About Chris Pudlinski, Ph.D.: Chris Pudlinski is the Chair of the Department of Communication at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU), where he also teaches courses as a Professor. As Department Chair, Dr. Pudlinski oversees graduate student recruitment and admissions, and also serves as the primary advisor for students in the Master of Science in Strategic Communication program. Dr. Pudlinski also advises the Communication Honors Society at CCSU.
As a Professor, Dr. Pudlinski teaches courses in research methods, interpersonal and relational communication, persuasion, non-verbal communication, and public speaking. His research focuses on the microanalytical practices of social support, and the dynamics and strategies of supportive communication. He has published numerous articles on peer-to-peer social support, advice and empathy, and encouragement and empowerment in peer support environments.
Dr. Pudlinski earned his Bachelor of Science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, his Master of Arts from Pennsylvania State University, and his Ph.D. from Temple University.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Central Connecticut State University’s Master of Science in Strategic Communication program, and how it is structured? What are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?
[Dr. Pudlinski] The Master of Science in Strategic Communication program is designed to prepare students to design, implement, and optimize communications within an organization, and between an organization and the public. It also trains students in the latest media technologies that are relevant to the organizational communication and public relations spaces. While we previously offered two formal tracks in Organizational Communication and Public Relations, we now do not require students to select a particular track, which leaves them free to pursue electives that align with their individual interests and goals. Additionally, we have also developed an entirely online Master of Science in Strategic Communication option, which will be offered in the Fall of 2019 (the online program is still pending approval).
The program has four core courses: (1) Introduction to Graduate Studies in Strategic Communication, (2) Theories of Human Communication within an Organizational Context (or Persuasive Communication), (3) Research Methods in Communication, and (4) an applied research course (Campaign Monitoring and Evaluation; Campaign Planning; Public Opinion; or Social Media Methods & Big Data). After the core, students can take a variety of classes; electives include classes such as Communication and Social Change, Intercultural Communication, Environmental Communication, Public Relations Writing Strategies, Advanced Public Relations and Social Media, Policy Issues in Organizational Communication, Corporate Communication, Communication and Relationship Management, and Communication Skills for Training and Development. Students can also take a Special Topics class or an Independent Study that allows them to customize their course work and assignments according to their objectives.
The core learning outcomes that we expect students to obtain from our program include:
- Explain communication processes, internal and external, of an organization
- Be able to write appropriately and effectively in both academic and professional settings
- Employ research methods in the diagnosis of communication problems within organizations and between organizations and their target audiences
- Critique and evaluate existing models, approaches and theories in an organizational and/or intercultural context
- Examine the use and impact of communication technologies in the design and evaluation of public relations, strategic communication campaigns, and other organizational applications and
- Practice sound and ethical reasoning
Note: The above learning outcomes were established by the Department of Communication at Central Connecticut State University, and can also be found on their website.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Central Connecticut State University will also offer an online Master of Science in Strategic Communication program starting in Fall of 2019. Could you elaborate on this program, and what technologies it uses to facilitate interactions between students and both faculty and peers?
[Dr. Pudlinski] The online program is designed for students who are busy at work, or whose location prohibits them from commuting to class every day. We designed the online Master of Science program to be equivalent in structure and content to the campus-based program. In addition, all students can mix and match the courses they take online versus on campus, yielding a hybrid program that fits their availability through the year.
We are also looking to expand the institutional partnerships that we have both locally and internationally, such as our partnership with United Technologies and other local companies, to help make it easier for working students to attend our program, as 80 percent of our graduate students work full-time and primarily during the day.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of Central Connecticut State University’s Master of Science in Strategic Communication program can choose between a master’s thesis, a special project, and a comprehensive exam. Could you elaborate on each of these options, and what they entail?
[Dr. Pudlinski] We recommend that students complete the special project, which allows them to create a portfolio-ready deliverable that helps them advance in their current job or be competitive in job applications. If students do well in the research methods class, they will have a special project proposal by the end of the class.
