About Dr. Cylor Spaulding, Ph.D.: Cylor Spaulding is the Faculty Director of Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies’ Master’s in Public Relations & Corporate Communications. As Faculty Director, he hires, evaluates, supports faculty in the program, and also helps them to shape their course curricula. Prior to entering academia, Dr. Spaulding held public relations roles at agencies such as Rogers & Cowan and Weber Shandwick, where he managed media and consumer relations campaigns for both national and international clients, including Microsoft, Activision, and Gallagher & Kennedy.
Dr. Spaulding received his Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Arizona State University in 2002, and his Master of Arts in Strategic Public Relations from the University of Southern California in 2005. After earning his Ph.D. in Communication in 2013 from the University of Miami, where he also taught courses as a Public Relations Instructor, Dr. Spaulding earned a position as Assistant Professor of Public Relations at Towson University. In 2015, he was the recipient of the Public Relations Society of America-Maryland’s Educator of the Year award.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we have an overview of your educational and professional background?
[Dr. Cylor Spaulding] I spent ten years in the professional space working at public relations agencies before I moved into academia. I have a bachelor’s in Journalism from Arizona State, and a master’s in Strategic Public Relations from the University of Southern California. I earned my Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Miami. Before I was here at Georgetown, I was an Assistant Professor of Public Relations at Towson University.
As Faculty Director of Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies’ Master’s in Public Relations & Corporate Communications, I oversee the curriculum and faculty for the program, which involves hiring and evaluating faculty, working with them to develop their curricula, and helping them in updating their curriculum’s content. I also interface with students to some degree as far as being the face of the orientation, and in teaching the capstone course that the program requires.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Georgetown University’s Master of Professional Studies in Public Relations and Corporate Communications program, and how it is structured? What are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?
[Dr. Cylor Spaulding] Our program has five required courses: Conversations in Ethics, Communications Research, Public Relations Writing, Elements of Communications Planning, and the Capstone. Throughout the courses, one of the major themes is the idea that communications is not so much a science, as an art. The Elements of Communications Planning is usually the first course that students take, and it is during this course that they are taught a model for developing a sound communications plan. In this course, students learn how to identify their key publics, develop targeted messaging, and apply numerous communication strategies to different professional scenarios and challenges.
One of the biggest emphases I would say Georgetown has is on ethics education. Every program in the School of Continuing Studies is required to have an ethics course attached to it. So, in our case we have a course called Conversations in Ethics, and it’s centered on the PR profession and the ethical implications of the scenarios PR professionals face. In this course, students look at codes of ethics for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and other organizations, and their final project for that class is for them to apply everything they learned in that class and then put together their own personal code of ethics that they’ll follow, hopefully throughout their career, but also with the understanding that this code will evolve.
We also require students to take Communications Research and Public Relations Writing. These courses cover the skills that we felt students really needed in the industry, and to be successful in the capstone project. And then we have the Capstone course, during which students apply the skills they have learned in their core courses and electives to a real project for a client.
In our curriculum, we try to approach our classes with the understanding that different people will have different ways of approaching public relations and corporate communications. We try to focus on helping students build skills and knowledge that can serve as the backbone of their learning how to be a successful PR practitioner. For example, in the Elements of Communications Planning and Capstone courses, students put together entire plans for clients, and regardless of whether or not they complete a full plan in their careers, they will still be equipped with the skills to do so or to pull together relevant elements for their clients and employers.
As far as electives, we try to create classes based on what skills we think students are going to need in the industry and the trends we see emerging in the profession. For example, I will attend PRSA’s conferences and several other conferences, and stay up to date on trade publications to see what’s coming through, and what the areas of emphasis are for the industry. We also rely on our faculty, who are mainly professionals working in the field, to propose innovative courses. We really try to stay on top of emerging trends and what’s coming.
We have several areas of focus in our electives, from which students can select courses according to their interests. One is Social Impact Communications, which in DC is a relatively big industry: A lot of nonprofits, advocacy groups, and associations work in that area–so we have an area of emphasis on that. When I say emphasis, I do not mean anything that students have to declare, but rather concentrations of classes that they can take. Our program is highly flexible, and aside from the core classes that provide them with the foundation in ethics, PR writing, communications research, and communications planning, they can pick and choose classes according to their interests.
