About Cheryl Ann Lambert, Ph.D.: Cheryl Ann Lambert is an Associate Professor and the Graduate Coordinator for the School of Media and Journalism (MDJ) at Kent State University. As Graduate Coordinator, she reviews applications, provides student advising, and general support for the graduate students in the School. As an Associate Professor, Dr. Lambert teaches courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Her research focuses primarily on how public relations is depicted in the media, as well as in society. In 2018, she and her colleague Professor Michele E. Ewing received the Arthur W. Page Center Legacy Scholars Grant for studying how fake news informs crisis response strategies for corporations.
Prior to her role in academia, Dr. Lambert worked for at Chilton Publishing Company and at Sears, Roebuck and Co. as a corporate public relations professional. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Illinois State University, and her Master’s in Journalism from Temple University. She received her Ph.D. in Communication and Information with a focus on Public Relations from The University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Kent State University’s Master of Arts in Media and Journalism 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?
[Dr. Cheryl Ann Lambert] Our program is comprised of 33 credit hours, consisting of five core courses and five electives. The core courses are Research Methods in Mass Communication, Theory and Societal Role of Mass Media, Mass Communication Law and Ethics, Principles and Practices of Digital Media, and Reporting, Writing, and Editing for Media. In their Research Methods course, students learn about social scientific research in terms of quantitative and qualitative methods. Students prepare preliminary research proposals with an eye toward developing a research project or paper that they can present at a conference. Many of our students come from a journalism background, and they are used to applied research, such as conducting interviews for a news article. But in this course they are learning the scholarly approach.
Theory and Societal Role of Mass Media explores historical and contemporary methods of mass communication and mediated communication. Students learn about different theorists and scholars who have examined the ways in which news stories are shaped, how communication plays a role in changing opinions and behavior, and how communication efforts are effective or ineffective in particular contexts.
The third core course is Mass Communication Law and Ethics, where they learn about the American media law environment, the First Amendment, and the system within which media professionals operate in the United States, and a framework for ethical decision making in the mass communication context and beyond. So we will have discussions around the importance of free press, and how it is critical to adhere to the principles and practices tied to ethical decision making. There are different guidelines and expectations if you are studying journalism as opposed to public relations, for example. As a public relations professional, you’re looking to support your client, your company, and your brand, while as a journalist you want to stay completely objective and not consider solely one person’s perspective.
The fourth core course, Principles and Practices of Digital Media, is one that we are constantly adapting to incorporate new modes of digital communication. Certainly part of it is understanding what the key and current/popular social media platforms are, but we’re also looking at why these particular platforms remain successful, and how one can reach out to, build, and integrate an audience on behalf of a client or a company. It also incorporates theory and practices tied to construction of messages appropriate to different digital platforms.
Finally, our fifth core course, Reporting, Writing, and Editing for Media, is just like it sounds, with content and discussions about how to conduct interviews to gather information, and how to report information in such ways that the public can understand. This is a really good course, especially for students who are brand new to the field of mass communication and media. For the students who come with a background in journalism, it gives them a chance to deepen their skills.
Sometimes the students coming into our program are career changers, so they need to build a stronger awareness of what is going on in the media industry. In fact, back when I was pursuing a master’s degree in Journalism at Temple University, my undergraduate degree was in English. So this kind of course was very helpful to me personally, to help me understand everything from what an inverted pyramid is in the journalism context to how to communicate in a way that is clear, concise, and in support of the community interest.
The course that really helps our students be prepared for strategy development is Principles and Practices of Digital Media. The School of Media and Journalism’s (MDJ) faculty members are highly accomplished professionals and scholars who win top prizes in their fields and publish in their disciplines’ leading journals. The caliber of our faculty really elevates the training our students receive within our program. Our faculty strike an excellent balance between teaching high-level, conceptual ideas that are key in understanding the principles and ethics behind journalism and mass communication, and showing students how to apply these theoretical concepts to practical, tactical, daily work as well as strategy in the media industry.
In addition to the five core courses, students choose five electives. We believe a great strength of our program is that we allow our students to truly individualize their elective selections, by selecting courses from across the five schools of the College of Communication & Information (of which the School of Media and Journalism is a part).
