Note: In November 2018, we interviewed Dr. Curtis Newbold about the Master of Strategic Communication Program at Westminster College. Since this program is no longer offered by the school, this interview has been archived for historical purposes.
About Curtis Newbold, Ph.D.: Curtis Newbold is a professional educator and has taught at the university level since 2006. His portfolio of instruction includes over 30 different courses on topics such as integrated marketing communications; brand strategy; business and technical writing; public speaking; infographics in popular media; visual communication; web design & site development; publication design; and related topics. Dr. Newbold is an Associate Professor of Communication at Westminster College in Salt Lake City where he serves as the co-director of the Master’s of Strategic Communication program; in this role, he has led student groups on international strategic communication projects in Peru, South Africa, Cambodia, Hungary, and, soon, Morocco, collaborating with non-profit organizations such as Peruvian Hearts, the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, Sustainable Cambodia, and the Institute for Leadership and Communication Studies in Rabat.
Dr. Newbold is an author and live online presenter for O’Reilly Media and has developed and presented courses such as “Leadership Communication for Managers,” “How to Give Great Presentations,” and “Visualizing Data: How to Design the Right Chart to Tell the Best Stories” to thousands of registered business professionals around the globe. He has developed and given several leadership communication workshops, presentations, and webinars at institutions such as Discover Financial, Mountain America Credit Union, Leavitt Partners, and the International Association of Business Communicators-Lincoln Chapter.
Dr. Newbold is the owner and operator of the popular communications blog, TheVisualCommunicationGuy.com, which attracts roughly 3,000 visitors daily. He frequently works as a consultant, graphic designer, and communications specialist. Dr. Newbold has a Ph.D. in Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design (RCID) from Clemson University, and a master’s and bachelor’s from Utah State University in professional communication and English-technical writing.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Westminster College’s Master of Strategic Communication program, and how it is structured? What are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?
[Dr. Newbold] The Master of Strategic Communication (MSC) program at Westminster College is an immersive, professional program designed to prepare graduates to be leaders in content strategy, marketing, public relations, organizational culture, project management, and related areas.
The curriculum is designed as an 18-month, five-semester program where students study and practice work in five specific content areas, one area per semester:
- Rhetoric and Strategic Public Relations
- Visual Communication and Brand Strategy
- Organizational Communication and Culture
- Integrated Marketing Communication
- Instructional Design and the Strategic Communication Capstone
Each semester, in each of these areas, students work with clients (small businesses, non-profits, or government organizations) to complete large-scale, research-driven projects to be implemented right away. Students work with two different clients each semester, one individually and one in a team, with members of their cohort.
By the completion of the program, MSC students will have worked with 8 – 10 different clients, building an impressive portfolio of work. In addition, they will have worked with faculty mentors and performance coaches to build hard and soft skills in project management, leadership, teamwork, research, writing, presentation, visual communication, and other areas. As a culminating professional experience in the program, students travel internationally for 7 – 12 days, working with non-profits or other organizations to complete a field project while enjoying and studying other cultures.
The professional, client-driven, hands-on nature of this program provides students the ability to engage in self-directed, service-driven learning, where they can apply theory to practice and leave with relevant, ready-to-apply skills. As students engage individually with faculty mentors and coaches, they get one-on-one guidance and feedback about not just their work, but also their professional ambitions. In addition, working with community partners creates a unique networking opportunity rarely provided in traditional educational programs.
The coolest part of all of this? It’s all-inclusive! All textbooks, software licenses, and the international trip are included in the program.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Westminster College’s Master of Strategic Communication is an online-hybrid program that requires students to travel to campus only once per semester. Could you elaborate on the online learning technologies that your program uses to facilitate students’ interactions with course faculty and peers? How do the on-campus visits enhance the online learning experience?
