About Evan Kropp, Ph.D: Evan Kropp is the Director of Online Graduate Programs for the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida (UF). As Director, he oversees curriculum design and updates for UF’s online Master of Arts in Mass Communication, manages student recruitment and admissions, and advises students to help them realize their career goals both during and after their tenure in the program. Additionally, Dr. Kropp consults with professionals in the field of mass communication to ensure that the MA in Mass Communication is optimally meeting students’ needs at the cutting edge of communication strategy and technologies. He earned his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in Mass Communication from the University of Hartford, and received his Ph.D. in Mass Communication from the University of Georgia.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we have a brief overview of your academic and professional background? What are your responsibilities as the Director of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications Online?
[Dr. Evan Kropp] I earned my Bachelor’s in Mass Communication from the University of Hartford and immediately entered the professional workforce. My first job was representing various manufacturers who were interested in finding retailers to sell their products. It was around that time that eCommerce and the Internet were entering a phase of rapid growth and adoption. Following this trend, I shifted into internet marketing and eventually opened my own internet marketing agency.
After over a decade in the professional world, I decided to switch direction and pursue a career in higher education. I returned to the University of Hartford where I earned a master’s degree in Mass Communication and then earned a Ph.D. in Mass Communication from the University of Georgia (UGA). During that time, I also earned a graduate certificate in Interdisciplinary University Teaching from UGA. While attending the University of Georgia, I started teaching online as an adjunct instructor for Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). They were just starting their master’s program and I also built several courses in that program.
Following graduation, I was invited to teach for one-year at the University of Georgia as a Visiting Professor and then I accepted a full-time Assistant Professor position at Reinhardt University in Waleska, Georgia. It was at that time a colleague at SNHU called me to say the school was looking for a new Assistant Dean for the Communication program. I applied and accepted that job. While at SNHU, I oversaw the online undergraduate and graduate-level communication programs. Some of the larger projects I completed were a complete overhaul of the undergraduate curriculum and integration of the online program with the on-campus and international competency-based offerings so students could seamlessly move between programs. I also pursued and earned a second graduate certificate, this one from the University of Massachusetts focused on Higher Education Leadership and Management.
In 2019, the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications was seeking a new Director for their online graduate program and, when I read the job description, I felt like I was a perfect fit because the online graduate-level program is run in an entrepreneurial way and the role required someone with both professional and academic experience. The online graduate program at UF is professionally focused. This allows me to use my experience and skills to not only oversee the daily administration of the program, but also communicate with professionals in the field to determine what skills, knowledge and dispositions they need from our graduates so we can ensure our graduates meet the needs of employers.
Additionally, the online master’s program does not work with any online program management companies, we administrate all aspects of the department in-house. This means I oversee our marketing, admissions, advising, staffing and finances while collaborating with our campus faculty and administration on the program’s curriculum.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you elaborate on the University of Florida’s Online Master of Arts in Mass Communication program, its curriculum structure, and how it prepares students for a wide variety of careers in cutting edge communication strategy, multimedia storytelling, media management, public interest communication, public relations, global communication, and more?
[Dr. Evan Kropp] The University of Florida College of Journalism and Communication’s online graduate program (UF CJC Online) was launched in 2012. Since that time, the Master of Arts in Mass Communication degree program has grown to offer eight different concentrations and four graduate certificate options have been made available. Each concentration has its own unique degree plan that consists of core courses from the concentration, a mass communication core including research and theory courses, elective courses and a Capstone. These concentrations range from 33-37 credits. The certificates are made up of four courses each and are 12 or 13 credits each.
The curriculum is designed by a team of experts including our full-time faculty, adjunct instructors, subject-matter experts, advisory board members and others. We strive to design a curriculum that will be immediately applicable to students. We often hear stories of students learning a new skill or software program in their class one week and immediately applying what they’ve learned at work the following week. While some of our students do enter our program immediately following their undergraduate graduation, most are returning to school after having gained some professional experience.
We serve students who are seeking to move up in their current career or change career paths, and we have a good number of late-career students who want to acquire new skills and knowledge in areas like social media and web design that didn’t exist when they started their careers.
Our concentration options include:
Audience Analytics: Data analytics is a rapidly growing specialty where there is considerable demand from employers. Students in this area learn how to identify, target and effectively communicate to various audiences, how to collect data and how to interpret that data to tell stories. Organizations are collecting so much data these days, but it’s only useful if they have someone who can organize it, determine what it means and translate it into meaningful and actionable information that others can understand.
Digital Strategy: Digital Strategy offers a broad education including topics like copywriting, inbound marketing and social media advertising. Practical skills and theoretical knowledge in user-experience and mass communication make this option attractive for students considering a variety of employment fields.
Global Strategic Communication: Digital communications and remote work are making the world a smaller place, and everyone should learn how to reach and effectively communicate with individuals from different cultures. This concentration focuses on international and intercultural communication and includes a special emphasis on global activism, visual storytelling and public affairs communication.
Political Communication: Like other fields, individuals in the field of politics are being asked to wear multiple hats. This degree plan focuses on the foundational topics of campaigning, organizing, advertising and engaging with different groups. The concentration also includes content focused on visual and web-based communications so students are able to create their own messaging.
Public Interest Communication: Capitalizing on the strength of the Center for Public Interest Communications that is housed in our college, this concentration focuses on teaching students to create science-based strategic communications to advance the human condition. I like to say this field is for people that are less concerned with performing work that generates profits and more concerned with doing good and creating a meaningful impact through behavioral or social change.
Public Relations: There are many graduate-level public relations programs in the country. What makes ours stand out is reputation, quality and alumni network. It’s nearly impossible to work in PR and not run across many successful individuals who are part of the Gator Nation.