In addition to courses in the School of Media and Journalism, students can choose courses in the School of Communication Studies, the School of Information, the School of Visual Communication Design, and the School of Emerging Media and Technology. We wanted to maximize the flexibility that students had to craft their own path, while also ensuring that they got the key foundational training in and understanding of core areas such as digital media, communication law and ethics, and how to conduct research in both academic and industry settings.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Kent State University’s Master of Arts in Media and Journalism program allows students to take a mix of online and campus-based courses, effectively creating a hybrid program if they wish. May we have more information on the courses that students can take online, and the online learning technologies that are used to facilitate interactions between course faculty and peers?
[Dr. Cheryl Ann Lambert] In non-Covid times, the majority of courses for this MA program are delivered in a traditional, face-to-face format. There are occasional exceptions, including conducting classes utilizing a mix of face-to-face and virtual instruction, adapting our class formats to the needs of our graduate students. For example, one of my pre-pandemic courses was offered online as well as face-to-face, as we wanted to make sure the class was available to a student who wasn’t local and who was not able to travel. For students who took the course in the campus-based mode, I offered them the option of Zooming in on any day if they wanted. That way, even the face-to-face students could benefit from the flexibility of online instruction when it was necessary. But at present, completing this degree as a remote student is not possible.
The majority of our face-to-face classes are also designed to accommodate working professionals, in that they are either after 5 pm or during the lunch hour. In terms of technology, we previously used a combination of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and Microsoft Teams. In the Covid context, online class content and student engagement/responses were delivered through a mix of synchronous and asynchronous instruction. Looking ahead, Kent State is moving to Canvas with the 2021-2022 academic year.
With office hours, too, we are flexible and highly student-oriented. We generally have times that we list on our syllabi and course management system and related websites for our availability to meet in a remote venue that is most convenient to students, but we also note that students can reach out to us and set up a meeting outside of those hours at their convenience.
Like everyone else, we’ve learned a lot of lessons about online learning and the flexibility it offers. We’re taking these insights into consideration as we look toward refining our curriculum for the years ahead.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of Kent State University’s Master of Arts in Media and Journalism program can choose between a master’s professional project and a thesis. Could you please explain what the required deliverables are for the professional project and thesis, respectively, and the support structures that students have access to during their work on their culminating experience?
[Dr. Cheryl Ann Lambert] Each student, whether they are doing a thesis or a project, has the full support of a faculty committee, including a chair who serves as the director of their project or thesis, and two other faculty members who provide input and evaluate the project. Students meet with their committee regularly, to discuss their progress. In preparation for completing their final projects and theses, students take a course dedicated to developing project plans and research proposals.
In terms of the thesis versus the project, the thesis is recommended for students who are interested in pursuing a doctoral degree, and want to conduct intensive scholarly research. The thesis itself is an original research project where the student creates and disseminates knowledge. The thesis option is typically pursued by students who are interested in pursuing academic or other research-focused careers.
For students with an eye on entering the professional world after graduation, the final projects are often a more appropriate option. That said, I had a student complete a thesis two years ago, whose focus was looking at the feminist critical-cultural critique of alternative music. I have a student completing a thesis now in our program who is doing an ethnographic research study comparing environmental non-governmental organizations in the United States and Brazil. She is conducting interviews with representatives of these NGOs to learn how they create their environmental programs and how they craft them to appeal to everyone from a five-year-old to a professional.
The professional projects, or Masters Professional Projects (MPP), are designed to provide a means for students to demonstrate the skills and knowledge they have gained during the program through creation of a deliverable in their preferred format, whether that is a documentary film, a website, or a series of webinars for training purposes. Some examples of recent projects include one that was a crisis communication plan for a Northeast Ohio tech firm. As it happened, the student who completed this project impressed the company so much that they ended up hiring her to implement her crisis communication plan. The idea is that this is something where they are doing some hands-on work on a tangible product that can be a part of their portfolio, and oftentimes students will find an organization off-campus to partner with to help them with a particular communication challenge. Students who wish to pursue a thesis also have an opportunity to do so, but the majority of our students choose the professional project option.
We have really strong alumni network, and we work to connect our students to alumni who work in areas related to their interests; however, many students also seek out project opportunities on their own. For example, another one of our students from several years ago was looking at water usage and supply sustainability in the city of Kent, and she reached out to various environmental organizations, which helped her narrow down the type of research she wanted to conduct.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Kent State University’s Master of Arts in Media and Journalism 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. Cheryl Ann Lambert] Once a student enrolls in our program, they receive support from the graduate coordinator before they even register for their first class. The graduate coordinator then assigns each student a faculty mentor whose program and research interests coincide with those of the student. As students take more classes in the program, faculty work to build professional relationships with them through coursework discussions so that students also have an opportunity to partner with a faculty member whose research expertise or communication style aligns better with their own. We want students to reach out to professors with whom they feel a kinship, and to know that those professors can serve as their full-time mentors if they wish.
