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Planning the Future 

Author: Chad Sanborn | Image: Chad Sanborn

Planning the Future 

One Student’s Success Story with Iowa State University’s Online Event Management Program

Ashley Grabau was expecting her June 2019 performance review to be a fairly typical one. Maybe she’d get a pat on the back for doing a good job, or kudos for her willingness to take on extra projects. But instead, she changed the trajectory of her life for the better.

Grabau was the Event Management Manager with the Memorial Union at Iowa State University. She was two years into a career in the event planning industry and looking for growth opportunities. She discussed this with her supervisor during that review, and he shared that moving up in the higher education event industry without a master’s degree had been difficult for him and probably would be for her as well. But he didn’t want her to struggle with career advancement. She mentioned recently learning about a new online event management master of science degree program at Iowa State. Her supervisor encouraged her to apply, but Grabau wasn’t content to pursue the degree alone. “And so I challenged him back and said, if I’m doing it, then I think you should do it, and we should do it together.”

And they did. Both supervisor and employee began taking courses together just two months later. “We took courses together for four years, going through the entire program together, and I am very thankful to him for that.”

Grabau is now the Associate Director of Events for the Iowa State University Foundation, putting together philanthropic events across the globe for some of the school’s largest donors. The connections she created with her classmates helped her build a network of professionals that goes beyond geographical boundaries and has been invaluable to her. “Having people across the nation who I can reach out to when I have questions or need somebody to brainstorm and bounce ideas off of has been really, really impactful.”

The online master’s degree in event management is the world’s first master of science program in event management, and is in the apparel, events and hospitality management department at Iowa State’s College of Human Sciences. Students meet in real-time through live online classes, video conferences, or chat sessions; and also access course materials and participate in activities at their own pace, without the need for real-time interaction, using discussion boards, pre-recorded lectures, and self-paced assignments.

Grabau preferred the courses in which students met together at one time because she felt those better helped build meaningful connections with her professors and classmates. “I like those better because you get to know your classmates and your professor a little bit better. I think in those scenarios, just having that face-to-face time, even if it is a virtual environment, gives you the opportunity to engage in open dialog, ask questions, and make connections with people.”

She said that striking a balance between the two types of courses contributed to a comprehensive learning experience, acknowledging that the benefits of flexibility are great with not-concurrent courses. “If you are working full time, being able to join class from your office, house, or wherever you may be, even if you’re traveling for work and you’re in a hotel, you can join class from anywhere and still have access to Iowa State resources and Iowa State faculty.”

One of her favorite assignments was collaborating with her former boss in her Spring 2020 Advanced Topics in Event Management class. The pair was tasked with proposing a community engagement event idea to the city of Marion, Iowa. “We created a campaign called Making Miracles Happen, showcasing some of the facilities they have in Marion. They have a great Miracle League and Miracle Fields for kids with special needs.” Her group proposed a kickball tournament for students, families and community members with special needs, with live music, inflatables, and food trucks to make the event exciting for people. Each group then proposed their ideas to the City of Marion. “Our group ended up winning, and the city took parts of that event concept and hoped to implement it in real life.”

Seeing her group’s ideas come to fruition was one real-world application of her studies, but it wasn’t the only one. Since she was just over a semester into the program when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the discussions in her courses often came back to event planning during a pandemic. The subject matter in her courses was very applicable to what was happening in the real world and in her professional role. “We had conversations in class about what people were doing in the event industry regarding sustainability and risk management. We had opportunities to brainstorm as a class, and I took some of those ideas back to the venue where I worked, and we implemented some of those ideas right away.”

This practical connection between coursework and her professional experiences further fueled her desire for personal and professional growth. “I don’t really know what that next step is right now, but having the master’s degree will certainly open doors moving forward.” As she continues to thrive professionally, her story inspires prospective students seeking advancement in their fields. The online master’s degree program facilitated her academic and professional growth and empowered her to make tangible contributions to her community and the broader field of event management. Grabau’s journey reinforces the enduring impact of education, illustrating how it can reshape careers and lives.

If you’re looking to advance your career, choose Iowa State University. With online programs in areas from engineering to agriculture to education and more, you can find the right program to meet your goals. Your journey to success starts right here. Request more information now and take the first step towards a brighter future!

Ashley Grabau