Students who complete the special project have the guidance of a faculty supervisor, as well as one additional faculty reader. Students’ faculty advisor guides them through the process of conducting a research study and/or developing a communication campaign, or a training module, or a strategic communication plan. Once students get approval for their project proposal, their faculty mentor guides them through the process of conducting research. For example, students who want to conduct research with human subjects, for interviews for example, will have to submit their proposal to our human subjects board. The special project is typically something that students can complete in one semester, but they have to really be prepared the previous semester in order for the process to go smoothly.
The special project, as mentioned, is highly flexible, allowing students to choose their final product as well as the research methodologies they would like to implement. For example, for an applied special project a student could take existing surveys or existing ideas and existing concepts and apply it to his or her own organization. This is a good option if you have access to an organization, such as your place of employment. For students who do not have a place of employment or other organization to which they have direct access, we work with them to help identify organizations they could work with, as we have numerous regional partnerships.
Special projects that have been done recently include an examination of telecommuting within the insurance industry, while another project looked at the merger of two nonprofits. One student worked in recruitment and human resources and did in-depth interviews with people on the role that social media is playing in the interview process. We’ve also had a couple people work with CCSU Athletics when that department needed help building a better marketing strategy.
As these examples illustrate, the special projects tend to be highly applied. I advise that students think about their projects from the beginning of their enrollment, and to work on projects that help them to explore and cultivate their interests and also help them to build the skills necessary to complete a successful capstone. I also recommend that students meet with faculty members early on in the program to identify faculty members that they would potentially like to work with for their special project.
The thesis option is ideal for students who want to pursue a career in academia—i.e. research and/or pedagogy in the field of communication. The thesis needs to be original research that expands a theory or brings new perspectives to a communication phenomenon. The advising between the thesis and the special project is the same, in that students identify a faculty advisor who supports them throughout the project, as well as two other committee members who serve as readers and evaluators of students’ project/thesis proposal and final papers and products.
A third option for students who do not wish to complete a special project or a thesis is a once-a-semester comprehensive exam. Unlike the thesis and special project, the comprehensive examination does not count for credit, so students are required to take more electives with this option. For the exam itself, students are asked questions based on three of the courses that they took. The exam is rigorous and an all-day event, during which students are asked several questions on each of the three courses they select to be tested on.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Central Connecticut State University’s Master of Science in Strategic Communication program? Independent of faculty instruction and support, what career development resources and academic services are available to students, and how can they make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems?
[Dr. Pudlinski] When students start our program, I am their first point of contact, as well as their initial advisor. As such, I also help direct them to faculty members whose research expertise matches the students’ interests. Faculty mentorship is central to our program. Faculty advisors are there for students from the beginning of their enrollment, and are also instrumental in helping students with the process of completing their special projects/theses/comprehensive examinations.
We are the ones who submit their proposals to the Institutional Review Board if their research or project requires human subjects. We also invest a great deal of time editing our students’ writing and making sure the content and formatting of their final product is up to speed. In addition to faculty support, we also have career development resources available on campus, including a career center, as well as tutoring services.
For the online program, mentorship operates a little differently, as we have people all over the nation and the world, which makes syncing up for mentorship sessions a little more complicated, but definitely doable. Students still have a faculty advisor who supports them in navigating their academic path and completing their projects. There are also discussion groups, which give students the opportunity to network with and mentor one another. We also have optional synchronous sessions, optional due to the time differences across different students’ states of residence it would not make sense to require a student to attend a session that is in the middle of their workday, or in the middle of the night.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in Central Connecticut State University’s Master of Science in Strategic Communication program, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application?
[Dr. Pudlinski] Students who are interested in the program must submit a resume, transcripts of their undergraduate work, and a personal statement explaining their interest in the program. I advise that students articulate as clearly as possible why they are interested in our program, what they hope to achieve in their career, and what their individual objectives are for the program itself.