We also have a corporate communications area of focus that encompasses things like internal communications, reputation management, corporate communications management, and leadership in communication. These are areas that the people going in-house with a corporation or, in some cases, even a non-profit or an association would really benefit from. We also have an area that focuses on digital aspects of communication. That is probably the one that has to evolve the quickest. We have classes in areas ranging from digital analytics and digital communication strategy to a global class that has an emphasis on digital communication.
Within our program, we also allow students to take classes from our sister programs. For example, the School of Continuing Studies also has Integrated Marketing Communications and Journalism programs—and we are launching a Design Management Communications program this fall. Students are allowed to take some classes in those areas as well. We have a lot of the Integrated Marketing Communications students take classes in our program, and vice versa.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Georgetown University’s Master’s in Public Relations and Corporate Communications has faculty members who are also working professionals and industry experts. Can you elaborate on how bringing in faculty from outside of academia benefits your program, and students’ learning outcomes?
[Dr. Cylor Spaulding] I believe what makes Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies’ Master’s in Public Relations and Corporate Communications unique is how dynamic and current our curriculum is, and our program’s inherent connections to key industries in the area, by virtue of our faculty. Almost all of our classes are taught by professionals in the field. We hire professionals specifically for their areas of expertise. For example, for our digital communication strategy class, we hired someone who is an expert in communicating digitally and who understands social media, its evolution, and its potential trajectories. Our emphasis is on making the program as applied as possible, and giving the students an entire toolkit of learning outcomes that will help them when they go into the workforce. We want our graduates to be empowered to enter the workforce straight out of the program and apply exactly what they’re learning. Our program is very well integrated into relevant industries through our faculty members, and this integration provides great opportunities for our students. Indeed, several of our faculty have actually hired students from the program.
When building our faculty team, I seek to have a balance of different professional fields and experiences. We have a mixture of people who are from PR agencies, as well as individuals who work in corporations and nonprofits. Having this diversity in our faculty group helps us stay abreast of the developments in the field. In fact, if we didn’t have our folks who both worked in industry and taught for us, I think it would be a lot harder for us to evolve our curriculum as quickly as we do. When we decide to develop or update a course, I sit down with faculty and talk to them about the areas they’re seeing in the field, and we discuss how we can develop or adapt a class based on what they’ve experienced and worked on in the industry.
It’s a standout aspect of our program to have working professionals teaching for us, because some fields within PR and corporate communication evolve so quickly, and with our faculty, we are equipped to handle these changes and incorporate them into our classes. For example, our digital analytics class covers new topics every semester. Every month, it seems, new platforms have come out or there’s a new measurement tool that is available. It’s really hard to stay on top of the changes. Luckily for us, the faculty who teach for us are actually working in that space on a day-to-day basis. So they are able to incorporate whatever they are working on into the classroom for that semester.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please elaborate on the Capstone course that students must take, and the project they complete during it?
[Dr. Cylor Spaulding] Our capstone project is a little bit different than some traditional programs in the sense that other programs would have a thesis or a comprehensive exam. Our Capstone project is geared specifically towards the industry. We ask students to find their own client to work with throughout the semester. Then, based on everything they’ve learned and the framework that we teach them for developing a communications plan, they are asked to create a comprehensive PR plan for the client they selected. So it is, in a way, an applied thesis.
To help students find clients with whom to work, we have a database of organization contacts through the Center for Social Impact Communication who are interested in receiving help from students or working with the class. And if we hear of opportunities that match students’ interests or would be relevant, we put the students in touch with them. The students have access to resources through us, but a lot of them actually find clients on their own. Some of them work with small businesses in their neighborhood; others have worked with Fortune 100 companies or well-known non-profits.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What goes into a comprehensive PR plan, in terms of structure and content? Do they vary widely depending on the client and leadership’s objectives? Is it a series of projects that students recommend to the client, along with a timeline?
