About Christy Rittenour, Ph.D.: Christy Rittenour started her passion for Communication as an undergraduate at Pennsylvania State University. Her dual degrees in Communication Studies and Public Relations (in the College of Communications) helped her stay passionate about the research/theory behind the practical application of effective communication skills, and she also minored in Women’s and Gender Studies. The MA program at West Virginia University (WVU) was where that passion turned into the goal of becoming a professor. The program was hard, yet quite supportive, and Dr. Rittenour strives to maintain both of these elements in the program as she now serves as its coordinator. This job is a dream because it gives Dr. Rittenour the opportunity to teach and research with students who are interested in learning to use communication to better collaborate within and across social group boundaries of all kinds! Being the MA coordinator gives her a front row seat to help students with interests across the Communication Studies discipline.
Before returning to West Virginia University as faculty, Dr. Rittenour earned her PhD in family communication and intergroup communication. These two areas allow her to focus on the beautiful difference that is (perceived to exist) between people of different groups, even within the family. How people “treat and teach” difference is the focus of her research as well as her classes taught (e.g., family, prejudice, aging, as well as staying highly involved with the Women’s and Gender studies center on campus).
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of West Virginia University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies 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. Rittenour] Our program is formatted such that all graduates are equipped to successfully begin a competitive doctoral program and/or to begin a successful career that directly employs Communication Theory and Research. In the first semester, students take five classes, two of which are the Theory class and the Methods class. This rigorous course load begins with orientation in the beginning of August. We accept students only to begin in the fall, not spring, terms, to provide this great consistency and to strengthen each cohort’s culture. In the spring, there is more flexibility in scheduling as qualifying students may complete a thesis project. Those who do not complete a thesis will take a comprehensive exam upon coursework completion.
In addition to having a plethora of courses within the department from which to choose, students may take up to two courses outside of the department. In the first summer session, students complete two courses in addition to wrapping up their thesis or comprehensive exam preparation. In this short program, our students obtain impressive skills in data management, statistical analyses, research/professional writing, and theory-based practical communication strategies.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students in this program can choose between a master’s thesis or a comprehensive oral examination. Could you please elaborate on each of these options, and what they entail?
[Dr. Rittenour] The thesis option is a “start-to-finish” study in which the graduate student works with an advisor to develop a research study that is then approved by the 3-member committee of Communication Studies faculty. After this prospectus defense, the MA student, still supervised and guided by his/her advisor, submits materials for approval by WVU’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), then collects data that they analyze using the skills they learned in methods class and from their advisor. This results in a final document that adds to our collective understanding of communication in the interpersonal, family, organizational, instructional, mediated, or health realm. The same committee that assembled for the prospectus defense reviews that document. A successful (passing) thesis defense marks the completion of this student’s MA degree (pending all other courses are completed with passing grades).
For those completing a comprehensive exam, there are two additional courses that are taken (the thesis “counts” as 2 courses in the program of study). The comprehensive exam is an open-ended/essay test that is taken mid-June in the department. All students have the entire day to complete their answers. They must answer all of the questions from the theory and methods classes taken in the fall (see above) but have some choices about the questions they complete from the other classes. In essence, the comprehensive exam assesses each student’s ability to meet the goals promised by our program – to be able to succeed in a doctoral program or career employing the skills taught in our coursework. In this way, a student’s unique interests lead to some different ‘batches’ of knowledge via their different questions from the courses they selected. Preparation for this exam is addressed throughout the year, with some extensive training during the capstone course. A comprehensive exam committee is comprised of the MA coordinator, the chair, and another representative from the Communication Studies graduate faculty. A successful comprehensive exam, based on this committee’s approval, marks the completion of this student’s MA degree (pending all other courses are completed with passing grades).
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in West Virginia University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies 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. Rittenour] Mentorship is a primary purpose of our department. The MA coordinator, Department Chair, and thesis advisors are primary mentors. They are heavily involved and readily available to instruct and support students through their transition from undergraduate (or professional) life to graduate school. We also have a kind of “it takes a village” approach in that the entire graduate faculty serves to teach, assist, support, and model practices of effective scholarship. The faculty often reaches out to hard working, motivated students when there are opportunities for additional help on research teams, and graduate students are encouraged to reach out to faculty about their research interests and eagerness to take on additional learning opportunities. All of this, of course, comes after the important task of succeeding in coursework, and so most students take part in these “extras” once they have completed several months in the program.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for West Virginia University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program?
[Dr. Rittenour] Our advice would be to read the requirements carefully and follow the directions. It may seem obvious, but – as would be true of any job application – there is a lot to be learned about an applicant based on how they complete the application. If you have questions, let Joy – our wonderful administrative assistant – or me know and we will be happy to answer these for you! When your materials are reviewed, we assess them as a “whole package” and so it does not behoove you to worry about things that are already over/out of your control such as your GRE. Instead, focus on describing the assets that you will bring to this program (just as you would a different type of job) and pretend that YOU are the reviewer of these documents. What would you most need to know in order to see the greatness of this applicant? Note, too, that “showing” is better than “telling” in this sense… if you show us what you’ve accomplished and plan to accomplish, then you don’t have to tell us that you are a great asset because that’s the smart conclusion they will come to on our own!
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes West Virginia University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Rittenour] Not only do we consistently prepare students for high quality PhD programs (I hit the ground running in my PhD at University of Nebraska-Lincoln because I was used to the methods, the theory, and the rigorous workload), but we also do so in just a portion of the time that it takes other high-class programs like our own. The skills you acquire with us will prepare you for a number of different jobs, and as you work with us on (changing) interests you have in communication, we will do all we can to help you be as successful as possible!
Thank you, Dr. Rittenour, for your excellent insight into West Virginia University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program!