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IMC & DMC scholarship recipients use communication skills to support communities

The seven recipients of the 2023 WVU Reed College of Media IMC & DMC Scholarships have at least two things in common – a desire to make positive change in their communities and a clear idea about how to do it.

Recipients Kirsten McAlpin of Sumner, Georgia; Jenna Cooper of Wellsburg, West Virginia; Megan Hansen of Sacramento, California; Julie Thomm of Charleston, West Virginia; and Sydney Starkey of Morgantown, West Virginia are enrolled in the College’s online Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) master’s degree program. Alesha Hemeda of Schenectady, New York, is enrolled in the online Digital Marketing Communications master’s degree program, and Nicolina Converso of Edgewater, Maryland, is part of the IMC program’s Defense Information School (DINFOS) cohort of military affiliated students.

“We have really amazing students with so much passion and drive,” said College of Media Assistant Dean of Online Programs Chad Mezera. He and his wife, Teaching Associate Professor Catherine Mezera, established the scholarship in 2017. “It’s a privilege to get to know them, to understand what motivates them and to help them achieve their goals,” he said. “I wish we had even more to give.”

The award is the only scholarship dedicated to online graduate students in the College of Media. Applicants must be enrolled in one of the College of Media online master’s programs in Data, Digital or Integrated Marketing Communications, and a scholarship committee reviews and selects the recipients.

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the nationally renowned IMC program, the College hopes to raise $20,000 as part of WVU’s Day of Giving March 22 to fully endow the fund and provide more scholarships to deserving students. The 2023 scholarship recipients join 12 others who have received the award since its 2017 creation.

Kirsten McAlpin

McAlpin started college right after high school while simultaneously pursuing a singing and songwriting career and touring the southeastern United States with her band. When she was approached about hosting a radio show, she put college on hold and worked in the radio industry for six years before returning to school. She is now the director of marketing and public relations for Conger LP Gas Inc. in Georgia. She has always been involved in community groups and organizations and says that the favorite parts of both her job in radio and marketing are the community outreach efforts.

Jenna Cooper

Cooper earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration - Marketing from WVU in May 2022 and held several internships throughout her undergraduate education in such areas as event planning, fitness, the arts and manufacturing. One of those internships led to full-time employment as a marketing assistant at Kalkreuth Roofing and Sheet Metal in her hometown. While her interests lie more in the arts and music – as opposed to metal roofing – her work at Kelkreuth helped her discover new passions in internal communications and corporate community engagement.

“After a long and eventful year and a half, I finally better understand what direction I would like to go with my marketing career,” Cooper said. “I want my work, and place of work, to have a meaningful mission. I want to help make a difference in people’s lives and the livelihoods of communities. I want to improve employee wellness, creating the best experience possible while they are on and off the clock. I want to be proud of my company’s message and position, knowing that the hard work has paid off. The first step in accomplishing these goals is to complete WVU’s Integrated Marketing Communications program.”

Megan Hansen

In high school, Hansen was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor that has required surgery, radiation and continued monitoring. That same year, her grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and she watched him navigate the health care system for the remaining ten years of his life. These experiences moved her to seek employment in the health care industry, and she now works as a communications specialist at UC Davis Health.

“My goal is to ensure that everyone has access to the health care services they deserve from highly trained, qualified and caring providers,” Hansen said. “Through my work, I want to change the health care education system for the better and support nursing students, medical students, physicians, nurses and other health care professionals in becoming the best clinicians they can be.”

Sydney Starkey

In the spring of 2021, Starkey attended the regional American Advertising Awards ceremony in Charleston, West Virginia, where she met several WVU IMC alumni and was impressed by their industry knowledge. That May, she graduated from Marshall University, got married and moved to Morgantown for a job as the marketing coordinator for Middletown Homes. In this role, she finds the community outreach initiatives – coordinating Christmas gifts for children in the foster care system or hosting a puppy adoption day with the Humane Society – to be the most rewarding, and she was drawn to the variety of IMC courses that would support her ultimate goal of working in the nonprofit sector.

Julie Thomm

Thomm earned her bachelor’s degree in Public Relations from WVU in 2008 and has since held positions as the communications director for WV FREE Inc. and as a government relations director for the American Heart Association, where she is currently employed. Thomm has had several professional accomplishments, including winning the 2022 National American Heart Association Strategic Impact & Achievement Award and the Innovation in Advocacy Award, while simultaneously raising a young daughter as a single mom and remaining engaged in her community. She recently married and lives with her blended family in Charleston, where she hopes to use her IMC knowledge and skills to address the poor health outcomes of West Virginians.

Aiesha Hemeda

While an undergraduate student at the College of Saint Rose in New York, Hemeda worked on advertising and public relations campaigns for multiple nonprofit organizations, including RISSE, an organization that provides resources for refugees and immigrants; the National Museum of African American History and Culture; and the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect. She earned her bachelor’s degree in 2022 and now works as a public information specialist for the New York State Office of General Services.

“Throughout these experiences, I’ve discovered that I have a passion for helping underfunded communities, such as the ones I grew up around,” Hemeda said. “I have a passion for communications because I believe it is built on storytelling and that it is essential that important stories be told, especially for those who are unable to speak for themselves. As the child of an immigrant myself, I can advocate for raising awareness and support for children of immigrants.”

Nicolina Converso

Converso has dedicated her life to public service, first as the daughter of an Army service member which placed her family in six different states by the time she was 18 years old, and then as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. Since enlisting in 2010, she has deployed eight times, sailed through the Panama Canal 14 times and visited nearly every country in Central and South America. She graduated Officer Candidate School in 2020 and was an enforcement officer in Buffalo, New York, before her current assignment as a public affairs officer for the Commandant’s Office in Media Relations in Washington, D.C. While her Coast Guard career spans more than 12 years, she is new to public affairs and enrolled in DINFOS courses in 2022. The previous year, the WVU Reed College of Media established a partnership with DINFOS to offer a discounted tuition rate and to allow students to apply some credits earned through DINFOS toward their IMC degrees. Converso was inspired to enroll in the IMC program by a fellow DINFOS student.

To learn more about the online graduate scholarship and see a full list of recipients, visit To help support the IMC program’s 20th anniversary fundraising goal, contact Development Officer Mary Esposito at