About Dr. Brandale Mills, Ph.D.: Brandale Mills is the Graduate Program Director at Norfolk State University’s Mass Communications and Journalism Department. She is also an Assistant Professor in the Department, and teaches Communications Research Methods, Society and Mass Communication, and Film Criticism. As Graduate Program Director, Dr. Mills advises graduate students, supervises the internship program, and helped to design and update the program’s courses and degree requirements.

Dr. Mills earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and her master’s and doctorate degree from Howard University in Communication, Culture & Media Studies. Her research interests include Black female representation in the media, with an emphasis on Black Love depictions.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Norfolk State University’s (NSU) Master of Arts in Media and Communications program, and how it is structured? What topics are covered in the core curriculum, and what are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?

[Dr. Mills] Norfolk State University is one of the nation’s only HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) with a Master’s in Media and Communication. The program offers instruction in theory, skills and criticism to prepare graduates for careers in the media industries. Students have access to a state-of-the-art video production studio, advanced editing facilities, and thriving campus media that include a newspaper, a radio station, and two cable channels. They learn to produce, edit and publish content in a timely, comprehensive, accurate, legal and ethical manner, and for multiple mass media including digital platforms, broadcast, newsprint, cable, and social and real-time media applications. Graduates tend to take jobs in news reporting, editing, anchoring, public relations, copywriting, digital content production and management.

The program is comprised of 30 course credits, which are divided between nine credit hours of core coursework, nine hours of concentration coursework, and 12 hours of electives and internship or thesis credits. There are three possible tracks within our program:

  • The Media Management track prepares students with skills, knowledge and resources relevant to understanding business operations of mass media organizations.
  • The Media Production track equips students with advanced media and audio and video production skills, as well as innovative digital editorial skills.
  • The Public Relations track equips students with skills of strategic communication and marketing relevant to building mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and diverse constituencies.

Regardless of their concentration, all students must take three core courses. The first is Communication Theory, which is essentially an introduction to the different theories that are primarily used in communications research, and how these theories work within the context of different types of research. Then there is Communication Research Methods, which goes in depth into the methodologies often used in communication research. In this course, students learn how to develop a research proposal that allows them to apply the methodologies they learn about to a topic of interest to them. The third and final core course is Law, Ethics, and Responsibility, which is a foundational course about the ethical issues that are related to communication, and the laws and practices that help shape and govern journalism, the press, and other forms of media.

Students then complete courses according to their selected concentration, such as Media Management Administration, Introduction to Mass Communications, Editing Publications, Public Relations, Radio/TV/Film, and Comparative Mass Media Systems, just to name a few. Our curriculum is very career-focused, and as a result the concentration coursework and electives that students complete focus heavily on marketable skills and building and gaining an understanding of their chosen industry of interest. For example, for the Public Relations track, we have an Introduction to Public Relations course, as well as Editing Publications, and Specialized Writing. With the Media Management track, students take Specialized Writing as well as a few courses in TV production, and the seminar in Radio, TV, and Film.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you elaborate on the different types of methodologies that are common in communications research?

[Dr. Mills] We have essentially three paradigms that govern how we conduct communications research in general. One is the critical methodology, which is when the subjects of a study participate in the research process, providing not only data but also insights, opinions, and interpretations. This methodology is helpful when researching social injustices or other phenomena and the role that communication plays in perpetuating or addressing them, because it enables people to study power dynamics and different ideologies. There is also the interpretive paradigm, through which you simply seek to understand a communication phenomenon through the gathering and analysis of relevant data. The third paradigm of note is the discovery paradigm, which is where you already have a claim or an argument in mind, which you want to confirm through your findings.

Within those three paradigms, you have qualitative and quantitative research. Qualitative is more when you conduct focus groups, interviews, etc. in order to gain insight into individuals’ perspectives, behaviors, and ways of communicating. Whereas with quantitative you conduct surveys and content analyses in order to gather measurable data and determine certain facts or insights about social phenomena.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Students of Norfolk State University’s Master of Arts in Media and Communications can choose between completing a master’s thesis or an internship for their final graduation requirement. Could you please elaborate on each of these options? What are the required deliverables for each, and what steps must students take to complete them?

