Melissa Musiker DNS ’03 is not where she thought she would be when studying nutritional sciences as an undergraduate. Ten months into her role as Senior Director of International Public Affairs and Issues Management for corporate McDonald’s in Chicago, the Rochester, NY native reflected on how chance, tenacity, and a little levity, have shaped her career.
After completing her dietetic internship also at Cornell, Musiker taught breastfeeding to new mothers for nine months with Cuyahoga County WIC. She then moved to D.C., where she worked with pediatric HIV patients in the ICU at Children’s National Medical Center.
Burning out and desiring a career with more growth potential, she decided to attend Georgetown for a master’s degree in public policy, focused on health policy.
After graduating she took a position with Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), a trade association of the food industry. When three colleagues above Musiker in the nutrition science hierarchy left GMA in quick succession, she rapidly became a key player in major nutrition decisions on behalf of the packaged food industry. During that time, Michelle Obama made nutrition and healthy eating her signature issue, bringing food policy to the forefront.
“I was doing media appearances, speaking engagements, meetings with the White House,” Musiker said. “It was crazy and amazing and fast-paced and I was in the middle of some incredible things.”
From GMA she moved on to working in public affairs at APCO Worldwide, a global communication consultancy. Through a client assignment, she and her team were tasked with identifying thought leaders and mapping their relationships and the flow of information to help companies make corporate strategy decisions. The project, a first of its kind, turned into a multi-million-dollar startup within APCO run by Musiker.
Today, Musiker leads public affairs for 119 McDonald’s markets, all but the U.S., and oversees a team spread out between Chicago, D.C., London, Brussels, and Hong Kong.
“We are the second-largest private employer in the world, so that’s a lot of people we touch on a daily basis and our value chain is even bigger than that. It’s a tremendous responsibility and our scale is so significant that just little changes can have a tremendous impact on the world. It’s exciting and daunting at the same time.”
Musiker, who met husband Adam Tope ’02 when they were part of the Cornell in Washington program in 2001, said the Cornell community is unlike any she has encountered.
“I deeply appreciate the way Cornellian’s treat each other − whether they know each other or not − with responsibility and kindness,” she said. “That sense of community transcends graduation and continues for the rest of your life. It’s one of the most incredible things about the school.”