Madelaine VanDerHeyden ’20

MA in Global Communications (Development Track)

Madelaine VanDerHeyden ’20

What were you looking for in a graduate degree program?

When I started to explore the idea of going to graduate school, I knew exactly what I wanted: hands-on experience. I believe in learning through living and that our relationships and experiences are our greatest teachers. As a result, AUP's focus on experiential learning, seen through its Cultural Program study trips and skills-oriented modules, was really attractive to me. I also wanted a smaller graduate program that would allow me to build tight relationships with my professors and peers. I felt from day one at AUP that I was not just attending a university; I was part of a real community.

What was your most memorable AUP experience?

The Sustainable Development Practicum in Auroville, India. I have often referred to my experience there as "emotional photosynthesis" – a profound "aha!” moment – that confirmed I was following the right path by attending AUP and also set me on a new one toward growth. It was an exciting, adventurous exploration of self and sustainability – one that I will always remember as a pivotal turning point in my life. When I returned to Auroville to conduct fieldwork for my graduate thesis, thanks to the generosity of the Margaret G. Slosberg Foundation, I collaborated with three local organizations I had met during the practicum to understand how they practice communication in their sustainability programs. Working hand-in-hand with these organizations provided an opportunity to see the impact that sustainability and communication can have on people's lives. It can be easy to think of communication as just material things like television and social media. However, I have learned it is the immaterial impacts of communication – such as relationship-building, dialogue and self-expression – that affect us on a much deeper level. These impacts help us bond with others, express ourselves, build understanding and strengthen our communities. They help us develop both individually and as a collective.

How has your time at AUP impacted your life and career?

AUP helped me cultivate the practical skills I needed to launch a career in communications. From strategic mapping in my classes to creating an ethnographic methodology for my fieldwork in India, my AUP experience helped me develop a personal toolkit of skills and capacities based on my strengths and interests. I now work in communications and engagement for a sustainability-oriented business association, and that toolkit has been by my side the entire time.

How can communications professionals work together to confront global challenges?

There is no one single most important global challenge. If we're talking about climate change, for example, we can't just talk about carbon emissions or rising sea levels; we also have to talk about politics, power, trade, human rights, behavior, migration and biodiversity – the list goes on! I would say everyone, communications professional or not, needs to understand this critical concept. Everything is related, and connecting the dots is the first step in transforming how we live on this planet. We need connection, and that’s exactly why we need communication.