‘Persuasion’ Offers GW Students Insight and Avenue to Careers in Communication

Long-running communication class guest session featuring GW alumni has led to multiple job offers.

Shanee Goss Cohen presents on her work at KWT Global in front of Clay Warren's "Persuasion" students and guests. (William Atkins
Shanee Goss Cohen presents on her work at KWT Global in front of Clay Warren's "Persuasion" students and guests. (William Atkins/GW Today)
January 28, 2019

By Ruth Steinhardt

Shanee Goss Cohen’s first job didn’t last long. Before her lunch break on her first day at a job in human resources at a major newspaper, the George Washington University alumna received a surprise offer from marketing and communications firm Reingold.

Torn between the possibility of a job closely aligned with her interests and ambitions and the feeling she’d already made a commitment to one she already knew wasn’t her calling, she turned to one of her former GW teachers. She phoned Clay Warren, now Chauncey M. Depew Professor of Communication in the Department of Organizational Sciences and Communication.

“He really steered me to go with my instincts in that if I knew on day one that I would be drawn in this other direction, then I owed it to myself to see it through,” Ms. Goss Cohen, B.A. ’00, told Dr. Warren’s students last December. “So I went back after my lunch break and quit. That job was literally about four hours long.”

Ms. Goss Cohen is now an executive managing director at international marketing and communications firm KWT Global. She returned to GW last semester for a special session of Dr. Warren’s “Persuasion” class, giving GW students the inside track to careers in communication.

Dr. Warren invited her to join the existing guest lecture series in 2016 alongside KWT founder and CEO Aaron Kwittken, B.A. ’92, a fellow “Persuasion” alumnus who has been returning to talk to Dr. Warren’s students for almost three decades. (In fact, Ms. Goss Cohen said, conversations with Mr. Kwittken about their mutual time at GW helped her decide to work there.)

Advising Ms. Goss Cohen on her first job dilemma was no anomaly. Dr. Warren is accustomed to helping his students work through their choices. In “Persuasion,” he teaches the elements that go into human decision making: the appeals to a listener’s context, emotions and reasoning that drive not only advertisers and social media influencers but also everyday conversations and relationships.

“If you want to come to a reasonable decision about anything, not just from your gut reaction, you have to use a method,” Dr. Warren said. “And it’s really easy to slip out of that method, because your brain’s subconscious ‘zombie subroutines’ want to make decisions for you.”

“Persuasion” had an enormous impact on Ms. Goss Cohen. She took the class in 1998 and was a learning facilitator, Dr. Warren’s term for his undergraduate teaching assistants, the following year. In fact Ms. Goss credits the class with her pivot from an interest in psychology to one in marketing.

“It shifted my focus from an interest in one-on-one communication to many-on-many,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just that one course that really lights the spark, and this was it for me.”

Recently, Dr. Warren began partnering with GW’s Office of Career Services to bring students outside his class—and even outside his department—to the guest session. And according to Amanda Rey, an industry career coach at GW who also attended Ms. Goss Cohen’s lecture in December, the partnership has paid major dividends. At least two attendees have parlayed relationships that started at the “Persuasion” guest sessions into jobs at KWT.

“It’s one of the great partnerships that we do,” she said.

Ashley Grund, B.A. ’18, is one of those students. An international affairs major who minored in communication and journalism, she heard about Mr. Kwittken’s guest lecture through a School of Media and Public Affairs email. Though she had a close friend taking “Persuasion,” she didn’t know what to expect from the session.

“I was captivated by Aaron’s emphasis on purpose, which I had studied through a bit of a different lens throughout my time in the Elliott School,” Ms. Grund remembered. “I felt immediately that his company’s values aligned closely with my own and that working at a global brand strategy agency could be a nice blend of my skills and interests.”

When the conversation was over, she introduced herself to Mr. Kwittken, although she said she is “not usually the type of person to go up and introduce myself after a career discussion.” They connected on LinkedIn, and Ms. Grund landed an interview for a KWT summer fellowship several months later. She is now an account coordinator at the firm.

“I am thankful to the GW community for calming my nerves during my job hunt and introducing me to an industry leader,” she said.

For Ms. Goss Cohen, a new mother, the impact of “Persuasion” goes beyond the professional.

“Once the course brings certain things to your awareness, you never see things the same way again,” she said. “I actually think persuasion teaching should be part of the early developmental curriculum. The degree to which young minds are bombarded with information without the tools to really decipher it—it’s so important to help them understand the mechanisms at work, so if they make a choice they’re conscious of what is impacting that.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not drawing upon the principles I learned in this course. We’re in a constant state of sending and receiving information. We’re in a constant state of persuasion.”

Student Life, Ruth Steinhardt

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