About Chrissy Vanella: Chrissy Vanella is the Graduate Program Coordinator and Academic Advisor for the MS and PhD programs in Communication, Culture, and Media at Drexel University. As the Graduate Program Coordinator, she supports current and prospective students in these programs, as well as alumni, answering their questions and connecting them to relevant resources within the College of Arts and Sciences. Ms. Vanella earned her BA in American Studies from Rowan University. She also earned an MS in Higher Education from Drexel University. She recently completed the BS in Nursing program at Drexel University.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Drexel University Department of Communications’ Master of Science in Communication, Culture, and Media (CCM) program, and how it is structured? What topics are covered in the core curriculum and electives, and what are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?

[Ms. Vanella] The MS in Communication, Culture & Media is a 45-credit MS degree, heavily based in research and theory. It is an academically focused program with the goal of producing highly qualified scholars. The program includes 21 elective credits, which can be taken in any graduate program at Drexel, making it extremely flexible. Each student sits down with the academic advisor to create an individualized plan of study. The MS CCM program is an interdisciplinary program, spanning the areas of communication, sociology, and anthropology–it also includes areas in political science, gender studies, and linguistics and semiotics.

All students in the program are required to take two core classes: Theories of Communication and Research Methods in Communication. Theories of Communication provides students with an overview of advanced theories of persuasion and communication, and covers linguistics, rhetorical and discourse analysis, and cognitive psychology. Research Methods in Communication trains students in quantitative research methods including conducting surveys and experiments, evaluating empirical evidence, and defining variables and taking effective samples. Students in this course also read through different types of research studies in communication and culture to get a sense of the existing literature in the field.

After the core classes we try to give students optimum flexibility in that they then choose three courses from a menu of six Required Electives that we feel help them narrow down their focus within their degree. These six electives are Media, Advocacy, and Public Spaces; Political Economy of Media; Consumer Culture; Mass Communication and American Social Thought; Digital Subjectivities; and Political Communication. Students are then free to take three elective classes from the CCM Department at the level of 500 or above. For their remaining seven electives in the program, students have the flexibility to take courses across our entire campus, as long as they are level 500 or higher and as long as they reach out to us for approval. Students can take classes in entrepreneurship, marketing, television management, creativity studies, public policy, hospitality science, arts administration, and other areas.

We really like to empower students to take ownership of their academic and professional path. For example, if a student develops a strong relationship with a faculty member and wants to put together a project or write a paper or explore an aspect of communication, culture, or media we can even create a three-credit independent study plan for them that entails that student working with their chosen faculty member for the entire quarter. Sometimes this collaboration culminates in the student and faculty member publishing a paper together.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of the Master of Science in Communication, Culture, and Media program must develop a major research or critical paper that they submit for review by two faculty members in the program. Could you elaborate on this requirement, and how it differs from a master’s thesis?

[Ms. Vanella] For the final critical paper, students choose one paper he or she completed during the MS CCM program. The student will then work with the faculty member who originally assigned the paper to critique and edit the paper. The final product is then reviewed by a second faculty member. The goal of the paper is for students to leave the MS CCM program with a high-level writing sample that can be submitted for a future PhD application. There is no defense of this paper.

Similar to how we try to optimize flexibility for students in terms of the classes they can take to tailor their specialization, we also try our best to let students have a pretty free reign in the research paper they decide to build out and revise. Students can take a paper they wrote in a research methods course, or a consumer culture or political communication course—any topic that is within the realm of communication, culture, and media.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Drexel University’s Master of Science in Communication, Culture, and Media program, and how can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems? Additionally, what career development resources and academic services are available to students of this program?

[Ms. Vanella] The MS CCM students work very closely with the faculty. The best way to cultivate and grow these relationships is to schedule one-on-one meetings and take advantage of faculty member office hours. As Advisor, I am well connected not just to faculty in CCM program but also to faculty and staff across Drexel. I can therefore facilitate introductions between students and faculty whose research interests them, though I will also say that our faculty are extremely open and eager to support the students they teach. Many MS CCM students have published articles and books with faculty, and have also attended conferences and presented alongside the faculty. We welcome our students to create their own independent studies with faculty, as well. I think what also helps to keep our faculty mentorship strong within the program is our prioritization of small class sizes. As we are a relatively small and focused program, we tend to have class sizes of 10 students, which creates a really intimate experience.