[Dr. Newbold] The hybrid-online design (which we affectionately call Online Plus) is truly unique. While most of our students are local to Utah, many come from all over the United States, from Tennessee and Georgia to Los Angeles and Texas. We meet once per semester, all together in person, at a one-day residency in Salt Lake City on Westminster College’s brick-and-mortar campus. This residency is a great opportunity to meet and collaborate in person with other members of their cohort, as well as others in the program. In addition to this networking and coordinating opportunity, students meet with faculty and coaches to engage with the content for the semester. Working together, they determine team projects, clients, and goals and objectives for the semester. This is also the time when students receive their textbooks for the semester, which are included in their tuition.
While we require all in-state students to attend residency and highly recommend all out-of-state students to come to campus, those who cannot make the trip to Salt Lake City each semester meet virtually with our faculty on another date to coordinate with their team and individual projects.
Faculty and coaches use many technologies to interact with students. We use Canvas as our learning management system; this is the platform where all projects are submitted and project feedback is provided. We also use Skype and Google Hangout for videoconferencing and, when needed, we use programs like WebEx for workshops and times where screen sharing is needed. Most of our students communicate with each other and with faculty through Slack (a corporate messaging tool), email, text messaging, and phone calls. Our full-time faculty also have on-campus offices where local students can arrange in-person meetings.
We work to accommodate student schedules, since most of our students work full time. While we do restrict some hours (our faculty don’t do many calls on weekends, for example, especially Sunday), we can coordinate evening, morning, or lunchtime hours. We commit to students, too, that all asynchronous communications (like email) will be responded to within 24 hours on workdays and all submitted work will receive feedback within 72 hours on workdays.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of Westminster College’s Master of Strategic Communication must complete a Corporate Training and Capstone Project. Could you elaborate on this project, and what it entails?
[Dr. Newbold] The corporate training piece is a team project done for a client, similar to the other projects in other semesters. Students learn the fundamentals of instructional design and they research and implement a training module of some kind for an organization. These take many different shapes, depending on the needs of their client, but they build a strategic plan for things like workshops, courses, and trainings for clients to implement.
The individual capstone project is flexible. Students have the opportunity to build a project either for themselves or for a client that integrates strategic communication practices. Many of our students build websites, integrating concepts like usability, search engine optimization, and digital content development. Some students have created video campaigns, book proposals, and corporate manuals. We allow students the opportunity to explore a project that is meaningful to them in their career ambitions. Students continue to have mentor guidance and coaches supporting them through the entire process.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you elaborate on the all-inclusive international trip that students take as part of the program and how they apply their strategic communication skills to solving problems in a global setting? Where have past cohorts traveled, and what kinds of challenges do they take on?
[Dr. Newbold] This is truly one of the greatest elements of the program. As mentioned, the trip is all-inclusive, meaning we cover the flights, hotels, transportation, meals, and entrance fees to historical sites, museums, national parks, and other places we travel as a group.
The trip is designed to help students better understand the complexities of cross-cultural communications and to better appreciate cultures, businesses, governments, and other entities in locations drastically different from the United States. When we plan these trips, we look for destinations that are safe first (that’s the most important thing), but that also offer unique experiences to places most of our students haven’t traveled. We also look for a non-profit organization that can benefit from assistance in strategic communication.
To date, our students have traveled to Peru, South Africa, Cambodia, Hungary, Poland, and Czechia. In 2019, we will be traveling to Morocco. In each location, we have worked with different organizations to work on different projects. For example, our students created a brand strategy and website for Peruvian Hearts (Cusco, Peru); an anti-stigma campaign and film workshop for the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation (Cape Town, South Africa); and a social media promotional video campaign for Sustainable Cambodia (Pursat, Cambodia). In Morocco, we are coordinating with the Institute for Leadership and Communication Studies in Rabat, where our students will be teaching workshops on digital marketing to undergraduate students from northern African countries.
