Applying knowledge gained in the Rutgers School of Communication and Information’s Master of Communication and Media (MCM) classes to support the management and growth of enterprise-level communication and CSR projects at Johnson & Johnson is just one of the many extraordinary ways J&J Fellowships benefit both J&J and MCM students.
Since 1991, J&J has sponsored more than 120 fellows from the MCM program. This innovative and successful partnership elevates and sets the MCM program apart from its competitors in similar degree programs, and also helps J&J achieve its goals. The students who are accepted into this competitive fellowship program work for J&J 24 [OR 19.5?] hours per week during the two years they are in graduate school. J&J also provides the students with a stipend and covers their graduate school tuition.
The J&J Fellowship program was founded by SC&I Professor Emeritus Todd Hunt. Initially, all of the students worked in J&J’s communication department, but later, the Global Community Impact division and other J&J operating companies decided to launch their own fellowship programs with MCM.
“Make the most of the experience, and make Rutgers proud,” are the words Shaun Mickus remembers Hunt telling him, when he was selected as the first J&J Fellow. As the inaugural fellow, Mickus did not fail his professor, and his success set an example for all future fellows to follow.
Today Mickus is Senior Director, Local Giving, in the Global Community Impact division of J&J in New Brunswick, and for many years he has managed multiple MCM J&J Fellows. “The great thing for the students who come in, either through our group, or the Communication team, or through one of our operating companies, is getting a great experience within the company,” Mickus said. “They are getting enterprise-level communication opportunities, and opportunities to work in some of our business segments. They work on enterprise efforts such as our WiSTEM2D (Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Manufacturing & Design) program, product launches, CSR programs, and town hall events, it could be a whole variety of things. For me, coming in many years ago, as the first fellow, I certainly benefitted from the opportunity and I am forever grateful. I’ve said this multiple times to Professor Todd Hunt and anybody who cares to listen about the value of this program, it changed my life in many profound ways.”
Michael Bzdak, Ph.D., Global Director, Employee Engagement, in the in the Global Community Impact division of J&J, also manages J&J Fellows and he teaches the MCM course Corporate Social Responsibility & Communication in the Business-Society Relationship.“
The biggest contribution the fellows make to J&J, Bzdak said, is “The freshness of thought. We are too often in our own silos here, so to have somebody very objectively come in and think about things in a different way has been refreshing for all of us.”
J&J Fellows assume an enormous amount of responsibility. Mickus said fellows in communications do speech writing for senior leaders, work on product launch teams, websites, digital media, “everything you can imagine from a communications capacity.” On the Global Community Impact side, they do communication work and manage large projects.
Gaining extraordinary experience at a variety of J&J locations and areas of responsibility
Peg Forrestel, who is Director, Janssen Community Impact, and leads the Community Impact team on behalf of the U.S.-based Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, said “their responsibilities include charitable giving, employee giving, and community relations.” She explained that their charitable giving, which includes cash and pharmaceutical product donations, “is directed toward advancing the health of patients in our therapeutic areas and in the communities where they live and work.”
After having worked with MCM students for the last 11 years, Forrestel said, “The most significant benefit of the program to students is exposure across the board: to different aspects of Corporate Social Responsibility, to the breadth of Johnson & Johnson and the different careers that might be available to them, to real world application of their course work; to working in a corporate environment with multiple levels of complexity (different campuses, remote workforce, multiple businesses, multiple franchises); to owning an area of the business with responsibility to deliver on goals and objectives as well as to evolve that area to meet the changing needs of our employees, communities, and business.
“Quite simply,” Forrestal said, “we could not fully accomplish our mission without the contributions of our MCM students. They have helped us expand our scope, programming, and reach so that we could better serve our employees, communities, and business.”
In many cases, when the students graduate and their fellowships are over, J&J has hired them to fill permanent positions or contract positions.