We generally prefer applicants to have an overall undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher, though applicants with a lower GPA may be conditionally admitted if the other components of their application are strong. For example, an applicant who did not do very well in undergrad but who has worked for the past eight years as a successful spokesperson for a large company, and who can articulate how our master’s degree will assist them in their desired career advancement.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Central Connecticut State University’s Master of Science in Strategic Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Pudlinski] Our program is an excellent option for people who are already working or who are interested in working in the field of strategic communication, public relations, corporate and organizational communication, human resources, and similar areas. I think we do a fantastic job of connecting external and internal communication within our program, which gives students a lot of versatility once they graduate. I think a lot of programs focus on either organizational communication or the external-facing media side, and the fact that we merge both disciplines in our program and really look at the interplay between internal and external communication, has allowed us to create our own unique identity as a program.
In addition, the Department of Communication at Central Connecticut State University is highly diverse, with a good mix of research expertise. We have professors who specialize in environmental communication, and others who research and work in social media and intercultural communication. The diversity amongst our faculty helps to ensure that students can find great mentors for exactly what they want to do and how they want to grow while in the program.
On a similar note, one of the things that has always amazed me about our program is the diversity of each student cohort. We have students who have gone straight from their undergrad into our program, as well as people who have been in the workforce for 20 years. But the common theme uniting them is that they all want to advance their careers. This program is for the public relations specialist who wants to become a public relations manager. It is also for people who are interested in entering organizational leadership in areas such as human resources, employee training, etc.
The alumni network for our program is also particularly strong, with great reach. Our program has been around for 20-30 years, and that has translated into hundreds of graduates of this program who are happy to mentor currently students, and who also look to our program to fill positions at their companies. One of the things that always surprised me as Department Chair was how many emails I’d receive from alumni in a given semester—it was consistently over 20, people looking for interns, part-time or full-time positions in the areas of public relations, organizational communication, and strategic communication.
I think we present a great opportunity for people who are currently in a full-time job to get the skills that they need to advance—not just in terms of the skills they gain through the classes and projects, but also in the connections they make with their peers. We have had people who come into the program without a job actually find employment through one of their current peers in their classes.
For example, one of our students who had excellent social media skills went from working part-time at the Connecticut Law Association to working at a Fortune 500 insurance company where he managed all of the company’s social media metrics. We’ve had other people who have moved from smaller non-profit organizations to larger corporate organizations.
The fact that we have been around since 1977 also means that we have a long history of being in the space, of researching it and also adapting our program to evolutions in the industry. This allows us to stay both very current and also keep the long view in mind, providing students with the evergreen skills they need to succeed in communication.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Students of master’s in communication programs often must balance work, internships, coursework, and rigorous research projects. What advice do you have for students in terms of successfully navigating their graduate school experience, and making the most of the opportunities presented to them?
[Dr. Pudlinski] My primary piece of advice is to be prepared for the workload of a graduate program, and to make adjustments in your schedule accordingly. A lot of times students want to progress through a program as quickly as possible, but combined with working full-time can lead to burnout or poor performance at work or at school (or both). I recommend that students really evaluate their limits and to go part-time if they are unsure whether they can handle a full load of classes and their job simultaneously. If going slowly through the program means you can perform better on the projects and also engage fully with your faculty mentors and peers, then that is money better spent than it would be if you sped through the program too quickly to make those valuable connections and solidify your knowledge. And as our program is incredibly flexible, students can increase or reduce their course load on a semester by semester basis. So newly enrolled students can start with one or two classes, and build from there if they desire.
Another key piece of advice I have is—take advantage of the resources here at Central Connecticut State University. Meet with our professors, ask them about their research, and become part of the graduate student organization here on campus. Also, take advantage of the career fairs, which we host at least once or twice per semester.
Thank you, Dr. Pudlinski, for your excellent insight into Central Connecticut State University’s Master of Science in Strategic Communication program!