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Dustin Manley, TOEFL iBT Outreach Manager

Dustin Manley

We recently caught up with Dustin Manley, the TOEFL iBT Outreach Manager for Canada.  Dustin did an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies and English with a minor in Psychology at McMaster, and is now undertaking a Master of Arts in Professional Communication at Royal Roads University.

You are currently working as the manager of Educational Testing Service’s (ETS) TOEFL iBT Resource Centre in Canada. What are some of the most exciting things that you do in your job?

Being the outreach manager for the most globally recognized English-proficiency test in the world is exciting on many different levels. As the TOEFL is accepted by all post-secondary institutions and many professional regulatory bodies I have the opportunity to work directly with university admission officers, ESL instructors, students, and internationally trained professionals. Aside from travel, the most exciting aspect of my job is managing and executing all aspects of the TOEFL Canada campaign: client and public relations, brand expansion, social media, market/audience research, and marketing.

“The HTML and Adobe [Creative Suite] skills that I learned in MMEDIA 1A03 were put to the test through webpage building, newsletter design, and creating marketing materials for events.”

What experiences did you gain at McMaster that were relevant to this job?

Almost all of my experiences at McMaster were relevant to my job; however, the experiences that got my foot in the door during the interview stage was my role as a coordinator for the SpeakEasy and Conversation Circle program and CMST 4A03. As a coordinator for the Student Success Centre’s (SSC) SpeakEasy program I worked very closely with international and ESL students in improving their academic language skills and acclimation to Canadian culture. My CMST 4A03 thesis on communications and psychology provided me with extensive project management and research skills, and demanded that I become a self-starter and “manage my manager”. Both of these experiences were particularly effective in honing the skills that I use to manage all aspects of my work today.

How did your undergraduate studies at McMaster prepare you for your Master’s?

Entering my Master’s program I experienced the imposter syndrome as I was the second youngest student in my cohort with only four months of full-time work experience. Nearly every individual in the program is a seasoned professional in fields such as communications, public relations, marketing, healthcare, and national defense. Fortunately, I found that the experience that I gained in my coursework, specifically in 2A03, 2B03, 3K03, and 4A03 had me very well prepared for some of the classes.

At McMaster, you did internships at the Change Foundation and at the Cossart Exchange. What experiences did you gain through these internships?

As the Cossart Exchange (now Cobalt Connects) is a Hamilton arts incubator founded and managed by local artists, I gained valuable insight into many arts programs and cultural initiatives at a local level. In particular, I assisted the Cossart Exchange in community relations, multimedia, and event management. I was exposed to new forms of writing through web content and press releases and gained valuable experience through last-minute deadlines and projects. The HTML and Adobe [Creative Suite] skills that I learned in MMEDIA 1A03 were put to the test through webpage building, newsletter design, and creating marketing materials for events. The multimedia experience I gained at the Cossart Exchange made me a more effective professional communicator.

My experience at the Change Foundation, a Toronto health-policy think-tank, exposed me to fascinating and integral field of health communications. Discovering more about Ontario’s healthcare system and health communications initiatives was very important to me due to my experience with the healthcare system which involved being at SickKids for an extended period of time as an infant. My responsibilities included assisting the communications team with the Foundation’s strategic plan, establishing a social media campaign, completing database research, and performing qualitative research regarding the state of home care in Ontario. My experiences were integral in exposing me to the full spectrum of professional communications.

“With the [Communication Studies and Multimedia Student Society], I had the opportunity to work with a fantastic team of dedicated students in providing socials, professional development events, and peer-reviewed symposiums for the student body.”

At McMaster, you worked on campus as a Communications Consultant, Research Assistant, as a Marketing and Promotions Assistant, and as a Teaching Assistant.  You were also a founding member of the Strategic Communications Competition, and you worked as President and Undergraduate Student Representative of the Communication Studies and Multimedia Student Society.  What did you gain from these experiences?

I strongly believe in balance—of work, volunteerism, and education—as they enrich each other as well as the individual.

The Department of Communication Studies and Multimedia offers a significant number of opportunities for students to learn, explore, and grow in the field. With the [Communication Studies and Multimedia Student Society], I had the opportunity to work with a fantastic team of dedicated students in providing socials, professional development events, and peer-reviewed symposiums for the student body. I was also given the honour and opportunity to sit on the new faculty hiring committee as the undergraduate student representative. In response to the frustration of qualified CSMM students who were ineligible for commerce-only case study competitions such as Canada’s Next Top Ad-Exec and MARS Apprentice, I assisted in the development of the Strategic Communications Case Study Competition (StratCOMM). StratCOMM provides CSMM students with the opportunity to design and present communication plans for real organizations and clients in the community. Even as a founder the experience of StratCOMM was invaluable for preparing me for the workplace and higher education. One of my first responsibilities for ETS was to create a 30-page marketing and communications plan for Canada, and during my residency at Royal Roads we were put into teams and given a deadline to create and present communication plans to large national clients with real communication issues.