Jennifer O’Neil, a former MCM J&J Fellow, is now Global Communications Lead, Global Services Organization. O’Neil said, “I am the communication lead for one of the company’s newest divisions, Global Services, a global shared service organization comprised of 4,700 employees based in 70 countries around the world. I focus on employee communication and engagement inside Global Services, as well as raising awareness of and building an admired brand for the Global Services organization within Johnson & Johnson as a relatively new entity.”
Describing her experience as a fellow, O’Neil said, “When I was a fellow 17 years ago, I supported two programs in particular: the global Women’s Leadership Initiative (an employee resource group) and the department known as Corporate Contributions back then. Both programs offered me the chance to research, write about and present topics for internal and external audiences. For WLI, I worked with a global network of communication liaisons to identify and tell stories that engaged employees in our efforts, as well as attended events where I met and networked with women leaders across the company. I supported the corporate giving program by writing content for its annual report, which helped me develop a deeper understanding of the impact the company’s contributions and outreach programs had around the world. Beyond that, the experience of working at the world headquarters office exposed me to a large corporate environment, which was invaluable.
“At Rutgers, I gravitated toward organizational communication courses and projects, which I think fueled my passion for employee communication ultimately. Doing my fellowship with the J&J Corporate Communications department launched my corporate communications career. For the past 15 years, since J&J, I’ve worked in corporate communications functions at some of the most admired and well-known companies in tech, energy and real estate in the United States. Returning to J&J is like seeing my career come full circle. Now I’m part of the company’s new Employee Communications & Engagement function—a team that didn’t exist last time I worked here!”
The Fellowship, O’Neill said, helped her obtain two positions at J&J, not just one. “The first was when I graduated in 2003 and joined the then-named Global Pharmaceutical Communications Group in Raritan, N.J. And, most recently, when I returned to the company after 15 years, it was contacts I made when I was a J&J Fellow who referred me for my current position—the power of the Rutgers network in action!”
Contributing to J&J's STEM2D Initiative
Gavin R. Duncan, a former MCM fellow who now works for J&J in New Brunswick in Corporate Communications as a Global Finance Communications Specialist II, worked on the STEM initiative as a fellow, and he attributes his current success to the fellowship program. “Rutgers MCM program definitely helped align me with the position I am currently in,” Duncan said. “As a fellow, I worked in Global Community Impact as a program manager for a women's initiative called WiSTEM2D. The program aimed to reach and spark enchantment around STEM2D (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Manufacturing and Design) in over 1 million young women and girls by the end of 2020. That base globally - including my former boss [Bzdak], who helped create the initiative five years ago.
“The work I did as a fellow was intensive but an amazing learning opportunity. J&J's culture allows their employees to be self-starters and gives them the encouragement and the space to be creative and innovative with your ideas. This environment not only enables you to be a doer but essentially forces you. Like most companies the most successful employees are the ones who can drive and deliver results. J&J is no different in that aspect.”
Some of the most rewarding moments he experienced as a fellow, he said, were “when I had the opportunity to speak to a group of J&J Bridge to Employment (Pathways) students on the significance of the digital footprint and how they should begin to professionally brand themselves online even as freshmen in college. Another is when we successfully partnered with the Smithsonian Science and Education Center (SSEC) to revamp the STEM2D curricula in 10 school districts across the world. This program alone had a potential impact on more than 3 million girls and over 6 million total students.”
Today, current MCM J&J fellow Casey Randazzo is the third STEM fellow and is continuing to grow and expand the WiSTEM2D initiative. Explaining her role, Bzdak said, “Casey is doing a lot right now. She has been managing the global employee engagement efforts – how we organize to go out and inspire one million girls. Recently Casey organized a Girl Scout day to the J&J museum to learn about the history of medical devices and how we are training surgeons. She is also reimagining our image, trying to harmonize the new design standards with our programs, reaching out on her own to the regions, having late night calls with colleagues in Asia, and making her own connections within J&J. She’s working on the whole positioning of the initiative, not just the website and logo, but also the playbook -- the look, the feel.
Randazzo said, “Being a J&J Fellow is a big advantage and an amazing opportunity for me. The day after I was accepted into the MCM Program, I emailed Dr. Rick Dool to say I was interested in learning more about the J&J Fellowship. I feel so fortunate that I’m here.”
