Inside the Classroom: Independent Study

August 30, 2016

Each degree at the School of Theology and Ministry is designed with action in mind. Students are challenged to bridge theoretical concepts to concrete solutions while honoring all of the people impacted. Instead of seeing divides between the personal / professional, spiritual / religious, secular / faith-based—the school approaches the world as one integrated whole. Over the course of each degree program, students gain the practical skills they need while also seeking authentic personal growth.

Students in the Master of Arts in Transformational Leadership (MATL) program bring their specific interests to the classroom to explore social consciousness, global understanding, and personal interconnectedness. The school works to support students in their quest to discover meaningful work that best fits their passions, desires and goals. One way of doing so is allowing students to conduct independent study courses.

MATL student Annie Tran took advantage of this unique opportunity and co-created an independent study course entitled Social Media & Leadership, which she recently completed during spring quarter.  Seeking to explore the nuances and intersections of social media and leadership principles, as well as brand identity formation and expression , Annie undertook the course with oversight from dean of the school Dr. Mark Markuly, who has extensive experience in journalism, and Hannah Mello, former Director of Marketing and Communications at the School of Theology and Ministry.

The goal of the course was to discover elements of social media’s effectiveness as a tool for leadership toward community-building, personal/professional branding and meaning-making by engaging neuropsychological and communications research on how media forms and communication styles impact relationships and identity. Throughout the course, she worked to deepen her understanding of how to leverage social media for leadership.

Co-facilitator of the course, Hannah Mello, comments:

“Annie did the hard work of deconstructing social media's use and presence in our world--specifically as it pertains to the identity and voice(s) of leaders. Dean Markuly and I had the pleasure and honor of journeying with Annie as she dove into the topic, finishing the coursework with a final paper and this artful video expression of her own thoughts from the experience.”

As Hannah mentions, Annie’s final project was to create a short video that captures her reflections throughout the process.

Annie says of her final project:

"This video was inspired by my experience as Community Manager for a social media community focused on helping shy, introverts to make connections with people around the globe. My position in the company allowed me to see what it was like to be an online community influencer. I witnessed dramatic changes in the dialogue and interactions throughout the community through implementation of ritual building and leading precedents for conversations. I then realized how much power online community influencers hold and what that implies for transformational leadership. Our interaction with social media directly impacts how we live in the world. My independent study focused on how society views women influencers and how important it is for those influencers to be their truest authentic self."

Click here to view the final cut!

Annie, who graduated from the MATL program in June, is the creative director and co-founder of Bella Luna Films, a cinematography company whose vision is to capture the stories of individuals and organizations through film so as to initiate dialogue around shared experiences and shared truths, leading to a more inspiring, compassionate global community. As the creative director, Annie carefully ensures that every detail of the creative process aligns with the company’s mission and values.

In her professional development, Annie’s Transformational Leadership degree serves her well as she critically and creatively analyzes the root issues that face individuals and teams in order to develop innovative solutions that ultimately strengthen bonds across communities and create a shared sense of belonging, connection, and commitment.

Check out to see more of Annie’s work.