About Dennis D. Cali, Ph.D.: Dennis D. Cali is the Department Chair at The University of Texas at Tyler’s Department of Communication. In collaboration with department colleagues, he oversees all the major processes of the department: budgeting, hiring, course staffing, promoting, assessment, scheduling, strategic planning, curriculum planning, recruitment and retention, peer review, allocation of space, and purchase and maintenance of equipment. He also serves as the budget authority for the Forensics Team and for the Talon Student Media.
At The University of Texas at Tyler, Dr. Cali has taught graduate seminars and undergraduate courses in Media Ecology, Media Ethics, Political Communication, Rhetorical Criticism, and Intercultural Communication. He also coordinates internships for the Department. His research area of specialization is Media Ecology, an area of study on which he has published a text entitled Mapping Media Ecology (2017, Peter Lang, publisher) and several articles.
Dr. Cali earned his Ph.D. at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He completed his Master of Arts degree at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. His undergraduate degree was at Southeastern Louisiana University.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of The University of Texas at Tyler’s Master of Arts in Communication program, and how it is structured? What topics are covered in the core curriculum, and what are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?
[Dr. Dennis D. Cali] The Master of Arts degree program at UT-Tyler is a generalist one but may be characterized generally as oriented toward mass media studies and communication studies. Allowing considerable flexibility, it consists of a core of three courses (9 hours) and a large set of electives. The core courses include: Communication Research Methods, Communication Theory, and Communication Seminar. The Research Methods course introduces students to the qualitative and quantitative research methods that are used in different types of communication research. Students learn how to design and implement research studies and follow best practices. The Communication Theory course provides students with an overview of the principal theories of communication, as well as the latest theories and models that are relevant to the field. In the Communication Seminar, we have students complete a prospectus that is a springboard for the kind of research they want to engage in either academically or professionally.
After the core classes students have between 24 and 27 course credits that they can devote to electives, depending on whether they select the thesis or non-thesis route for their final graduation requirement. The balance of courses includes: Literature of Journalism, Rhetorical Criticism, Public Opinion and Propaganda, Mass Media and Popular Culture, Leadership and the Group Process, Gender and Communication, Organizational Communication, Intercultural Communication, Media Ecology, New Media Theories and Applications, Non-Verbal Communication, and Freedom and Responsibility of Communication.
When students enter the program, I am their primary point person for any general questions they have about the program. Dr. Marsha Matthews, as the graduate program advisor, helps them to navigate their individual academic path and to design a degree plan for them. Dr. Matthews remains students’ individual advisor throughout their enrollment, unless students decide to pursue a thesis, in which case they have an individual faculty advisor who aligns with their research interests.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students can choose to complete a thesis or take additional coursework. Could you please elaborate on both of these options, and what they entail? Also, could you elaborate on the comprehensive examination that all students must take, and its structure?
[Dr. Dennis D. Cali] If a student elects the thesis option, s/he takes 30 hours of course work and 6 hours of thesis: a piece of original scholarship produced under the direction of a faculty thesis advisor and committee. Examples of projects students have undertaken for their thesis requirement include an investigation of how people respond to art, and how that response is influenced by social media, as well as a project where the student examined abstinence-only curricula in high school settings, the direct and indirect messages that are conveyed, and their efficacy in promoting safe sexual practices.
Students who choose the non-thesis route take additional courses to meet the credit requirements for the program, and must also complete a comprehensive examination consisting of one question from the area of research methods, another from the area of communication theory, and a third area of the student’s choosing. The third question is written and evaluated by the faculty member who teaches the courses on that area/topic. For example, if a student decides that she wants her third question to be about rhetorical criticism, the professor who teaches that corresponding course would write her question, and also evaluate her answer. Students can meet with professors weeks prior to the exam in order to get more insight as to how to prepare for the test.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in The University of Texas at Tyler’s Master of Arts in Communication 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. Dennis D. Cali] Because the number of faculty in the department is relatively small, informal advising and mentorship is very accessible. Speaking from my own experience, students meet with me frequently not just for thesis advice, but also for advice on classes, career, and general navigation of the many responsibilities that come with graduate school. While Dr. Matthews serves as graduate students’ main advisor, our faculty members also collaborate to provide advice, connections, and support as students work on their assignments and plan out their future classes and trajectories post-graduation.
We have had some students who have worked with professors on independent study or an extracurricular research project, and who have presented papers at conferences. These working relationships with a professor are particularly rewarding because students learn how to refine their research and become familiar with the submission and presentation processes.
Career development resources are available through the University’s Office of Career Services. Career counseling, resume workshop help, and career fairs are available to students. Students also have use of the Writing Center and UT-Tyler’s Student Health and Wellness Center.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for The University of Texas at Tyler’s Master of Arts in Communication program?
[Dr. Dennis D. Cali] Students may demonstrate preparedness for admission into the program through a combination of scores on the GRE, overall GPA, and letters of recommendation. A high GPA particularly in writing-related courses is an indication to us that students are able to handle the rigor of our coursework and research projects they are required to complete. However, if students have a lower GPA than is optimal, we do look at extenuating circumstances. If you are able to explain why you received the grades that you did, and also elaborate on how you have prepared yourself for graduate study in the time between when you graduated and now, you may be able to make a convincing case for yourself. Letters of recommendation should be from professors or supervisors who know your work ethic and who can speak to your ability to handle challenging coursework and independent research.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes The University of Texas at Tyler’s Master of Arts in Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Dennis D. Cali] A unique feature of UT-Tyler’s graduate program is that it prepares students for many different career options. It prepares them for an academic career, teaching at a junior college or as a lecturer at a University, or for continuing studies in pursuit of a Ph.D. It also prepares students for advancement within communications professions, which might include information officer, public relations manager, university relations, corporate communications, and other roles in communication, media, and relationship management.
I believe that in addition to our well-structured curriculum, we also have faculty who are experts in their field in areas that are distinctive and hard to find in other programs. For example, my own area is media ecology, which is the study of how any communication medium, from radio, TV, and computers to academic curricula and social media, condition how we live, think, and process information. It is an emerging field, and one that my colleagues are also incorporating into their research. For example, one of my colleagues is examining new media theories and how you can tell different types of stories with different media, and the philosophical and social effects of using different communication technologies to express your message. Not many graduate programs have faculty experts in this area, and I am pleased that we can offer this to our graduate students.
Students who want to see how UT-Tyler’s program stands out can look at our faculty bios on our website to see the depth and range of our research interests, and the courses we teach. We have energetic scholars who are engaged in cutting-edge projects, and who are also deeply invested in cultivating professionals and fellow scholars who have the requisite training to make an impact in their area of interest.
Thank you, Dr. Cali, for your excellent insight into The University of Texas at Tyler’s Master of Arts in Communication program!