Supporting J&J's global philanthropic efforts
Maria Wood, a former J&J Fellow, is now working as an Account Executive at MCM Healthcare and Public Relations in Basking Ridge, NJ, which is a public relations firm specific to healthcare. She said her fellowship led her to her current position. Wood worked on employee engagement and she supported philanthropic efforts for Janssen throughout the world. She said, “I worked with major non-profit organizations to donate medicines to different countries around the world. It was the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had.”
Wood was in the five-year program, so she began the MCM program when she was a senior majoring in communication at SC&I. Wood was working 40 hours a week in the hospitality business when she was an undergraduate, so she was used to being busy. Asked how she managed to balance her graduate work and the hours at J&J, and why she recommends the program, she said, the “J&J Fellowship may seem daunting when first coming into it. It’s a two- year commitment, it’s work and school, it’s J&J, obviously you want to do well. I would say take the opportunity because the exposure you get while you are there, not just meeting professionals that are there, but the level of work you get to do, the professionalism you learn, is something that is priceless, if you will, so take the opportunity and you will figure it out. If it is important to you, use your support team, talk to your professors and managers. People want to see you do well so it can be done. It’s the best experience I ever had. It changed my life. You will meet so many people and have so many connections. I have five or six directors there helping me with my resume. When you are there network, network, network because it does pay off. Everyone is so helpful in terms of talking to you about career aspirations and next steps to take. ”
Former J&J Fellow Josette Hammerstone Huber is a contractor with Kelley Services, working with Johnson & Johnson’s Global Community Impact team. “I initially started as a Fellow with the Employee Engagement team and continued with the department after my graduation in May 2019,” Huber said.
As an MCM student, Huber’s focus was on the Strategic Organizational Communication and Leadership Communication specializations, but she said the Fellowship also helped her explore Corporate Social Responsibility. She said, “I had spent almost seven years in the nonprofit sector and had wanted to make the leap into Corporate Social Responsibility. The field is incredibly hard to break into and I had started to lose hope that I would never find my way, but the Rutgers program happened to have the J&J Fellowship. I was lucky enough to be accepted to work in the very field I had sought out. My coursework, particularly Communication & Society complemented everything I was learning while at J&J.”
Asked about her most rewarding days at J&J, she said, “There are almost too many to count! I think the most rewarding part of my experience at J&J isn’t about the projects, but the people. I am honored and lucky to be working and learning alongside some of the most brilliant people in the workforce. They are constantly challenging me to look at the world in new ways.”
Explaining his view on the greatest value of the program, Mickus said, “What I have always valued with this program is the blending of academic and real-world experience, and as a student coming through many years ago, and taking PR management and organizational communication classes, and then being able to directly apply that back to the work I was doing at J&J, was just amazing. It was a gift, and it made me much more marketable and upped my game even more, having the degree in itself is wonderful, and if you are able to combine it with business and put it to work in an important and relevant way, I think that’s the real beauty of this kind of program.”
Asked to add any advice to current and future J&J fellows, O’Neil said, “Read everything assigned to you. Meet as many people as you can and don’t burn bridges—your paths will inevitably cross again. Have a growth mindset—one of the most important skills to possess in the world today is the ability to unlearn old ways of doing things and learn new things constantly. Network, network, network!” She also admonished, “Keep in touch with Rutgers!”
Dr. Richard Dool, MCM Director, noted: “this is a special and unique program that has provided value to our students and J&J for 28 years and is even more relevant today as our students contribute to various J&J social impact programs. We are very grateful for the continued support we have received from J&J over the years. We have MCM students working at J&J as fellows, interns, and co-operative staff. We also have four senior J&J executives who teach in our program bringing their experiences, expertise and insights to our classes. We use an approach in our MCM program of “Skills for Today, Knowledge for Tomorrow” blending theory and practice to enable our students to be even more effective practitioners. The J&J executives who support our fellows and classes are pivotal to this experience.
More information about the J&J Fellowship program is available on SC&I's website.