Ashley Zolenski is currently the director of development at Boston University. About 10 years ago, she graduated from the Corporate Public Relations Master of Science program at COM. Now she has returned to BU and taken over the position of Director of Development. (She is philanthropic in her private life, too, having run the Boston Marathon 10 years in a row and raised more than $100,000 for charity.) This spring, Ashley will receive her Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Boston College.
MZ: Can you tell us a little about your experience as a graduate student at BU?
AZ: I went to undergrad at Westfield State College and went right from undergrad to grad at BU. I applied for both Emerson and BU to their master’s programs, and the reason why I picked BU was because when I took a tour of the school, I liked the campus better–and I thought that the alumni network at BU would be stronger. I was really happy that I ended up picking BU because I found that the alumni network is really strong, and there are a lot of successful alumni from the school. I had really great faculty members, and I made a lot of really good friends that did the program with me at COM. So I had a great experience.
I still keep in touch with Professor Downes and some other people. I can’t say enough good things. The great thing about my master from COM is that it really helped me get valuable skills that I still use today. When I left BU, I worked in nonprofit, and I’ve been in there ever since. Even though I’m not doing what I exactly studied at BU, I still learned some of the skills that helped me with my career. So I think my education here has been invaluable. I’m so happy I came here.
MZ: Do you find any differences between BU now and the BU of ten years ago?
AZ: I didn’t know there [was] a Ph.D program of Emerging Media Studies now at COM–which is really cool. I think communication is such a changing field that ten years ago, social media was just starting, and people weren’t using social media accounts as much as they do now. None of the applications–such as Snapchat, [or] Instagram–existed when I was at BU as a student. And companies weren’t using social media that much, but now I feel like it is an age-old part of strategy for so many companies and organizations. Given that we are in the field of communication (that’s always changing), that’s one of the biggest things that I’ve seen. There are many new programs and classes that you guys can take, which I think is great.
MZ: What brought you back to BU?
AZ: I’ve been working in higher education for quite some time now, and I’ve been lucky to work in some other institutions in the area. I most recently came down the road from Boston College, and when I worked there, this opportunity came up here at BU.
I had known some people working at BU who got in touch with me and told me about this opportunity. I thought at the time, it made sense for me to think about a new career opportunity, and this one sounded really exciting–with a lot of great responsibilities I know I would learn a lot from. I thought it would be a good time to take the chance and move over here. I’m glad I did. It’s been a year and two months, and I’m still learning so much.
MZ: What motivated you to pursue a second master’s program at Boston College?
AZ: One of my biggest regrets when I was at BU (in the master’s program) is that although we had the option to take business courses–and I took one business finance course in communications–I didn’t really have that business mindset when I was at graduate school. Now that I’ve been working for a while in the field, I kind of want to get that background, so that’s what inspired me to start my MBA at Boston College and pursue that degree. But I’m so loyal to BU. Even though I’m going to graduate this spring with my MBA from BC, I still love BU.
MZ: Is there anything that you wish you had done at COM?
AZ: I do wish I have taken more business courses around marketing in the business school. I know COM offers marketing classes, and I did take an investor relation course, which is really interesting. But I think I would have tried to take more classes around finance, looking at balance sheets, and learning more about that area. Maybe some courses about economics, which I didn’t do in undergrad or at BU.
MZ: How do you like your present role at BU as the Director of Development and what do you do?
AZ: I really like my role, which is quite interesting, because I get to work with alumni, parents, and friends of the school. I work for the College of General Studies, and I also work with the School of Hospitality and Administration. Basically, I do fundraising for the school. I work closely with faculty members and the deans to raise money for different programs [according to] priorities that they have.
For example, in the School of Hospitality and Administration, we are working on a project to bring more scholarships to the school. And I get to travel around the country and meet with the alumni. Actually, I’m going to LA next week and [to] San Francisco in May to meet parents and alumni–to build relationships and get them more involved with the school. As we build that relationship, we learn more about whether they may want to support the school in a philanthropic way with their money and make a donation, and if so, where would they want to make that donation.
So it’s really cool for me because I’m building relationships, and I’m helping people make a big impact at the school with their philanthropy.
MZ: What suggestions do you have for COM students in their career paths?
AZ: I would say my biggest piece of advice is just to keep an open mind. When I was at BU in the master’s program, corporate PR was my track. I was fully convinced that it was what I was going to do. When I applied for jobs, I was only applying for PR agencies. But then one day out of the blue, I got a call from Boston Medical Center in their development office. They found my resume online. Actually, they saw that I had BU on my resume, and my manager went to COM. That was one of the reasons that she called me for an interview.
There was that network connection. And I ended up taking that job even though it was not PR. It was not corporate. It was nonprofit. I just kept an open mind and decided to take a chance. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t [have] the career I have, and I wouldn’t be here at BU working, because I would just have gone [down] another path. So I think that being open-minded and learning more about opportunities can really help someone who may not necessarily know to gather information and make a good decision. I’m glad I went to the interview and got that information.
MZ: What do you think is the most important value that BU has given you?
AZ: It’s hard to narrow down to just one, but I think one of the best things is that BU has given me is a strong network of friends and colleagues to reach out to.
Critical thinking has been great. I definitely became a better writer, although not a perfect one, because of the courses I took at COM.
And it helped give me that confidence that I really wanted and needed to go out [to] interview for jobs. I was very confident because I knew that I had a great education from an excellent school. So all of those things helped me be confident when I was going out and interviewing, and even on the work I’m doing today. It’s carried through. Ten years later, it’s still in me.
Muyang Zhou, Staff Writer
Muyang Zhou is a graduate student from Emerging Media Studies at COM. Reminiscing about the time when she worked as associate editor-in-chief for her college newspaper, she joined The COMmunicator as a staff writer. She is always willing to communicate thoughts with different people and get inspired. In addition to writing, her enthusiasm lies primarily in music and gigs.