Melissa DeLyserWhen Melissa De Lyser turned 50 years old, she gave herself two options: get a tattoo or return to school. The deciding factor: “I’m afraid of needles,” she says, “so getting a graduate degree really seemed like the lesser of two evils.”

Two years later, it seems De Lyser made the right choice. This spring, about a month before graduation, she was hired as communications coordinator for the Washington County Department of Land Use and Transportation (LUT) — a position that places her on LUT’s leadership team. De Lyser credits the SOJC’s strategic communications program with helping her land the new gig.

“The program gave me a better understanding of content marketing, branding and different styles of writing,” she says. “Every class involved significant discussion and sharing of perspectives, and that got me thinking in different ways.”

De Lyser’s path to the University of Oregon would have seemed improbable only five years ago. She was a single mom then, working full-time in central Wisconsin and caring for her sick mother, who was battling terminal kidney disease. With so much on her plate, graduate school wasn’t on the table. “I always wanted to get my master’s degree,” she says. “At that point, it just wasn’t possible.”

But eventually the pieces began falling into place. In 2011, De Lyser remarried and moved to Portland, and in 2013, her youngest daughter left for college. De Lyser finally had the opportunity to return to school — as well as the need, she says. The stagnant post-recession job market made it difficult to get hired for a management position in communications, especially without an advanced degree.

“I had more than 25 years of professional experience, but I didn’t have a lot of Portland connections, and I didn’t have an advanced degree,” she says. “I was competing against people who did.”

In 2013, De Lyser set about flipping that script, returning to the classroom for the first time since Ronald Reagan occupied the White House. The task was daunting. Like many students in the strategic communication program, De Lyser continued to work full-time while taking classes in the evenings. There were some grueling, late-night work sessions, she says, but her commitment paid off. This spring, De Lyser received the “Top Scholar Award” from Kappa Tau Alpha, and her Master’s project — a data-driven patient satisfaction survey at OHSU — received the SOJC’s award for most outstanding project in strategic communication.

And the kicker—in May, De Lyser scored her job with Washington County’s LUT, a county agency that manages transportation, planning, permitting, and road maintenance services. For De Lyser, the new position has been a great fit.

“I really enjoy working with such a great cross-section of experts,” she says. “I’m now four months into the job, and I love it.”

Story by Ben DeJarnette, MS ’15