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Learning on the Job

Maggie Thompson in her graduation cap and gown, standing in front of Holladay Hall

Helping to organize commencement has always been one of Maggie Thompson’s favorite parts of her job. As the chancellor’s communication specialist, she and other members of the Office of the Chancellor staff work with Enrollment Management and Services to coordinate logistics, speakers and more for the event. This weekend, however, she will be among the thousands of graduates to don a cap and gown herself.

Thompson will earn a Master of Science in technical communication through the Department of English this Saturday at NC State’s spring commencement ceremony.

I’ve always enjoyed school, and I thought this program, in particular, would have a lot of translatable skills for the work that I’m doing.

“In looking at technical communication programs, NC State was really the best one for me in terms of the location and the blend of having in-person and online classes,” Thompson said. “I completed my undergrad here as well, so I already knew some of the faculty in the department, and it has been the perfect fit for me. I’m very pleased with how things have turned out.”

In addition to writing, the technical communication program focuses on website design and user experience. As the person responsible for managing the Office of the Chancellor website as well as several webpages for university leadership, Thompson looks forward to incorporating new skills into her job at the university.

Thompson working in her office, at her desk in Holladay Hall.
Thompson working at her desk in Holladay Hall

“I think it’s such a rewarding experience to not only earn the degree, but everything that comes along with that — like the experience of learning something new and making new connections with other students or faculty that you may not know or interact with on your own,” Thompson said. “The way I like to approach life is that everything is an opportunity to learn and grow, and I think pursuing a master’s degree or certificate, or even just taking one or two classes, is a tangible way to really focus on that opportunity.”

Right Place at the Right Time

While Thompson has served in her current role since December 2018, her tenure with the chancellor’s office goes back even further. She started as a student intern while working toward her undergraduate degrees in English and plant biology. Near the end of her senior year, the chancellor’s communication specialist position came open and her supervisor encouraged her to apply. 

Since being hired, Thompson has served as one of the primary contacts for verbal, written and video communications coming to and from Chancellor Randy Woodson. She also facilitates leadership meetings hosted by the chancellor and supervises the office’s student interns. 

Thompson in a red graduation cap and gown, standing on the Brick Yard before her undergraduate commencement ceremony
Thompson in her undergraduate cap and gown
Thompson in her black master's graduation robes, standing next to a sign for Holladay Hall
Thompson in her graduate cap and gown

“Every day is different, and I never know what’s going to come across my desk,” she said. “I get to incorporate my technical communication and user research skills to figure out the best way to approach things in my daily work, and I get to figure out the best way for the chancellor to share his message with his audience, which I really enjoy.”

An added bonus is that Thompson gets to hang out with Woodson on a regular basis.

“I really enjoy working with him, and I can tell he genuinely enjoys his work,” Thompson said. “Nobody enjoys every part of their job, but whenever he has the opportunity to interact with students, in particular, I think that’s what makes him really shine as a leader. It’s always fun to watch.”

One of Thompson’s favorite personal interactions with Woodson came during her first week on the job, when she accompanied him to various leadership meetings and he introduced her to people around the university. On their way back to Holladay Hall one day, she and Woodson discussed their shared horticulture background, and he ended up quizzing her about the differences between sweet potatoes and yams as well as other topics. 

“It may not sound like much to other people, but it was a fun memory for me, and it’s an example of the way that he connects with people and is so much more than just the chancellor,” Thompson said. “To this day, he still talks to me about plant things, and most recently there’s an orchid in my office that he likes to give me advice about.”

An orchid on a shelf by the window in Thompson's office, which Woodson regularly comments about.
This orchid plant in Thompson’s office has been the topic of several discussions between herself and Woodson, who have a shared interest in horticulture.

For Thompson, the last five-plus years have been filled with memorable experiences like these, and she is eager to see what direction her career takes her next.

“The reason why I wanted to pursue a master’s degree is that I wanted to be prepared for whatever comes next,” Thompson said. “This job has been an amazing opportunity, and I really enjoy it, but I probably won’t do this for my whole career. I’ve always enjoyed school, and I thought this program, in particular, would have a lot of translatable skills for the work that I’m doing. So, to me, it was kind of the best of both worlds. It could help me in my current position, but also prepare me for the future.”

This post was originally published in NC State News.

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