Alumnus Joe Ciccarelli’s Gift of the Gab Pays Off | WMU Alumni Skip to main content

Alumnus Joe Ciccarelli’s Gift of the Gab Pays Off

Before coming to WMU, Joe Ciccarelli (B.A. ′07, Communication and Sociology) didn’t take school very seriously.

“I was waitlisted initially at WMU,” he said. “There was an admissions advisor who decided to take a chance on me, and honestly, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. From that point forward my perspective changed. It was the motivation I needed to start focusing on school.”Joe Headshot

While he received the dreaded mark of “talks too much” on his report cards growing up, that label proved to be advantageous as a student here. “I studied communication and sociology,” Joe said. “I've always been interested in people—how they think, interact and talk. So, it seemed like the perfect fit. Once I got to college and realized there’s a whole field of study about communicating, I pretty much had to do it.”

It's fortunate he did, because the fields of communication and sociology have played a pivotal role not only in his career trajectory, but in his life, too.

Joe went on to earn a Master of Arts in Communication from Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI, and subsequently served as an adjunct professor for five years in the school’s advertising department. A former brand strategist, he is now a creative director at Doner (a full-service advertising agency headquartered in Southfield, MI) and writer who has led work and teams of all kinds, from global brand strategies to creative campaigns, content and digital products. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wired, Adweek, CommArts, Archive, Graphis and at SXSW.

His proudest accomplishment to date, however, is more personal. “I recently read a quote that said, ‘You can be replaced at your job. You cannot be replaced at home,’” Joe said. “After recently having our first child, that hit me pretty hard and reminded me that your job pales in comparison to your family.”

“So, bringing our son into the world and being a good dad would be the thing I’m most proud of at the moment,” he added.

Joe’s pride and joy was the inspiration behind his latest endeavor, “When You Meet a Hangry Howard,” a “fun-filled, food-filled children’s book for anyone who fancies themselves a foodie or has ever been hangry. So, pretty much everyone.”

“After telling stories for some of the biggest brands in the world, I started telling them to my wife and son at 3 a.m. when he was an infant,” he said. “One of them became a children’s book.” Book Cover

Gary Ciccarelli, Joe’s father, also happens to be the illustrator for the book. During the span of his 40-year career, Gary has crafted signature illustrations for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Star Wars, Disney, Star Trek, Sega, Toy Biz, Parker Bros and Nintendo, to name a few. 

An Education that Provided a Broader Worldview

Taking an interracial communication class with Dr. Mark Orbe, professor of communication, made an enduring impression on Joe.

“I had never been in a classroom setting where we were able to talk so openly about experiences and find so much common ground between students of all different backgrounds,” he said. “It opened my eyes to a much broader way of seeing the world.”

Dr. Orbe became a mentor of Joe’s, helping him publish his first scholarly article. “But more importantly, he was always sharing lessons—through his words and actions—on how to just be a good person and a good father,” he said.

Other faculty who made a memorable difference included Drs. Chad and Autumn Edwards, professors of communication. “They were so passionate about the study of communication that it seemed to rub off on everyone around them,” Joe said. “It was also in one of Dr. Chad Edwards’ civic communication courses where I first worked on a children's book to help teach children communication skills, so maybe all these years later there was some inspiration from that.”

Speaking of inspiration, his advice for current Broncos is pretty motivating, too:

“Find things you truly care about and that truly interest you, and go all-in on them. As you get into college, then your career, there's more opportunities to do a lot of things, but it's easy to just be half-in on everything versus all-in on the right things. College, for me at least, is the time to start thinking about what the most important things are and finding ways to put your energy into them.”

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