[Dr. Mills] Students in the MA Media and Communications program have the option to complete a master’s thesis or earn credit through an internship. The internship for the master’s degree provides a student with practical experience in a setting in which the student expects to be employed. After completing the core course requirement, the student who chooses an internship, in partial fulfillment of the master’s degree requirement, must submit a viable internship proposal to the Master of Arts in Media and Communications Graduate Program Coordinator for approval. Students are responsible for securing their own internship.

The student must perform satisfactorily for not less than 180 clock hours in the approved agency during the semester(s) they are enrolled in the internship course. On average, students complete around 15-20 hours of internship work per week, and they must keep a log of what they work on, which is signed off by their internship supervisor. Students have a midterm evaluation that their supervisor completes and sends to the internship coordinator on campus, and are also required to meet with the internship coordinator in person three times during the semester so that we can assess how they are doing.

A common internship setting for students is media companies in the area, though they can work at non-profits or other types of companies and organizations. We also have a partnership with our campus radio station that provides our students in the Media Production track with great internship opportunities. Other opportunities that are available on campus include media or communications positions in certain departments. For example, one of our students this year is doing her internship through the graduate school, where she coordinates and contributes to communication efforts on behalf of our graduate students.

At the completion of the internship, the student is required to turn in a portfolio, including work samples, an updated resume, a reflective essay and other information relevant to the internship. Last semester I had several students create a website showcasing their accomplishments during their internship, and it was a great way for them to develop an online presence for future job opportunities. So we definitely do not limit the final internship portfolio to something written on paper, and support students if they want to use a format that serves their career interests and goals, as long as they meet the core requirements.

Students who choose to complete a thesis must identify a faculty advisor to support their research, followed by the selection of committee members. The student will present their research proposal to their committee and after their approval, move forward with completing the proposed study. The final defense of the thesis is presented to the committee members and other pertinent members of the university.

I will say that in the past 20 years of this program, very few people have chosen the thesis option. The vast majority of our students go the non-thesis route, which is consistent with our program’s focus on career development for those who wish to enter industry.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Norfolk State University’s Master of Arts in Media and Communications 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?

[Dr. Mills] With a class size average of eight, our program allows students to get individualized instruction often not available at other universities. All faculty within NSU’s Media and Communications department serve both formally and informally as mentors for students in the program. Our faculty are really dedicated to giving students a great experience, and are available to provide feedback, insights, and connections that are relevant to students’ interests and goals.

Students can also enroll in an independent studies course under the direction of a faculty member to get one-on-one engagement and direction regarding their research projects and interests. We also provide students with guidance and support during their internship experiences.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for the Master of Arts in Media and Communications program?

[Dr. Brandale Mills] Prospective students interested in applying to NSU’s Master of Arts in Media and Communications should identify three individuals to write strong recommendation letters. The program is very competitive, so the selection committee are looking for candidates with a high undergraduate GPA, a strong biographical essay and an established aptitude to succeed in the program’s rigorous curriculum.

In general, our students are primarily recent graduates from college, and their undergraduate degrees range from communications-related fields to those in science or the social sciences. We are definitely open to all majors, as long as students are able to very clearly articulate why they want to attend our program, how they could contribute to our student community, and what their goals are for their graduate experience and afterwards.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Norfolk State University’s Master of Arts in Media and Communications program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Dr. Mills] Norfolk State University, as mentioned previously, is one of the few HBCUs with a master’s in communications program. So for those students who are interested in communications research, specifically related to multicultural communities, this would be a great place for them, in terms of being able to leverage the expertise of the faculty as well as their peers.

Our program also gives students an opportunity to work with state-of-the-art equipment relevant to industry trends. The program’s production studio, led by faculty with experience in television production, broadcasting and videography, gives students a unique opportunity to get hands-on experience. Our new video production studio is one of the only studios of its kind in this area. So for those students who are interested in the television, production, and media production, this would be a great place for them to work with new technologies and hone their skills in these areas.

Thank you, Dr. Brandale Mills, for your insight into Norfolk State University’s Master of Arts in Media and Communications program!