Of course, we also visit important sites when we travel to these locations, including Machu Picchu, Saksaywaman, and the Amazon (Peru); Table Mountain, Kruger National Park safari, and Robben Island (South Africa); Angkor Wat, floating villages, and the Killing Fields (Cambodia); and Auschwitz, Wieliczka Salt Mine, and Budapest Parliament (Eastern Europe).
Students find these trips to be incredible, meaningful personal and professional endeavors unlike anything many have ever (or may ever) experience in their lifetime.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Westminster College’s Master of Strategic Communication? 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. Newbold] Westminster College has a separate Coaching and Mentoring Center where our faculty and coaches are trained in coaching best practices. Our coaches work with students on skills such as writing, project management, time management, conflict resolution, and presentation. Our faculty are content experts that review project submissions and provide feedback on the effectiveness and professionalism of student work.
Each semester, students work with a different faculty mentor and different coaches to diversify their learning experiences. Faculty mentors are content experts in different areas, so one semester students will work with the visual communication and branding expert, while the next semester they will be working with an organizational communication expert. Our faculty and coaches have extensive experience in both academics and professional environments, providing a unique mentorship that our students really appreciate.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in Westminster College’s Master of Strategic Communication, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application?
[Dr. Newbold] One of the most important things our prospective students can do when applying is articulating (in their letter of intent) what their professional ambitions are in strategic communication. It’s important to us that students understand what the field is and where they hope to go after graduating. Because students can tailor their projects and determine their own clients, we like to see that students have some professional vision for where they are headed.
In addition, prospective students should think hard about whether or not this learning model works best for them. This isn’t a traditional online program, nor is it a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom program. To successfully complete the MSC program, students must be strong, self-directed, self-motivated people and they need to work well in teams. They need to be able to adjust to client needs and to be able to adapt their own learning goals. Applicants should articulate why this learning model fits their strengths or, at least, where they want to improve by using this learning model. When we see applications that simply address wanting to do the program because of its flexible schedule, that doesn’t help us know if the applicant truly understands what this program is about and if they’re a good fit for the self-directed programming.
Admittedly, this type of program isn’t for everyone. We’re looking for the students who plan to be leaders, who self-manage deadlines, who adapt to conflicting schedules and personalities, and who understand how they can apply the content of these projects to their professional lives.
In addition, we prefer students who have been working in professional settings for at least three years. While we have had some students come in directly from their undergraduate programs, they typically have had a good deal of work experience. It’s an intensive, fast-moving program with complex topics and we’re looking for students who are ready to engage, full-throttle.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Westminster College’s Master of Strategic Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Newbold] If you’ve read the other responses to this interview, you’ve probably already realized that there is nothing quite like the Westminster’s MSC program in the United States. While there are other competency-based, project-based online programs around the country, no other program effectively integrates hybrid learning, providing students with one-on-one faculty mentoring, performance coaching, and team-collaboration while working with clients to build real, soon-to-be implemented projects and plans. Our Online-Plus model is designed to work with learners of today—people who work full-time but who want to advance their careers, who have busy personal and professional lives but are seeking graduate education to boost their knowledge, skills, and promotional opportunities.
The MSC program, in addition, is a unique space for professionals who want corporate, leadership, and other business jobs, and who find that that an MBA does not effectively fit their skills or interests. The MSC program is professional and business-focused, like an MBA, but it uniquely covers areas of leadership, marketing communications, corporate image, culture, project management, and communications in ways that MBA programs don’t.
While the program has only been around for six years, we have seen tremendous success. Most of our students are either promoted within the companies where they work or they receive new job offers by the time they graduate. Most are getting salary increases and we’re seeing that, within a few years after graduation, many are being promoted to high-level project management and leadership positions. We recently held our first five-year program “birthday party,” where alumni from many industries attended in a great networking event. Because students become so familiar with each other in their cohorts and team projects, and because of the unique experiences on the international trip, our graduates are building professional relationships that have turned into many networked job offers and connections.
Thank you, Dr. Newbold, for your excellent insight into Westminster College’s Master of Strategic Communication program!