heartwarming because you can actually see the mission in action,” Kier said, adding that she now knows why seemingly mundane day-to-day tasks like checking satellite phones are so important. “(Those phones) are used to reconnect families. So when people have hit a disaster and they have not heard from their loved ones in two weeks, you are able to give them a device they can use to let their families know they are safe. And that’s rewarding.”
As much as she enjoys her current position, Kier shared that she is excited to start applying the communication skills she learns in class to her role on the APAT. They already helped during her training, she pointed out, as knowing the stages of a crisis allowed her to manage the communication response to a simulated disaster.
But Kier’s operations work is not entirely devoid of communication — making her Seton Hall classes valuable. The dual degree student explained that her Strategic Communication education complements her Diplomacy and International Relations knowledge when corresponding with colleagues from different countries because they help her understand how to navigate cultural differences in getting messages across. They also allow her to explain cultural contexts to American Red Cross employees who are confused by comments they receive from workers overseas.
Of course, being a student in two programs on top of working a fulltime job is not easy. But she stressed that she does not regret her decision to pursue a dual degree because she feels the experience has enabled her to grow as a person. It has also taught her she can accomplish anything, which she said is true for everyone else as well.
“You can do anything that you set your mind to, and you do not need to give yourself any excuses because excuses only hold you back,” Kier said. “Every week I ask, ‘You know what? This is something that you want. See it through. Make sure you finish your degrees because why start if you do not finish?’”
The College of Communication and the Arts currently offers three graduate-level programs, including Museum Professions, Communication, and Public Relations. In addition, four dual-degree options, including three accelerated master's/B.A. programs and a dual M.A. degree with the School of Diplomacy and International Relations are offered.