Sixth hire at a media startup: Kelsey Alpaio

  • Assistant Editor & Designer, Innovation Leader (Boston, MA)
  • M.Eng., Mechanical Engineering, Lehigh University, 2016
  • B.A., Journalism and Political Science, Lehigh University, 2015
Creating your own company and being able to sell your product or solution takes a ton of confidence, and, while it may not appear on the syllabus as ‘confidence building,’ that’s definitely something you gain in TE.
-Kelsey Alpaio

As an undergrad with a double major in Journalism and Political Science, Kelsey Alpaio assumed she would end up working for a print newspaper until Lehigh professors introduced her to the multimedia side of the profession – coding, web design, video, and photography – and whet her interest for more.  Today she has an M.Eng. in Technical Entrepreneurship (TE) and a job that’s a great fit for her versatile skillset.

Why did you decide to enroll in Lehigh's TE master's program?

Growing up, I always wanted to be a journalist, but had this idea that the only thing I could do was work at a major print newspaper and go the super traditional route. I had some really fantastic professors at Lehigh who opened my eyes to the multimedia world during my undergraduate years and made me realize that there were so many other paths I could take and so many other interests I could pursue. I felt the TE program would give emphasis to those technological interests, but also allow me to find new ways to tell stories and develop as a journalist. And more importantly, especially with the turbulent state of journalism today, I knew the TE program would give me the chance to explore opportunities that could change the industry.

What was the best part of the TE program?

The best part of the TE program for me was the opportunity to develop my hard and soft skills—and to do so on a deeply personal level. I was able to work on my graphic design, web design, marketing, public speaking, and networking skills, while the classmates to my right could focus on improving their prototyping and woodworking skills, and the classmates to my left could focus on their understanding of manufacturing and patent law. It was great to be able to teach myself what I wanted to learn, but at the same time, learn from the people around me. I could teach others how to design a logo, and they could teach me how to 3D print.

Are there any experiences you had during TE that were especially meaningful for you?

One of the most meaningful experiences I had during TE was helping one of my classmates, Shannon Varcoe [TE '16, Founder of TroubleMaker LLC, creator of ZYX Sticks, and Innovator-in-Residence at Lehigh], with her Kickstarter campaign for ZYX Sticks. It was such an interesting experience to be able to take some of what we were learning in class and apply it, especially alongside someone like Shannon. She helped me see how to create a great business, and I helped her shoot video, write scripts, and design the landing page for the ZYX Sticks campaign. She didn't need my opinions or help, but she valued both, and I am still really grateful that she allowed me to be part of that experience.

I think that finding this kind of peer mentorship in your life is one of the most meaningful things you can do, and it's one of the many gifts that I took away from this program. Shannon and I still talk daily about all of our ideas, and we help each other with our many projects.

How did your mindset evolve as a result of your year in TE?

My mindset totally changed during TE. One of the reasons I decided to apply to the program was because I felt the desire to learn something new. I love writing, and always have, but it was also the only thing I was ever told I'd be good at. I wasn't really pushed by my teachers in high school to pursue anything related to science or math. So I didn't.

When I found myself pulled toward tech and design and other things I had never been interested in before, I realized that there was so much more to learn and to love. At the beginning, I thought I'd be awful at certain parts of the program like finance and prototyping, but it turned out that I wasn't half bad at them and actually found them interesting. That was telling. I now carry that eager-to-learn mindset with me every day. If there's something I want to learn, it doesn't matter if it's totally outside of my educational range or comfort zone. I just go for it.

What skills did you develop in TE?

I developed a ton of skills during TE, but I think the most important one was the ability to be a great public speaker. When I started TE, I wasn't necessarily a terrible presenter, but I was a terrified one. Before every big presentation or interview, I would shake in my chair. At the beginning of the program, I would even write scripts for my presentations and memorize them, but by the end of the program, I was a totally new presenter. I was calm, collected, and confident. The program taught me how to make sure I'm always prepared and, also, how to think on my feet, which has been hugely valuable in every part of my life.

After receiving your M.Eng., you landed a job as Editorial Assistant & Researcher. Tell us about Innovation Leader.

Innovation Leader is a web and print publication that focuses on corporate innovation—basically how people get new stuff to happen inside established organizations. We write about companies like GE, Disney, Coca-Cola, Google, Hershey's, Lowe's, and more. And our community is made up of more than 25,000 people in some fairly well-known Global 1000 companies. Our main mission is to help this community – mostly executives in research and development, strategy, and innovation – by providing them with useful research, case studies, networking, and resources. The company was founded in 2013 by Scott Kirsner, Frank Hertz and Scott Cohen, who had worked together at The Boston Globe. We now have seven full-time employees, as well as a team of freelance photographers, writers, and designers.

How did your TE degree help you to secure this position?

TE helped me secure this position in two major ways. First, because Innovation Leader focuses on intrapreneurship, a lot of the language and methodology I learned in the TE program overlaps with what I now talk to innovation execs about on a daily basis…things like lean startup, creativity techniques, and venture capital. My company was looking for a journalist who could interview, write, and edit. I had those skills, but my ability to talk knowledgeably about entrepreneurship gave me a leg up. Second, the mindset switch that I talked about earlier—the willingness and eagerness to learn—really helped. Having a wide variety of interests and skills can be extremely valuable in the startup environment, especially when you're able to suggest how your skills can be utilized within the company. TE helped me with both the creation and the articulation of these skills.

What are your responsibilities?

Basically, my job is to help develop content for our website and print magazine. That entails setting up interviews with innovation execs, conducting interviews, writing case studies, and editing stories written by others. I also play a role in managing our social media, and creating our weekly newsletter. However, because we're a startup, my position is really flexible in the best way.

In addition to writing and editing, I do some graphic design work. That wasn't the original plan but, as I mentioned before, TE gave me the confidence to pursue my interests and ideas. Designing is something I love to do, so instead of waiting for someone to come to me with a design idea, I took one of our old articles and I transformed it into an infographic. I sent it to my boss and said “Hey, look what I made. We should do more stuff like this.” And now I'm working on design projects daily. I design our research reports, for example, as well as ads for the magazine and one-pagers highlighting our events.

How would you sum up what TE did for you?

Coming into the TE program, I was in a fairly unique position. I had no business or engineering background, and that was pretty intimidating at first. As I said, I had spent much of my life thinking that the only thing I could do was write. That's one of the main reasons I applied for the program. In a way, I wanted to prove to myself and to everyone around me that I could do it…that I could, not only survive but, thrive in TE and earn an M.Eng.

Beyond that, though, there are all the skills I learned and the mindset changes I went through during the program. These will likely impact the rest of my career and life…and in my eyes, that's a pretty great ROI.