Enhancing an International Skill Set

Professional Writing Program graduate Milly Vega takes her communication skills to the next level

Milly Vega already had more than 10 years of professional writing experience under her belt when she enrolled in our Professional Writing Program. She had worked as a:

  • Communications technician

  • Compliance specialist

  • Providers communications specialist

  • Corporate communications specialist

So I ask her why a communications professional who lives in Puerto Rico, with a journalism and public relations background, would take our online writing courses?

Milly answers, “Continuing education is essential for professionals at all levels, no matter the position they hold in their workplace. Education brings you empowerment and freedom because you can choose what you want to do in life and work for it.”

This corporate communications specialist, who has been growing her career with the same organization for the past 12-plus years, is a dedicated lifelong learner. A love of writing began at Holy Rosary School, a Catholic school in her hometown of Yauco, Puerto Rico (P.R.), a city founded in 1756 and that has a blend of Spanish, French (Corsican) and Taíno cultures.

Let’s take a look at Milly’s roots and career on the Caribbean island.

A Slight Shift in Career Goals

Spanish is Milly’s native language and English is her second. Because she liked to write in her Spanish and English courses during high school, Milly was determined to become a journalist and so enrolled at Pontificia Universidad Católica in Ponce, P.R., with a full scholarship to study radio and TV production.

For the next three years, she studied business administration and journalism—until one of her professors alerted her to better career opportunities in the public relations field.

“At college, I discovered public relations, a previously unknown career path to me that offered an array of job opportunities,” Milly recalls. “During my senior year, I switched majors to international public relations. At the time, there were few job opportunities available in Puerto Rican media outlets for soon-to-be graduates. Our media industry is small, but the number of journalism graduates is high. It would have been a challenge to land a spot as a journalist, as some media executives themselves admitted to me.

“One of my professors advised me to pursue a degree in public relations instead, as he anticipated growth in the field with many job opportunities available. I thought it would be a good career fit for me. After all, writing is a key element in public relations. I could still pursue my passion for writing while advising clients on how to communicate effectively with the public.

“As an undergraduate, I interned as a public relations assistant at Dr. Pila Hospital in Ponce. I learned about fundraising, events planning, PR and employee relations while my supervisor and I organized teams of doctors and nurses to participate in the Relay for Life event, hosted by the American Cancer Society. That experience kickstarted my career in the public relations field.”

During that time, she also interned at her hometown’s now discontinued monthly newspaper, El Cronista (The Journalist). “The owner was the first media executive who believed in my potential as a writer,” she remembers. “He ran an opinion column and several news stories with my byline; three of these stories made the paper’s front cover. With this experience, I honed my writing skills and learned about the journalism trade, something useful now as a public relations professional.” 

But by no means was her education over. Having two school teachers as parents, Milly was persuaded to get a master’s degree.

“My mom would say to me, ‘These days, almost everybody has a bachelor’s degree.’ By this she meant that job applicants must be well-prepared and highly qualified to stand out among the crowd.

“As a college senior, I aspired to get a job as a public relations copywriter. To do it, I needed specialized education in writing. So before graduation, I started researching graduate programs and found the master’s degree in media writing from Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan. The coursework comprised journalism, public relations and advertising writing courses. It was exactly what I was looking for and I enrolled.”

Once at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, Milly’s internship experiences helped her to land her first paid job as a freelance copywriter for Prensa Comunitaria, a nonprofit news agency that has since ceased operations.

“Two months into the job, they hired me as a member of the AmeriCorps VISTA program, created by the federal government in 1964 to combat poverty,” she says. “I visited low-income communities and public-housing projects to teach them how to use communication as a tool to improve their communities’ well-being.

“After completing a year of service, I earned the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, which covered some of my master’s degree costs.”

A Desire to Communicate Effectively

Today, Milly is a licensed public relations professional. “In Puerto Rico you must have a license to work in the field of public relations. I am also a member of the Association of Public Relations Professionals of Puerto Rico,” she says.

“In the 12-plus years with my current employer, MCS Puerto Rico, I have held positions in other fields aside from public relations and writing,” Milly tells me.

