Melanie Spain Magara was very involved in music and theater while in high school. It was her passion. Unfortunately, during her senior year she discovered that it wasn’t likely to be her profession. At a loss, Melanie enrolled at DACC in order to finish the general education requirements of a Bachelor’s degree while she decided what she wanted to do with her life.
Melanie reflects, “The community college experience … allowed me to experiment and test different interests to find a career that suited me. Shortly after beginning my freshmen year at DACC, I signed up to write for the student newspaper,” she states. “The next semester I became the editor.” She was fortunate to find a job as a part-time radio reporter in addition to her position with the newspaper. She says, “My education as a communicator during those two years was very well- rounded.”
Her interest in communication led to a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Illinois and an award-winning career as the Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs at Northern Illinois University. Melanie’s community college experience serves her well at NIU, where nearly half of all the undergraduates are transfer students who began at community colleges.
On February 14, 2008, Melanie’s professional skills and preparation were put to the ultimate test when a former NIU student entered a campus building just a short walk from her office and fired three guns into an audience of 120 undergraduate students. Six people died and 19 more were wounded in that attack. “I was in charge of all communications immediately following that event, and worked around the clock with news media from across the country and around the world,” she remembers. “It was a devastating blow to our campus community that I will never forget.”
Through it all, the university’s crisis plan held up. NIU and the Public Affairs staff have been praised for their level of preparedness, their quick response, and the wealth of information they made available to community members and concerned parents around the globe. Melanie and her staff received multiple awards for their crisis response, including the 2009 Silver Anvil Award for best crisis communication from the Public Relations Society of America.
While no education can prepare someone for a life-altering crisis, Melanie does feel that her time at DACC helped shape the professional communicator that she has become. “I can’t say enough about the quality of instruction I received at DACC,” she reiterates. “It remains a great choice for students at every level of educational preparedness. I’m proud to be an alum!”