About Erin Ruppel, Ph.D.: Erin Ruppel is an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she also serves as the Graduate Director in Communication. As the Graduate Director, Dr. Ruppel communicates with potential students about the program, oversees the graduate admission process, and coordinates graduate student advising. She also teaches classes in interpersonal communication, communication technologies, and group communication. Dr. Ruppel earned her B.A. from University of the Pacific and her M.A. and Ph.D. from University of Arizona.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Master of Arts in Communication program, and how it is structured? What are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?

[Dr. Ruppel] The M.A. program at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee offers students a range of theoretical and methodological approaches in which they can specialize. Students are required to take the proseminar class and at least one methods course (quantitative, qualitative, or rhetorical). These classes provide students with a foundation in important concepts and methodologies in the field and prepare them for more advanced coursework in their area of specialty. While students often choose a primary area of focus–such as organizational, intercultural, interpersonal, or public communication–the lack of formal concentrations or tracks in the program means that students can work with their advisor to craft a plan of study designed to reach their goals. Students can expect to gain theoretical and applied skills that will prepare them for doctoral study or a career in fields such as higher education, human resources, non-profit administration, and marketing. For example, we offer classes in mediation, group communication, rhetorical leadership, and intercultural communication.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students must complete a master’s portfolio project or a thesis. Could you elaborate on both of these options, and what they entail?

[Dr. Ruppel] Students have the choice to complete a thesis or a master’s portfolio project, depending on their interests and career goals. Approximately half of students choose the “thesis option” and half choose the “portfolio” option. Students who choose the thesis option can apply up to 6 credits of thesis credits toward their graduation requirements. Students work with their advisor to develop a thesis proposal that addresses a set of original research questions or hypotheses generated by the student. The student presents their proposal to their committee (consisting of the advisor and two other faculty members). After the student completes the proposed project, they present the final thesis to their committee. Throughout the process, the advisor and committee serve as a resource to help students successfully complete their thesis.

The Master of Arts portfolio project (MAPP) involves the construction and defense of a pre-professional portfolio reflecting the student’s objectives and accomplishments throughout their program of study. The portfolio brings together the student’s coursework, ongoing interaction with their major professor, related scholastic and field experiences, and vision of how they will apply their degree after graduation. In addition to a seminar paper, portfolios include an informational interview with a professional in the student’s area of interest, and students’ reflections on their past and future goals and objectives, as well as how their degree can be applied to fulfilling these goals and objectives.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Master of Arts in 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. Ruppel] Faculty mentorship plays a central role in UWM’s M.A. program. Students are assigned an interim advisor when they are admitted to the program. They work one-on-one with their advisor to develop their plan of study and complete their capstone project. Advisors also help students choose the members of their thesis/portfolio committee once the student is ready to start the project (usually in the fall semester of the second year).

Faculty typically average 1-3 M.A. advisees, so students are able to develop an individual relationship with their advisors. Faculty also have connections to community organizations and businesses that can help students advance academically and professionally. Students can also work with our Graduate Internship Director to identify and receive credit for (paid or unpaid) internships. Further, the department’s Communication Graduate Student Council and our extensive graduate alumni network offer students important connections to other graduates of the program.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Master of Arts in Communication program, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Ruppel] When we evaluate applications, we look for strong writing and critical thinking skills, a clear fit of the student’s interests with the program, and enthusiastic letters of support. We evaluate applications holistically, so rather than focus on one thing (e.g., GRE scores), we weigh each piece of the application in terms of the strength of the rest of the application. My advice to students seeking admission would be to develop strong relationships with your current professors and research the program to identify whom you would like to work with and how the program fits with your interests.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Master of Arts in Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Dr. Ruppel] UWM’s M.A. program has an excellent reputation and a long history of successfully placing students in both high-ranking doctoral programs and excellent non-academic jobs. We also offer graduate certificates in mediation/negotiation and rhetorical leadership that give students valuable skills for their post-graduation careers.

The low number of required courses and lack of formal concentrations give students the flexibility to develop a program of study that suits their interests and career goals. Our many course offerings in interpersonal communication, public communication, intercultural communication, and communication technologies, among other areas, help students prepare for communication-related positions in the professional world or for future doctoral study. We are continually adding classes and updating our curriculum to meet the needs of today’s students. Because our faculty are very productive scholars, they are at the forefront of the field. The accessibility of faculty and friendliness of both faculty and other graduate students means that students receive the attention and support that is necessary for success.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Students of master’s in communication programs often must balance coursework, teaching responsibilities, internships, work for those not attending full-time, 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. Ruppel] In addition to developing good time management and study/work skills, I would encourage students to use all of the resources available to them to help support their efforts. This includes faculty (we were all in your shoes once!), other graduate students, and department or campus organizations geared toward graduate students. Having a clear goal or objective for your graduate work will also help you focus on the most important things and maintain your motivation.

Thank you, Dr. Ruppel, for your excellent insight into the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Master of Arts in Communication program!