[Dr. Cylor Spaulding] They do look a little different depending on the type of client and what the client wants the student to help them with. For example, non-profit plans end up being somewhat different from the corporate plans. But by and large they all have the same areas of content. They will have a background section that’s pretty extensive, which goes into a lot of research about the company, its industry, its competitors, and other key areas, which helps students position the rest of their plan and their ideas in a good context because they understand what has already been done, and what the space looks like. They are then asked to create objectives, key messages, communications goals, situation analyses, key publics, strategies, and tactics, as well as timelines and budgets that go along with all the tactics that they are proposing the client should execute. There are also components of the plan focused on evaluation and understanding how the brand of the organization is positioned in the mind of key publics.
For their project, we do ask students to go out and conduct their own original research that goes into the plan. They also have to use their original research to talk about their key publics and messages, which are hopefully all things that they would find out during their research.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Continually updating your class offerings to account for industry advancements sounds like intensive work. What does that process look like?
[Dr. Cylor Spaulding] In some instances we develop courses based on ideas that faculty or professionals have brought to us, while in other instances, we’ve identified a class that speaks to trends in the industry or skillsets that students should develop to ensure success in the profession. I will try to find somebody who is an expert in a particular area, and I will work with them on developing the class. They will bring their strong background and skills to the table, and I will sit down with them to help them work through their knowledge and develop a curriculum. Even though most of our faculty are not full-time instructors, most already come into the program with great instincts for how to teach because they’ve used similar skills in their jobs, such as leading training seminars or presenting at workshops and conferences.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How does this program incorporate online technologies into curriculum?
[Dr. Cylor Spaulding] Students can complete their degree either on campus or online. The online program currently does not have as many elective options as the on-ground program, but we are working on developing some additional courses. As of the fall 2018, online students will have 13 classes that they can take online. That encompasses all the required classes and some of the more popular electives that we have.
On-campus students can also take the online classes. And vice versa–if we have an online student who is in the area that wants to come to campus, they can certainly do that as well. So the modalities are open for both students.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What technologies does Georgetown University use to facilitate students’ engagement with course concepts? Are most classes asynchronous, synchronous, or a bit of both?
[Dr. Cylor Spaulding] We use Canvas as the learning management platform for all our classes. Online courses are held entirely in Canvas, while the on-campus courses use it as a supplementary resource to the class sessions. While most of the online courses are asynchronous, students do get to interact with their faculty members in real-time during the course synchronous sessions, and the faculty are always available to answer questions and provide help. Most of the classes allow them to work up to two weeks ahead of time. There are certain dates throughout the semester where the faculty will have synchronous sessions with the students. Students are not required to attend those in most of the classes, but there are recordings of the sessions that will get posted to the course site. The optionality of the synchronous sessions is to account for the fact that we have students from all over the world.
On average, in a 15-week course, we probably have six or seven synchronous sessions in most of the classes—so roughly about every other week. Some of them are a little different. For example, the digital analytics class has a few more synchronous sessions because, as mentioned previously, the area evolves so quickly that the faculty use that as a time to really talk about changes in the industry and new tools that they’re seeing in the space. And all these sessions are recorded so students can access them when they are able to. Faculty are also available all the time either via their email in Canvas or their own Georgetown emails.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What career development services and academic support does your program offer students, independent of the curriculum and their capstone project with a client in industry?
[Dr. Cylor Spaulding] We have a career development course that we offer to the students free of charge. The instructor who teaches that is a professional career coach. We also hold a job fair every year across the School of Continuing Studies, and all sorts of different industries that attend that. Last year there were several PR firms, defense contractors, non-profit organizations–a wide variety of attendees.
We also have a writing center on campus that students can utilize as needed. In addition, the School of Continuing Studies has other activities that students can participate in that are not mandatory or specifically related to our program, but which are great career and networking opportunities. We have a program called Hoya Pitchmasters, where we have guest speakers come in and speak to the students about their experiences pitching a new business idea. And every semester we try and have program-wide speakers come in and talk. For example, last year we had Alan Mulally, the former CEO of Ford, come in and speak to all the students. And then we also had the Edelman Trust Barometer event (which reveals the results of an annual global survey measuring the public’s trust in business, government, non-governmental organizations, and media) here last year, which students were able to attend.