In addition to the individualized faculty mentorship students receive, we also have an orientation for students every semester, since students can enter either in the fall or spring. We have a very robust Division of Graduate Studies at Kent State that provides university-wide orientations for students each semester. They also offer opportunities for students to present their research at an annual symposium, and provide competitive funding to graduate students who are looking to present their research at conferences. A smaller organization on campus, the Black Graduate Student Association, also provides opportunities for networking, mentoring, and participating in the spring conference for presenting research.
There are different layers of research and research presentation opportunities. One is within the College of Communication–we are one of five schools in the college, and we have a research colloquium where once a month a student or a faculty member can present their research. In fact, a student I am advising conducted research comparing framing of environmental disasters in American and Brazilian news media, which she just presented at our College’s research colloquium.
MDJ faculty members have a variety of professional experiences, and what we find is the most valuable for our students is our instructors providing insight into mass communication professions and helping them foster connections and their network by linking them up with individuals in the area. For our students who complete a thesis and want to go on to pursue a doctorate, we have individuals whom we will partner them with inside and outside of the School.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for Kent State University’s Master of Arts in Media and Journalism program?
[Dr. Cheryl Ann Lambert] We are looking for student applications with authentic voices and clear descriptions of student professional goals and what they hope to achieve by pursuing graduate studies in our program. We also want an indication that they have carefully reviewed our program and that they’ve considered how our program’s curriculum and faculty connect to them. We are not just looking for individuals who are going straight from undergrad to a graduate degree–we are also looking for older professionals who are career changers, as well as those who want to take the next step in their career in journalism, public relations, mass media, advertising, production or a related field.
We look in particular at students’ past academic performance in subjects such as mass communication, English, public relations, marketing, etc. Personally, what I look for is for folks to be honest about anything they perceive as a potential weakness as well. Let’s say, for example, that their first or second semester of undergraduate was difficult for them and their grades are not that great. When they’re writing their statement of purpose for our program, it can be helpful for us to have an explanation as to why their performance was not as strong.
We’re certainly not just looking at one element–we’re looking at the application holistically. We also always have more than one person reviewing applications. An ideal applicant has work experience in mass communication, media, or journalism, and they’re looking to advance or pivot to a slightly different but related area.
Our student body is about two thirds regional students, and one-third out-of-state and international students. So it’s a really nice mixture of perspectives from a personal and professional level. The age range of our student cohorts are anywhere from the early 20s to the mid-50s and older. That gives us a great diversity of life experience as well, which is a major part of the joy of the classes, where you have a variety of students coming in with all of these different interest areas and majors and experiences, which makes the discussions much more engaging and informative. Most of our classes are seminar classes, with anywhere from 10 to 15 students per class, so we really value students whom we feel can contribute to the larger conversation on an issue or topic within media development and the communication industry.
In terms of letters of recommendation, it depends on the student and their interests whether the letters should be more academic or professional. I personally like to see either one of each–one academic and one professional, or (particularly in the case of students who want to pursue a PhD) two academic letters of recommendation. We want to get a sense of whether the candidate is capable of pursuing rigorous graduate study, and the best person who can tell us this is someone who has taught them in undergraduate. That being said, we again look at things holistically, and if someone has several years in between when they received their bachelor’s degree and when they are applying to our master’s program, it is understandable if the people who can most reliably speak to their qualifications are those who have supervised their professional work.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Kent State University’s Master of Arts in Media and Journalism program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Cheryl Ann Lambert] Our excellent and award-winning faculty members give our students a real grounding in day-to-day practical media and journalism concepts, while also giving students the abstract, scholarly foundation and skills that will help them in terms of gathering, interpreting, and sharing important knowledge about the field and evaluating information in a critical way that leads to actionable insights. Our professors have diverse areas of expertise and a commitment to student learning and progress–we care deeply about fostering our students’ success and connecting them to valuable opportunities in both industry and academia.
Thank you, Dr. Lambert, for your excellent insight into Kent State University’s Master of Arts in Media and Journalism program!