As the Graduate Program Coordinator and Academic Advisor for the program, I serve as the primary point person for students who need logistical or administrative support. I meet individually with each student when he or she starts the program, and give them a rundown of their options within the program and how best to navigate them given their interests and goals for the program. I also email out a list of preapproved interdepartmental electives that students can choose from which can simplify their enrollment process, and announce both extracurricular opportunities and jobs to students. Students who want to take a class outside of the CCM department for one of their graduate electives can also reach out to me if they are unsure they can get into the class, and I can reach out to the advisor from that department and ask them to enroll my student.

In addition to our faculty helping with networking, Drexel has the Steinbright Career Development Center available to provide students with career services. There is a wonderful gentleman there who works specifically with graduate students to help them find internships, research positions, and other relevant opportunities. The staff there can help students with resume workshopping, cover letters, interview preparation, connections to alumni, and even just career counseling where students can talk out some of their interests and how to channel them into a career path. Some university-wide academic services that our CCM students can also leverage include the Writing Center and the Center for Learning and Academic Success.

As a department, we also look for ways to provide extracurricular programming such as webinars on a certain topic for professional development. We also host happy hours where students, professors, and alumni can come and network, and we’ve had panel speaker events on current developments in the field, such as social media and how it has impacted human communication.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for Drexel University’s Master of Science in Communication, Culture, and Media program?

[Ms. Vanella] The item most used to determine admission is your admissions essay. We want to see that you understand what our program is and that your future goals align with our mission. Drexel has a MS in Communication program that is a more practical, workforce ready program, while the MS in Communication, Culture & Media is a more academically focused track for those seeking to enter into academia, research, or go on to a higher degree. For the admissions essay, the most important element we look for is ideal fit. We’ve had exceedingly qualified applicants who have reached out about our program, but if they want to go into industry after their graduate degree, I usually point them to our MS in Communication program, which is ideally suited for preparing students for careers in areas like broadcasting, marketing, public relations, etc. That said, we do have students in the CCM program who do enter industry after graduating; they are just more in the minority.

For letters of recommendation, we prefer students to ask a former professor or a former/current supervisor—someone who can speak in detail about their ability to work on complex projects and handle in-depth writing assignments. In the letters of recommendation we also look for indications that students have motivation, focus, and an eagerness to engage with challenging academic concepts.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Drexel University’s Master of Science in Communication, Culture, and Media program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Ms. Vanella] Courses in this program are taught by fulltime Drexel faculty in the areas of communication, sociology, and anthropology. In terms of research approaches, the department strongly favors mixed methodologies. While some faculty do actual experiments and more than a few conduct content, network, and other statistical analyses, others are more qualitatively oriented, engaged in discourse analysis, in-depth interviews, and ethnography. Many of the faculty cross these methodological divides, equally sympathetic to all. I believe our focus on interdisciplinary and individualized studies for each of our students makes our program distinctive.

The culture in our program is also highly collegial. Faculty regard students as junior colleagues. The students have carried this culture one step further: On their own initiative, they write professional papers collaboratively with each other. While students are always invited to participate in the faculties’ own ongoing projects, they are not required to do so. Faculty are willing to assist on topics and research projects that students themselves originate. The goal of our program is to develop academic scholars who are prepared to go on to work in academia or pursue a doctoral degree.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Drexel University also offers a PhD program in Communication, Culture, and Media. Could you please provide an overview of this program, how it is structured, and how it differs from the Master of Science in Communication, Culture, and Media?

[Ms. Vanella] The PhD in Communication, Culture & Media program is closely aligned with the MS in Communication, Culture & Media program. There is some overlap in course work and the MS students are often in the same classes as the PhD students. While the MS program is a 45-credit degree, the PhD program is structured differently and many of the credits are earned through dissertation work. Students can enter the PhD program with a bachelor’s or a master’s degree. If entering with a bachelor’s degree, PhD students complete 6 quarters worth of course work (54-credits) before taking the qualifying exams, while students entering with a master’s degree take 4 quarters worth of course work (36-credits) before taking the qualifying exams. The PhD program is a very competitive program and only admits 2-3 students each year.

Thank you, Ms. Vanella, for your insight into Drexel University’s Master of Science in Communication, Culture, and Media program!