Furthermore, for our online students, we do our utmost to make sure that they receive the same access to the aforementioned resources. We actually try to stream the events or record the events when we can. And the writing center is available online. We have a librarian at our facility, who does virtual research consultation appointments.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in Georgetown University’s Master’s in Public Relations & Corporate Communications program, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application and selecting a focus area that is the best fit for their interests and goals?
[Dr. Cylor Spaulding] I would say that in general, we are looking for applicants who can prove to us that they can handle the rigors of the program, and that they have a clear goal for how this degree will be useful to them in their careers. We typically expect at least a 3.0 GPA from your undergraduate institution, especially if you haven’t been out of school for that long.
If you have been out of your undergraduate program for a long time, then what we’re really looking for is your experience. Do you have a good depth of knowledge of public relations? And if you do, that might offset a lower GPA that you might have had in your undergrad. I would say that some professional experience is a priority for us in admitting students. On average, we look for people who have at least two to three years of experience. We’re really looking for evidence that a student has taken the initiative to explore the fields of PR and corporate communications, even if it’s just through one or two internships. We have applicants who come to us straight out of undergrad, who are great, energetic, and have had several internships that are relevant. And those are people we would definitely consider.
Good letters of recommendation from people who actually know you and your work always helps. Generic letters of recommendation are fine, but they really don’t speak to your characteristics. So even if it’s not a professor, but it’s a supervisor or someone who knows you a little better and can actually speak to why this program is a good fit for you, and what you could bring to the program, goes a long way towards selling yourself in the application.
For your personal statement, use it as your opportunity to really talk to the admissions committee. Our committee meets almost every week for several hours to sit down and go through the applications that have come in at that time. We try to get a sense of each person’s experiences, goals, work ethic, and personality as represented on the page. So, put your best foot forward in your personal statement.
Also, I would say even if you had a bad semester at some point in your undergraduate career, address that in your personal statement. Explain to the committee what was going on, because we really do look at students holistically. I’m giving some broad guidelines, but I wouldn’t want anyone to be afraid to submit an application, because diversity in the types of experiences our students bring to the program is a strength. The varying perspectives create interesting discussions, as can the difference in the experience levels.
We actually do get a few people from other industries who are shifting careers. If you don’t have that background in public relations, it’s not necessarily a deal breaker. But make a good case for yourself as to why this is what you want to do. We want to see what the end goal is. We have a lot of journalists who apply, and we can really make that connection for them. But then there are a few industries where we will need a little more help in seeing how our program can help you achieve your goals.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Georgetown University’s Master of Professional Studies in Public Relations & Corporate Communications unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does the program prepare students particularly well for careers in public relations and corporate communication?
[Dr. Cylor Spaulding] I would say our faculty is the first reason this program is so distinctive and an excellent option for students seeking to advance their careers. Our faculty are really invested in bringing real-world projects, applications, and perspectives into the classroom. I think our location really helps us out in that sense. Being in DC, we have a lot of professionals in the area who are very eager to give back and teach.
And the second thing is, we’re always trying to monitor the new trends and see what’s up-and-coming, and work hard to keep our curriculum current to make sure our students are equipped with the latest insights and skills that they can immediately use in industry.
One other thing I’d like to add is a benefit that is not strictly tied to our program, but speaks to our location in the School of Continuing Studies. We have all sorts of programs within our School, and our students have the flexibility to take some courses in other programs–not just in communication, but in areas such as sports industry management, human resources, and technology management. Students are allowed to take some of these classes if they obtain approval and we see how it is relevant to their career interests. Since some students have a very clear career trajectory in mind, this can enable them to gain some knowledge of other fields as well.
Thank you, Dr. Spaulding, for your excellent insight into Georgetown University’s Master of Professional Studies in Public Relations and Corporate Communications program!