The UA communication master’s program became top in the nation by receiving the Outstanding Master’s Degree Program Award for 2017 from the National Communication Association.
The UA Department of Communication decided a few years ago that in order to stand out, they needed to focus on civic engagement to help master’s students solve problems and lead their communities for the public good, said Myria Allen, professor and graduate coordinator for the UA Department of Communication.
One way civic engagement is shown is through students who create a capstone project, said Claire Strutzenberg, a communication master’s student.
The capstone project was added as an alternative option to writing a thesis for the final project UA communication masters students complete toward the end of the program, Allen said.
Students who apply for doctoral programs generally write theses, and capstone projects allow students entering the workforce after their master’s to improve their community, organization or state by using theory and research to create tangible work that future employers can see, Allen said.
Katherine Ganoung’s capstone project will examine how storytelling creates a common culture and identity for people in Fayetteville, and she is partnering with the Human Library Organization from Copenhagen, Denmark, to organize a human library at the Fayetteville public library, said Ganoung, a communication master’s student.
Human Libraries allow people to talk with public figures within the community to gain information, and common identities and community bonding become the goals for civic engagement with Ganoung’s capstone project, she said.
The program receiving national recognition indicates to the faculty that the changes made to the master’s program were innovative, and the steps the faculty have taken are moving in the right direction, Allen said.
The National Communication Association approaches communication as the discipline that examines all constructs of communication through the humanities, social sciences and aesthetic inquiries, according
to the NCA website.
The mean starting salaries for those with a bachelor’s degree in communication nationally is $39,516, whereas the mean starting salary for those with a master’s degree is $52,526, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Starting Salary Survey for 2017.
For Emily Hoffman, a communication master’s student, receiving leadership experience and learning more about the communication discipline to in turn probably get paid more is a win-win for Hoffman, she said.
Being in the master’s program at the UofA is enjoyable to Hoffman not only because she gets to grow as student and mentor, but she also thinks the communication professor’s caring attitudes toward their students academically and personally adds to the experience, she said.
The UA communication graduate program is different in that it is a master’s-only program, Allen said. Other graduate programs around the nation sometimes include doctoral programs but not the UofA.
The benefit of having a master’s-only program is that students get all the faculty’s attention, versus competing with doctorate students for working with the professors. The UofA does not have a communication doctoral program, so students who graduate from the UA communication master’s program go into both doctoral programs and industries in various locations, Allen said.
UA alumna Angela Courage, opened her own business in 2016. Courage Communication for Change LLC is a company in Northwest Arkansas where Courage, who is CEO, consults with various companies and leads community building workshops.
After her master’s, Courage went to work at Tyson Foods in marketing and used her degree in communication, she said. With her communication degree she studied intercultural, interracial and organizational communication.
“It’s a really good thing to have a degree in communication on your resume, but especially a master’s because people assume it means that that person can communicate better and most can,” Courage said.
At one point in Courage’s marketing position at Tyson Foods, she helped develop a label that was directed toward Spanish-speaking customers. She thinks her studies in intercultural and interracial communication helped her, she said.
The diverse population of Northwest Arkansas allows for exposure to various career fields and it helps students apply what they learn in their master’s program, Courage said.
Technology industries, advertising industries and health care organizations are a few of the industries with employers interested in hiring people with communication degrees, said Erica Estes, director of employer relations for the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.
The depth of learning within the master’s program and the closer networking connections have helped Hoffman figure out which career path she would like to take, she said. Hoffman learned about executive coaching through her organizational communication course in the master’s program, and now she is looking for jobs that do just that.
An executive coach works in industries with executives to help them develop goals, rediscover their potential and provide clarity for them to in turn help the industry, Hoffman said. Being able to communicate effectively and clearly creates a stronger work environment and by becoming an executive coach she can help create those stronger work environments.
The communication faculty and students know that winning the Outstanding Master’s Program Award for 2017 only adds to the UA program’s credibility, Strutzenberg said.
“We’ve always been kind of on the cusp of being really great,” Strutzenberg said. “Arkansas has been well respected but never really well recognized. So I think for us to finally have this thing to say, ‘No, we really are up here with the top dogs,’ – I think that’s the thing that so many people are celebrating.”