Alumni Spotlight

Alan Cesar

Why did you choose your major?

I actually started at NIU studying photography when I transferred from community college, then switched to mechanical engineering a few semesters later. I could handle the science and math in that program, but seeing the engineering curriculum stretch out for years ahead of me at that point was daunting.

I applied for a job at the Northern Star while I was still in engineering, because the idea of the romance of news: The search for facts and speaking truth to power both appealed to me. But being a reclusive person, I went for a job at the copy desk, where I could help make the newspaper happen without doing all the talking with strangers that’s required of reporters.

Shortly after starting at the Star, I switched majors to journalism. My previous coursework gave me minors in art and philosophy, and I was just one course away each from minors in math and physics.

How did your major prepare you for what you are doing now?

My fine art studies gave breadth to my cultural and historical knowledge, and taught me a bit about ancient architecture. It helps me to relate to a broader range of people. It also helped me understand good visual design and cultivate an aesthetic for myself.

Engineering courses gave me a depth of understanding of the mechanics that I was already fascinated by as a hobby. I’m a car guy first, but I’m fascinated by anything with moving parts. Engineering gave me better tools to understand how things work and how to speak intelligently about them.

Philosophy taught me how to form a coherent argument and deploy it in writing.

Journalism honed that writing and communications craft to smaller scale and broader use: I can write clearly and concisely on a variety of topics. Design courses, and experience at the Star, taught me page layout—the ability to combine words, text and illustrations to tell a more complete story than any of those tools could ever hope to do alone.

What do you feel is special about the NIU program?

One thing I love about NIU generally is that it has so many robust departments. I was able to explore so many different fields without moving to a different place and applying to a different university each time. For someone who was so uncertain about my own future, the flexibility to access so many different high-quality programs in one place was a boon.

The journalism program in particular was great because the faculty was all experienced in the field. They could speak to the practical, on-the-job implications of the things we were studying. Having the ability to work at an award-winning student newspaper gave me gobs of hands-on experience with the very software I’d be using after graduation. It also provided an opportunity to exercise the skills I was learning in a very real environment, and learn to recognize elements of the craft in the AP stories that the Star ran alongside student content.

Why would you recommend your major program to other students?

Journalism is never boring. Even journalism law, which was perhaps the hardest course I took, was deeply fascinating. It all has clear real-world implications even if you don’t go into publishing. The skills I learned studying journalism and working at the Northern Star have helped me to be able to communicate at a high level on topics where the experts are typically not good communicators—technology, engineering, science and math.

If you have a hobby, studying journalism is a great way to explore that hobby and learn how to tell the world about it.

What is your current occupation?

My job now is where all my skills and interests have come together. I am the Associate Director of Digital Engagement and Philanthropy, at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. It’s a long title but also not very descriptive. Due to being a polymath, I wear many hats.

I write for the Embry-Riddle alumni magazine as well as the research and philanthropy magazines. I do web layout for the alumni magazine. I’m a photographer for the Office of Alumni Engagement and Philanthropy. I maintain website content, manage email marketing, social media marketing and advertising, manage the fundraising platform and constituent databases for the Office of Alumni Engagement and Philanthropy.


B.S. Journalism, 2008

Associate Director of Digital Engagement and Philanthropy