About Carrisa Hoelscher, Ph.D.: Carrisa Hoelscher is the Graduate Program Director for the Department of Communication at Missouri State University. As Director, she serves as the main academic advisor for graduate students in the department, as well as the director for recruitment and professional and research development for graduate students. In addition, she oversees the curriculum development for all graduate programs in the department, including the Master of Arts in Communication and the Graduate Certificate in Applied Communication. As an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication, she teaches organizational communication, small group communication, and leadership communication. Her research utilizes tension-centered inquiry to examine communication-based issues in the context of non-traditional or unique groups, organizations, and/or interorganizational collaborations.

Dr. Hoelscher earned her B.A. in English (2008) and her M.A. in Communication (2010) from West Texas A&M University. She earned her Ph.D. (2016) from the University of Oklahoma.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Missouri State University’s Master’s in Communication program, and how it is structured? What topics are covered in the core curriculum, and how can students tailor their program of study through their electives?

[Dr. Hoelscher] Through our graduate programs in communication, we are committed to a diverse and pluralistic approach to the study and practice of communication. Our mission is to provide a graduate experience that will develop students into successful communication scholars and professionals.

Our MA in Communication requires a minimum of 33 hours that is structured to give students a foundational overview of communication theory (9 hours) and methodology (6 hours). Beyond that core, students may select an additional 18 hours of elective coursework. In these electives, students may choose a number of courses from across the discipline so as to focus on becoming a communication generalist, or students may choose to focus their electives around one of our four key areas of concentration: organizational communication, communication and culture, interpersonal and conflict communication, or political communication and rhetoric. While we offer a variety of electives from across the discipline, students may also choose to engage in service learning courses or applied internships that further enhance their study of communication theory and practice.

[MastersinCommunications.com] All students of the Master’s in Communication program at Missouri State University are required to take and pass a comprehensive examination. May we have an overview of the structure and content of this examination, and how students can optimally prepare for it?

[Dr. Hoelscher] The comprehensive examination requirement for our MA in Communication is satisfied by an oral presentation and defense of the student’s culminating research (either thesis, seminar paper, or professional project). In this oral presentation, students are required to defend the breadth and depth of their knowledge in the communication discipline as well as the specifics of their particular culminating research project. Depending upon the student’s research path, the oral comprehensive examination may take place in front of their selected thesis committee (for thesis students) or in a public setting open to all communication faculty members, graduate students, and any other interested parties (for seminar paper and professional project students).

[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final research-based graduation requirement, students of Missouri State University’s Master’s in Communication program can choose between a traditional thesis, a professional project, and a seminar paper. Could you please elaborate on these three options, and what each entails?

[Dr. Hoelscher] A thesis typically reports results of theory-guided, original analysis or inquiry relevant to the field of communication based on accepted methods of humanistic or social scientific research. A thesis may be an instance of social scientific inquiry, employing appropriate quantitative or qualitative methods, or it may be an example of rhetorical analysis based on rhetorical theory and the humanistic methods mainstream to that mode of inquiry.

Thesis lengths vary widely, often dependent on the topic and method of research. Between 80 and 100 pages is the typical length of a thesis in our department. Most students who choose to complete a thesis in our program are interested in pursuing a career in academia (either teaching or pursuing further education such as a Ph.D. or a J.D.).

Students writing a thesis choose a faculty member to serve as their thesis advisor and two additional faculty members to serve on their thesis committee. This full committee of three guides the student throughout the process and is the body to whom the student must defend their work.

A seminar paper is an original composition of publishable quality that explores a topic or answers a question relevant to the field of communication through bibliographic and empirical research. To illustrate, seminar papers often resemble published articles in communication-based academic journals. They survey, report and draw conclusions from published theory and research on the topic or question under analysis. They may also report data findings.

Graduate students choose the professional project option to extend their academic experience by engaging in the development, enactment, and assessment of an applied communication project. Each project is unique, but examples include workshops, case studies, campaigns, trainings, creation of websites, and communication assessments. Graduate students develop professional projects based on the student’s chosen area of study.

For both the seminar paper and professional project option, students select a faculty member to advise the project. The completed project is submitted to the departmental Seminar Paper Review Committee and must be deemed acceptable by that committee before the student is eligible to complete their degree.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Missouri State University’s Master’s in Communication program? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems?

[Dr. Hoelscher] The mentor/mentee relationship between faculty members and graduate students is one of the hallmarks of graduate education. At Missouri State, our faculty view the opportunity to mentor graduate students as one of the best aspects of their job. Beyond the advising relationship that occurs for culminating research projects, graduate students are also actively engaged in research projects with faculty members and our graduate assistantship students are trained in a variety of teaching and pedagogical practices by our faculty.

For graduate students wanting to make the most of these opportunities, the process is simple: show up and ask. Our faculty eagerly anticipate the chances they have to engage with graduate students in meaningful conversations or prolonged educational experiences.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in the Master’s in Communication program at Missouri State University, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Hoelscher] I have three key pieces of advice for prospective students. First, spend ample time on your letter of application (personal statement). We are particularly interested in why you want a graduate degree in communication, why you chose to apply to our program in particular, and what goals you hope to achieve through graduate study. The most competitive applications have letters that are well-written, clear, and compelling.

Second, choose your recommenders with care. These individuals should be able to speak to your ability to digest complex information, your passion for communication studies, and your capacity for time and stress management. Be sure to give your recommenders plenty of advance notices.

Third, check and double-check your application thoroughly before submitting. Applications to graduate programs are complex and we look for student who can navigate and follow complex instructions well.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Missouri State University’s Department of Communication also offers an Applied Communication Graduate Certificate. May we have an overview of the courses students take for this certificate, and how these courses can help advance their careers in communication across diverse industry contexts? Also, what are the admissions requirements for this certificate program?

[Dr. Hoelscher] Our Graduate Certificate in Applied Communication is a new addition to our program offerings as of this fall (2019). This certificate is designed to be completed as quickly as two semesters through 12 hours of graduate study focused on communication skills for the workplace. Students can choose from courses like communication ethics, communication and diversity in the workplace, conflict communication, public relations campaigns, and small group communication.

This particular program is well suited for working professionals interested in honing communication skills but for whom a full masters program is not necessarily feasible. Furthermore, while our MA in Communication is a traditional program that requires face-to-face instruction, this certificate can be completed entirely online if students so choose.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Missouri State University’s Department of Communication also offers an online Master of Professional Studies in Applied Communication. Could you provide an overview of the MPS in Applied Communication, and how it differs from the campus-based MA in Communication program?

[Dr. Hoelscher] The Master of Professional Studies in Applied Communication is a cross-disciplinary program which features enhancement of administrative abilities and communication skills. The program differs from the MA in Communication because it is designed to meet the needs of individuals who are established in careers and are seeking professional growth and advancement within their vocations.

The 33-hour program builds upon past work experience, and allows participants to expand their knowledge base, abilities, and skills which can lead to enhanced administrative roles within a variety of organizations. This program is offered completely online, providing students with maximum flexibility to earn their graduate degree. The interdisciplinary nature of the program includes a variety of courses on successful administration and leadership, which sets it apart from other graduate degrees. The Applied Communication option prepares you to address critical communication challenges facing organizations today, including diversity in the workplace, leading small groups, and negotiating conflict.

Thank you, Dr. Hoelscher, for your excellent insight into Missouri State University’s Master’s in Communication program!