“From 2009 until 2017, I worked in marketing, product implementation and compliance. What I learned about the company’s operational areas during my time away from public relations has helped me in my current role as corporate communications specialist. Now I have a better understanding of our business and clients, thus increasing my desire to communicate with them effectively.” 

And that is where the Professional Writing Program comes in.

“For a long time, I had been interested in enrolling in post-graduate writing courses taught in English,” Milly explains. “At work, we write and edit communications in both Spanish and English. Being a bilingual professional today is an advantage in a globalized world that gets more competitive every day.”

Looking to hone her writing and editing skills in her second language, Milly researched online and found us.

“I chose the program for several reasons:

  1. Thanks to its online format, I could study at a university in the U.S. mainland without leaving Puerto Rico. Its flexibility allowed me to study in my free time because I could schedule when to read the modules and complete the assignments.

  2. The coursework was closely related to my job functions and aligned with current industry trends.

  3. Tuition and book costs are reasonable and affordable.

  4. Last, but not least, the instructors are experts in their fields of work.”

Milly completed Effective Writing in the Workplace, Introduction to Public Relations Writing, Writing for Social Media: Prose That Works for Web 2.0, Writing Skills Workshop, Technical Communication I and Fundamentals of Freelancing.

Of these, there was one that has made the biggest impact on her career.

“The course that has influenced me the most is Technical Communication I,” she answers. “In my work, I review and edit instruction guides and manuals for our external audiences, mostly health care providers. These are complex documents with text and visuals that differ from the usual PR communication pieces—press releases, key messages, FAQ. So when I read the list of elective courses on the program’s web page, enrolling in this one was a must.”

Not only did the course’s curriculum appeal to Milly, but the instructor also made a long-lasting impression.

“Our instructor, Arun Nevader, took me out of my comfort zone,” she admits. “He was strict when grading our assignments, but he taught us how to organize, edit and present content effectively by following eight organizational patterns.

“I still remember his assignments. He would give us a document with disorganized information about high-tech topics, such as 3D printing, and we had to apply the principles of learning theory that he taught us: chunking, queuing and filtering. Now I apply organizational patterns and principles when I review guides and manuals.”

She also found the peer-to-peer interactions in the online classroom to be positive and rewarding.

“The student pool was diverse with professionals from almost every continent,” she says. “My classmates and I would talk about our career paths, but we also talked about our cultures, food, music and traditions. Sometimes we would discover similarities among our differences. I met people who left their countries to grow professionally or to save their lives and opt for a better future. Had I not enrolled in the program, it would have been very difficult for me to meet people from Denmark, China, India, Iran, Italy and Laos, among other countries.”

Milly also noted the number of students who identified as female in her classes and how far we have come in the eyes of societies around the world.

“In my section of Writing Skills Workshop, all of the students were female, which meant to me that women are interested in sharing their own or other people’s stories. We have come a long way since the days when women wrote books using pseudonyms to hide their identities. Now we go to college and become professional writers without hiding.”

She attributes lifelong learning and continuing education in helping her be someone who can openly share her work and give—and accept—constructive feedback.

“I am a more confident communicator and a better writer and editor thanks to the program,” Milly says. “I learned techniques and patterns that allow me to write email marketing copy, video scripts, talking points, social media posts—just about any kind of piece.

“I also learned to provide useful and constructive feedback to my co-workers while reviewing their copy drafts. As an editor, you must show people that your recommendations are going to improve the copy, but you should do it in a formal and respectful way. Providing feedback to my classmates during our forum discussions, and receiving their feedback as well, taught me how to do this.”

Never Stop Learning

The Professional Writing Program also gave her the confidence to pursue yet another online certificate in corporate communication from Cornell University.

“Earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree does not mean that you can halt your education,” says Milly.

Learning should be a constant activity. Also, going to college straight out of high school differs from returning to college with a professional track record. In continuing education courses, I learned from my classmates’ real-life experiences in their fields of work.

“The public relations and communications industry changes constantly, and we must be aware of those changes and new trends to advise our clients properly. Now with social media, our field is different from what it used to be years ago, and we must keep learning.”

This goes to show that in an ever-changing world, no matter your skill level, you can always learn more about how to do what you love to do. Just like Milly.