Being a teaching assistant for CMST 2PR3: Introduction to Public Relations in Canada was one of the most rewarding experiences for me at McMaster. It was a privilege to work with and teach very bright and enthusiastic students. In addition, it gave me the opportunity to be the type of teaching assistant I always wanted as a student and genuinely assist in the learning process of my peers. I also gained skills that I use in my job everyday including teaching, responding to all emails quickly and professionally, and mediation.

“Life will always throw you curveballs.  Be as consistent as possible and continue professional development so that you have more options and a higher rate of survival when life throws you a curveball.”

Even after graduating a year ago I continue to gain valuable experience from McMaster CSMM. I continued to assist with the proposed Bachelor of Professional Communication (BPC) and spoke to its qualifications and values to both the Faculty of Humanities and the University Senate. Alongside my TOEFL and Royal Roads commitments I am currently involved in a significant public relations project headed by Dr. Flynn as a coding manager and have provided guest lectures for Dr. Savage’s qualitative research class. I am also working with Dr. Sévigny and the Masters of Communications Management program in facilitating cognitive inventory workshops for communications professionals across Southern Ontario.

What made you decide to go on to do a Master’s degree?

My motives for pursuing a Master’s degree are both financial and academic. I wanted the opportunity of a higher salary earlier in my career and I wanted to leave the door open in the event that I decide to pursue a PhD in the future.

With Dr. Sévigny’s encouragement, I applied and was accepted to the Master of Arts in Professional Communication (MAPC) program at Royal Roads University during the summer leading into my 4th year at McMaster. I did not want to postpone my career by staying in an on-campus program while incurring further student debt. I am able to work and study full-time through Royal Roads’ hybrid delivery model, which combines distance education with month-long residencies in Victoria, BC.

What was the most important experience you gained at McMaster?

Finding mentors was the most important experience that I gained at McMaster as the professors genuinely care about their students and want them to succeed. The experience that I had studying under and working with Drs. Philip Savage, Terry Flynn, Alex Sévigny, and Joanne Buckley had a significant positive effect on me during my time at McMaster. Their support continues to this day extending to my current professional, academic, and personal pursuits.

Why did you choose McMaster?

I was accepted to University of Toronto for Arts & Science, University of Guelph for English, and McMaster University for Sociology. It sounds like an odd reason, but having grown up in a town of 12,000 people in Muskoka I had no interest in moving to the big city of Toronto (the irony that I now live and work in Toronto does not escape me!). My eldest brother lived in Hamilton in at the time, and after visiting the McMaster campus I knew it was the right university for me.

I originally planned on majoring in English and Psychology during my first two years at McMaster; however, I had a tenuous relationship with mathematics. I dropped Psychology down to a minor in my second year and picked up Communication Studies as another major—one of the best choices I have made.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received in your life?

“Be as consistent as possible” and “life is going to throw you curveballs”.

I originally worked for ETS through a company called LearnHub in Toronto. After a conference in Vancouver this past December I had a business meal with a medical school representative. When the conversation fell upon career paths he mentioned that “he didn’t want to fill someone starting off with doom and gloom” but no job is completely secure, and so “be as consistent as possible”. That advice stood out because if your work ethic is consistently reliable and high-level, you will have more options and be able to survive and thrive in whatever you do and in every career path you take.

When I returned to Ontario we were notified that the Toronto LearnHub would be shutting down at the end of the month and everyone would be laid off. I continue to work for ETS. At one of our final meetings the CCO of LearnHub told us that “life will always throw you curveballs.  Be as consistent as possible and continue professional development so that you have more options and a higher rate of survival when life throws you a curveball.

“Do not be one of the people who graduates with just a degree.”

What advice do you have for McMaster students?

Make growth choices and be an involved and active student in the CSMM Department and university. The words “I’m too busy” should not be in your vocabulary. Find time and make choices that will contribute to your growth as a student, citizen, and young professional. Do not be one of the people who graduates with just a degree.

Get involved with the CSMM department and [the Student Society], compete in STRATComm, participate in the annual peer-reviewed FRESH student symposium, complete a CSMST 3B03 internship, provide additional research assistance by working with CSMM professors, and apply to become a TA. Consider applying for research grants like the USRA and SSHRC. Don’t be deterred if you don’t meet a GPA requirement—apply anyways; I cannot stress enough that displaying initiative and potential is vastly more important than GPA. There are many opportunities available for you in the CSMM department and at McMaster University. Each of them will help you gain transferable skills that will benefit you in the long run so make sure you take advantage of them.