About Chris Gurrie, Ed.D.: Chris Gurrie is an Associate Professor and the Director of the Master of Arts in Professional Communication at The University of Tampa, a program that he co-created with his colleague Aimee Whiteside. As Director, he oversees the mentorship of all students in the Master’s program, appoints and supports faculty, updates the curriculum in collaboration with faculty, and helps to facilitate partnerships and events that enhance students’ professional development. As a scholar, Dr. Gurrie researches the social impact of various communication platforms and technologies, as well as the role of storytelling and speech in the performative arts. He has received awards from the Florida Communication Association for his commitment to students and the caliber of his research. In addition to his responsibilities at The Univesrity of Tampa, Dr. Gurrie is the President of the Florida Communication Journal and a former blogger for The Huffington Post.
Dr. Gurrie received his bachelor of arts from Purdue University, his Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communication from Florida State University, his Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University, and his Master of Science in Entrepreneurship from the John Sykes College of Business at The University of Tampa.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of The University of Tampa’s Master of Arts in Professional Communication, and the key learning outcomes that students can expect from this program? What kinds of multidisciplinary skills do students learn in this accelerated one-year program, and what types of advanced roles does this program prepare them for?
[Dr. Chris Gurrie] When I first came to The University of Tampa in 2005, Speech Communication was a minor housed within the Theatre Department, which was a very traditional arrangement steeped in the history of English literature, art, and speech. When we got a new dean, discussions for the undergraduate major were born. The idea of moving speech communication into the larger Communication Department where it would benefit from interpersonal and marketing communication courses came about. The master’s degree was also in discussions. While this was taking place, I was in fact earning my Master’s in Entrepreneurship. My experience with my degrees across marketing communication, organizational leadership, and entrepreneurship, in conjunction with my research in areas such as audience connectivity and communication, led me to developing the master’s program with my colleague Aimee Whiteside. We are now graduating our first group of students in August of this year.
The development of this program started around summer of 2018, and I was brought in because of my leadership background, my institutional knowledge and my formal education in marketing communication, organizational leadership, and business development, which made me well positioned to help design the curriculum. The initial conversations were about whether to call the degree a strategic communication degree, or a mass communication degree, or a different title altogether. We asked ourselves questions such as, “Who is our student?” That query in particular had a complex answer, because we wanted to be a well-suited degree to a wide range of people–from career changers to people who want to level up in their current job or career path. We also wanted to have recently graduated students and people who have been in the military and want to enter a career in communication.
We developed a degree where students take one class at a time, at night, so that they can work on their professional career during the day and then can focus on class–not two classes, or three, no multiple balls in the air, just one class. In terms of the courses themselves, the University of Tampa works on a four credit-hour model, and so our courses are structured as seven four-credit hour courses and one four-credit capstone experience. Of those seven courses, five are core courses which students typically take in an ordered sequence, and then they have two electives from which they can choose.
The core courses include Leadership and Professional Communication, Organizational and Strategic Communication, Global Professional Communication, Data Analytics and Research Strategies, and Conflict Resolution. These courses teach students how to develop and deliver compelling presentations, implement effective rhetorical strategies within their own professional context, optimize organizational communication dynamics, respond to crises with a communication plan, develop and improve personal and organizational branding, analyze and resolve conflicts, and use quantitative and qualitative research methodologies to evaluate and improve communication plans and campaigns. Electives that students can choose from include courses that cover emerging media technologies, popular culture and media, communication ethics, and digital communication tactics (such as media for mobile apps and online marketing).
We just had other electives approved in areas such as movement in communication, mindfulness in communication practice, and communication in higher education settings. We designed the courses so that students get the foundation in strategic communication in organizational, global, marketing/PR, and research contexts, while also having the opportunity to tailor their study further according to their interest in contemporary media tactics, tools, and issues.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their culminating experience, students of The University of Tampa’s Master of Arts in Professional Communication complete an immersive capstone project. May we have an overview of the capstone project? What are the milestones that students are expected to meet for this capstone project, and what support do they receive from faculty during their work?
[Dr. Chris Gurrie] We developed our Capstone Project with the idea that students can tailor it to their own work context. There are three lanes in terms of the type of deliverable students can complete. The first is a thesis or publishable research paper that the student can use as a writing sample for doctoral degree applications, and/or submit to a quality journal for publication. The second lane is the completion of a public relations campaign or a strategic communication campaign, depending on the student’s specific interests and the organization with which they work (which can be their place of employment or another organization). Examples include training manuals for a workplace setting, or a diversity and inclusion campaign for a business, or a marketing strategy overhaul for a certain product or service.
The third lane is unique to The University of Tampa in that students can complete a piece of artistic media–we have a couple of students who are theatre majors, and even a few actors and filmmakers, and these individuals are welcome to create a new piece of media that is related to the arts. This can be a performance, or a film, or a graphic design, or anything that the student wants to create that is related to the arts. We wanted to make sure that the arts were not left behind, and that our students who have a career in this space could have the freedom to create an artifact that was gratifying from a creative perspective while also helping to propel their career in the direction they desire.
