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The Communicator


Building careers and thriving with a remote approach

Kristi DePaul lounging on a beach in Madagascar.
Alumna Kristi DePaul of Founders Marketing has a team that stretches across 10 time zones, which means the office often can be a beach, like this one in Madagascar.

From Harrisburg to Tel Aviv, and long before millions of people were compelled to do so by health concerns, many Bellisario College alumni have been building careers and working from home.

Kristi DePaul with husband, Gil, and daughter, Ella.

Kristi DePaul with husband, Gil, and daughter, Ella.

Kristi DePaul, CEO of Founders Marketing, has called her office home since 2013. For DePaul, who earned her journalism degree in 2005, working remotely is more than just her employment situation — it’s her vision for the future.

“It's about creating equitable experiences for people,” DePaul said. Since December 2015, Founders Marketing has worked with clients focused on the future of learning and work. Splitting her time between Tel Aviv and the Seattle area, her company empowers others to remotely find jobs, collaborate internationally and pursue education — all while she does the same for herself.

DePaul's daughters Ronnie, Tamar and Ella.

DePaul's daughters Ronnie, Tamar and Ella.

DePaul, a marathon runner and mother to 11-month-old Ella, and step-daughters, Tamar, 13, and Ronnie, 15, is also grateful for the power she has to structure her life not only around work but around her interests and family, too. For DePaul and her husband, Gil, that included 12 international trips in 2018, all while she ran her own business.

Suby Ross, who earned his advertising/public relations degree in 1997, enjoys that same everyday flexibility with his at-home professional schedule. Before the coronavirus pandemic closed schools that included a 7:30 a.m. trip to the bus stop with daughters Ella, 12, and Chloe, 10. As founder and president of Robindale Media (Robindalemedia.com), a media planning and buying agency, Ross has found fulfillment in balancing his family commitments with the challenges of running his own agency.

“I felt as though my work-life balance might have been lacking some equilibrium,” Ross said. “I had a really generous network of contacts and I thought, let’s try to start something on our own, and this way I could have a little bit more control of my schedule.”

Portrait of Suby Ross

Ross, with his wife Emily’s support, founded Robindale Consulting in March 2017 and has since built a diverse portfolio of clients, ranging from automotive dealerships to frozen food companies. His team includes three full-time and two part-time employees, who all work out of their own homes in the Philadelphia area.

While Ross and DePaul have found success managing teams remotely, Stephanie Shirley, who earned her advertising/public relations degree in 2009, has taken a more individual approach to her remote entrepreneurship. She made the leap to start Bennis Public Relations at age 23 and has been a sole proprietor since July 2011.

For Shirley, working on her own has proven to be the most effective business model as she consults with more than 25 client accounts out of her Harrisburg area home.

Shirley said most of her work gets done from the kitchen table, despite the home office that her husband and former Penn State wide receiver, Scott Shirley, who earned his civil engineering degree in 2003, built for her upstairs.

“I just feel like there's something humbling about it,” she said. “There's something centering about it, that this space is kind of what I know.”

That doesn’t mean she stays at home all day. As the mother of two sons, Holden, 6, and Bennis, 4, and now a veteran independent consultant, Shirley has mastered the art of block scheduling. Chunking time together to stay in for calls and virtual meetings, balanced by days spent conducting in-person client meetings, has been key.

Portrait of Jennifer O'Meara

Separating herself from the office has also been essential for Jen O’Meara, who earned her advertising/public relations degree in 2007. The director of digital strategy at Eruptr, O’Meara said lunch away from her desk and quick breaks to take out the trash help her to stay fresh and provide the best quality work she can for her team and clients in the healthcare industry.

“I feel more productive now than I've ever been in my entire career,” O’Meara said. “You have to be disciplined enough to work and focus, but you also have to be disciplined enough to get up and take breaks and go for a walk.”

O’Meara lives with her husband, Jason, in Warrington, Pennsylvania. Her colleagues span 14 states and two countries, all working remotely. Despite this, she feels closer to her coworkers than ever before. She collaborates with people of all different backgrounds to serve clients together, no matter their ZIP code.

DePaul can relate. With a team spread across 10 time zones, she utilizes her previous experience in multicultural communications to thrive. Various roles with startups and her time as a professor of intercultural communication at Robert Morris University gave her the skills she uses now to work with clients from diverse cultural contexts.

Despite the common misconception that working from home means working alone, all four alumni agreed that connecting with clients and colleagues was still a critical part of their job.

Shirley said that was especially true in the communications field with professionals whose work is centered around constant talking and interaction. Technology has made working from home a more feasible reality for many within the past decade.

“Obviously, not every job is set up for remote working,” O’Meara said. “But there's certainly industries and companies that when when you embrace it, it can be a really incredible thing, and you can actually become more collaborative than you ever thought.”

Shirley feels that collaboration — especially from Penn Staters who have been eager to lend a hand and make recommendations throughout her journey as a remote consultant and entrepreneur. She pays it forward as the chair of the outreach committee for the Bellisario College Alumni Society Board.

No matter where they are logging in for work, these Bellisario College alumni see a future for remote working and lessons to be learned for those currently adjusting to working from home.

“People feel isolated and they feel separated when they work remotely,” DePaul said, referring especially to the current state of the work environment. “But there are really amazing ways to connect with people all over the world to grow your personal brand, to make new friends, to be able to help others to brainstorm and to get new business.”