USC Dornsife Student Scores Career Success in Unexpected Industry With LA Clippers

Natalie Wong, a student in the online MS in Applied Psychology program, found her passion in a surprise career in human resources.

When Natalie Wong graduated from her bachelor’s program at Loyola Marymount University in 2017, she was gearing up to enter the dynamic world of marketing. A missed opportunity, however, ended up sending her on an even more exciting path: human resources.

Wong, who had applied for a marketing internship at the LA Clippers, was turned down for the position — but she was quickly offered another internship in their HR department.

“I’ve always been someone who’s really open to any opportunity, so I figured why not, even though I had no idea what HR professionals did at the time. I jumped into it. I always like to joke that they never asked me to leave once my internship ended,” Wong laughed.

Wong, now the human resources coordinator for the LA Clippers, credits her “really incredible” team for developing her passion for the human resources field. In fact, she became so certain it was the right path for her that she began looking for graduate programs to further her education in the industry.

To effectively juggle the position she loves with her studies, Wong knew she needed to pursue a graduate degree online. That is when she landed on USC’s online Master of Science in Applied Psychology program (MAPP).

The MAPP program, offered through USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, focuses on the intersection of psychology and business. Blending consumer and organizational psychology, the program prepares students to solve complex problems within companies and organizations, which makes it the perfect degree for those working in areas such as HR, talent acquisition and development, advertising, user experience (UX) research and more.

“The MAPP program really fit what I was looking for,” she explained. “I liked the idea of pursuing the degree while still working and having the ability to implement what I learned into the real world. I get to take the learnings and [make] an impact on my organization right away.”

Natalie Wong Online Mapp Student
While it is “definitely a balancing act” juggling her work responsibilities with her education, Natalie Wong says her management team has been “very supportive and excited for me to pursue this next step in my professional development.” (Photo: Courtesy of Natalie Wong)

While USC’s stellar reputation was also a huge draw of the program, it did mean Wong had to pick a side in a long-standing family rivalry: Trojans vs. Bruins.

“My sister also went to USC for dental hygiene … and then our brother went to UCLA, and so it’s a house divided. I used to be the person in the middle saying, ‘Go, LMU!’ But now I’ve gone to the USC side. It’s a good side to be on,” she explained. “I’m excited to go to the football games … but what I’m really excited about is that afterwards I’ll have access the USC alumni network and connections with these amazing professors.”

Although Wong is only in her second semester, she said she’s already feeling the impact of USC’s Trojan Family, citing her MAPP cohort as a nationwide support system, with students signing into class from all across the U.S.

“What I’ve found really enjoyable about MAPP is that the professors and my classmates are very engaged and thoughtful, and I’ve learned so much from them and their different perspectives,” she said. “It’s been a thought-provoking experience.”

Wong noted that she has been able to successfully balance her career duties and personal life with her classes and coursework. Usually signing off from her full-time job around 5:30 p.m., Wong pencils in time for working out, dinner and relaxing before diving into her program demands.

Then, she either attends class or makes headway on discussion posts, readings and other school assignments. All in all, Wong said, it hasn’t been too challenging to juggle her dual responsibilities, especially because her management team is “very supportive and excited for me to pursue this next step in my professional development.”

When asked what advice she would give to other students who are considering an online graduate program, Wong said that above everything else, they should be patient with themselves.

“It’s definitely a balancing act, but I think what’s been working for me is giving myself grace and knowing it will take time to figure it out. And that’s OK. Know that everybody is going through very similar feelings and emotions, especially now during the pandemic. Be kind to yourself because doing an online program while working is taking on a lot. You should be proud of yourself for even attempting it,” she advised.

As graduation looms, Wong says she is confident — and passionate — about continuing her HR position with the Clippers. Looking at the more distant future, however, Wong noted that the MAPP degree has exposed her to new possibilities both within and outside her field.

While she is currently leaning more toward the organizational psychology side of the program, she cited “Principles of Consumer Psychology” as a particular course highlight, as that was her first brush with the consumer lens of psychology.

“I’m really hoping at the end of this program to not only make a positive impact on my organization and bring all my learnings there, but also to have more clarity on where I want to go next, given that I’m relatively early in my career and still figuring out HR and all that it encompasses. I’m hoping to identify what my next step may be, whether that be in the diversity, inclusion and belonging field, or whether it’s in the learning and development field. I’m very open and excited to see where that goes, what my next steps will be after this program and where I can go within the HR field,” she concluded.

Learn more about the online MS in Applied Psychology program today.