We graduate our first class in August of this year, and so currently the Capstone Projects are still being completed. We have several students who are completing academic papers on high communication theory, examining very relevant issues such as women in art schools and art education, and diversity and equity in the communication industry across various sectors. In the campaigns lane we have people developing teacher onboarding materials, and a plan for how to adapt to COVID-19 in athletics. For the arts-related track, I have one student who is creating a film and another who wants to create a theater piece that is more accessible to people of color. These are just a few examples of what our students have in the pipeline.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in The University of Tampa’s Master of Arts in Professional Communication from the beginning of students’ tenure in the program? 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. Chris Gurrie] As the Director of the program, I typically teach the first class, where we introduce students to all of the faculty and the resources available to them. We have an orientation, and I talk with them frankly about the capstone, so that students are prepared for what it involves, and are aware that every one of our faculty is there to support them. We work to help set students up with an advisor early on, and host events to help faculty-student conversations and mentorships happen more organically. COVID-19 has kind of thrown a wrench in this; for example, we were going to have a cocktail hour sponsored by agencies in town, as well as dinners where faculty and students could mingle, and of course these are impossible currently. However, once it is safe to do so we will be reinstating these events and others to help foster the sense of community that is a cornerstone of this program and what we are all about.
I have to say that our faculty in the program are some of the hardest working people I have ever met. They are constantly available to speak with students, and to help them talk through their interests and thoughts on the course material and their capstone project. And when they feel that their research expertise is not ideally suited to a student’s research interests, they always connect that student to another faculty member who can better advise them. Our students never meet a dead end in their discussions with faculty–we keep working with them until they get the support and guidance they need to succeed. To that end, I also visit each of the classes to check in about how things are going, and to talk with students about their capstone ideas.
In addition, faculty all have handoff meetings between every single class, wherein the professor who taught the class that is currently ending meets with the professor whose class is currently starting, so that they know where students are at, what students liked about how the class was run, what they didn’t like, what successes there were, and what challenges.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For students who are interested in The University of Tampa’s Master of Arts in Professional Communication, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application?
[Dr. Chris Gurrie] One of the things I recommend to my students who are applying to Ph.D. programs, and which I would similarly advise applicants to our program to do, is to tell us in their personal statement what they would like to bring to the program just as much as what they’d like to get out of the program. The quality of our program is just as dependent on our students as it is on the faculty. Personal statements that solely talk about how this degree would be great for their job, or how they love Florida, really aren’t as compelling as those that talk about the community they hope to be a part of and contribute to here at The University of Tampa.
We want people who are eager to support each other and share their experiences and learn from the experiences of others–whether it’s stories of researching and writing journalistic articles in the field, or experiencing gender or racial discrimination in a media, marketing, or PR setting, these stories enrich our classes as much as our professors’ course content does. So I would recommend to anyone who is applying to this program to consider this program as a two-way partnership. They’re choosing the program just as much as the program is choosing them, and they have a skillset and a perspective to bring to the table as a person of color, a mother, an entrepreneur, or a gay man.
The peer-to-peer mentorship that occurs in our program is amazing–between classes students often have questions for each other, and it’s really gratifying to see the organic conversations that spring up between folks. We have one person who works for the Wisconsin legislature, and another who works at Fox 13, a local affiliate for the Fox News Channel. We have a pageant winner and both former and current athletes, and all of these people coming together furthers one of the program’s objectives, which is to help students broaden their professional perspectives so they feel better equipped to advance, retool, rebrand, and/or earn relevant credentials to achieve their career goals.
Another thing I should note is that at The University of Tampa we have two admission lanes–guaranteed admission and regular admission. The guaranteed admission track is for our current University of Tampa undergraduates and for anyone who received a University of Tampa degree of any kind within the last 10 years and maintained a GPA of 2.75 or higher. All they have to do is write a personal statement and include their resume, and they are admitted. If you are outside of The University of Tampa, we require two strong letters of reference in addition to the personal statement and resume, and we prefer a GPA of 3.0 in undergrad but 2.75 is still our cutoff requirement for regular admission.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes The University of Tampa’s Master of Arts in Professional Communication unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Chris Gurrie] The principal thing I would highlight in response to this question is our faculty are diverse in educational background and are all applied scholars who have experience in the workplace. Among our faculty is a licensed Florida attorney, a feminist scholar who completed her dissertation on the experience of incarcerated individuals, a technical writer, and a person who worked in marketing and communication management at Comcast, now Spectrum/Brighthouse/AT&T World. Our faculty know what our students are going through and what they are wanting to achieve with this degree, and they are committed to being both mentors and comrades in students’ professional and academic journeys.
Thank you, Dr. Chris Gurrie, for your excellent insight into the University of Tampa’s Mater of Arts in Professional Communication!