Social Media: This robust concentration focuses on many aspects of social media including branding, advertising, video storytelling, management, metrics and more. This is a rapidly growing field. Our faculty are in the professional trenches during the day and bringing their firsthand experiences to students in the evening.
Web Design: What I love about this concentration is the two-pronged approach of design and programming. Students learn the fundamentals of design and then how to apply those fundamentals through commonly used industry software tools. They also learn how to code through four courses that are basically a more in-depth coding bootcamp. While many students prefer just design or coding, our program educates in both areas resulting in very well prepared graduates.
Students apply to a specific concentration but one aspect of our program that really benefits students is the structure of our degree plans. All but one program (Web Design being the exception because there is so much core content) give students the opportunity to enroll in elective courses. For their electives, students can choose from any courses we offer, including those from other specializations or special elective courses we include in the program that are not tied to any degree plan.
This offers students two main advantages. First, they can personalize their program of study to fit their specific situation and career goals. Second, they can use their electives to pursue one of our Graduate Certificates. This allows students the opportunity to earn two credentials for the price of one.
[MastersinCommunications.com] The University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communication also offers graduate certificates in Global Strategic Communication, Audience Analytics, Social Media, and Web Design. When deliberating between earning a master’s degree or a certificate, what should students take into consideration? What are the advantages of earning a graduate certificate?
[Dr. Evan Kropp] Graduate certificates are one type of credential that is increasingly ubiquitous in higher education, and they serve a great purpose. I should know because I’ve earned two myself!
Our graduate certificates can be used by individuals who are looking to upskill but don’t need or aren’t ready to commit to a full master’s degree. Often, individuals who already hold advanced degrees choose to pursue certificates so they can focus on specific skills and knowledge without having to complete another full degree. Certificates are also a good way for people to test the waters in a new area of interest. Instead of committing to a full master’s degree, certificate programs are lower commitment (12-13 credits vs. 33-37 credits) and a smaller financial investment.
There is a shorter timeframe to earn the certificates (they can be earned in as few as two semesters) so individuals looking to demonstrate their capabilities to employers can speed up their timelines.
The way we’ve structured our degree plans allows most students to take the credits they earned in a certificate program and apply them to a master’s degree. This saves students time and money because they don’t need to start over from scratch. It’s very common to see master’s applications from current certificate students. Once individuals start learning and earn a certificate, they crave more.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How does the University of Florida’s online Master of Arts in Mass Communication program use online technologies and learning management systems to create an ideal learning environment for students? Does the program use synchronous instruction, asynchronous instruction, or both?
[Dr. Evan Kropp] The Learning Management System (LMS) we use is Canvas. We find it to be a robust learning environment with many opportunities to personalize courses and engage with students. We believe that a well-organized learning environment is important for student success. For that reason, in 2020, we started redesigning all our courses to meet Quality Matters (QM) standards. We consider QM to be the gold standard of course design. Our instructors work with a team of Instructional Designers to create courses that are easy to navigate and include all the information students need to succeed. We incorporate the use of other technologies as needed, including Zoom to host live classes, record lectures and to allow students and instructors to have 1:1 meetings.
Most of our courses are asynchronous but we have some courses that include synchronous meetings. We leave the decision to have live classes to our instructors and only include a live component when they are needed for learning purposes. For example, in our web design courses, live meetings allow the instructor and students to hold live critique sessions. In the programming courses, instructors can model coding and walk students through using software in a live environment. Since most of our students are working professionals, we schedule live sessions for evening hours (between 6-10 pm EST). All live sessions are recorded and posted in Canvas for students to re-watch or watch for the first time if they were unable to attend the live sessions. Attendance is not required, and students are not penalized for missing live sessions, but we find the majority of students choose to attend.
Our program is 100% online and there is never a need for students to travel to campus unless they choose to stop by and say hello (which many do). Being fully online does not mean we are disconnected from our students. We encourage our instructors to be highly engaged with students and we find that many build long-term professional relationships since we treat our students as future potential colleagues, and many are already working in their fields. Instructors are engaged with their courses through announcements, discussion boards, live or recorded lectures, live meetings, office hours, 1:1 meetings, and email; some instructors even setup Slack channels or social media groups for their classes.
We also believe that students should be engaging with each other. To accomplish that, we incorporate activities in our courses that allow students to connect. These can be large or small group projects, peer review activities, live course discussions and more. We also have private social media groups where students can engage with each other, post job opportunities, ask questions about classes or instructors, and more.
Our staff is also available to help students with their education needs. We have two full-time Graduate Student Advisors who are available to help students with any questions or challenges. We also have a Success Coach who is available to students at any time to help with issues like finding ways to be better organized or enhance their study skills. As the Director, I often receive emails from students and I am always happy to engage with them in any way they need to help them succeed. For us, student success is the heart of our mission.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Students of the University of Florida’s Online Master of Arts in Mass Communication program must complete a Capstone Project as their final graduation requirement. Could you elaborate on this project, and what it entails?
[Dr. Evan Kropp] The capstone experience is required of all master’s students (there is no capstone experience for certificates). The capstone is technically a course, but I like to refer to it as an experience. Over the years, the capstone has been offered in different formats and, in 2021, we started implementing a new model that allows us to better assess each student’s achievement of our learning outcomes and allows students to graduate with an individual solid/polished portfolio piece that they can show employers to demonstrate their capabilities.
The basic structure is this: students select a client to use as the focus of their project. This can be a client that they interact with or a real company using a hypothetical scenario. For example, a student may choose to work with a company or organization and interact with them to address a “real” communication issue. Or, a student might choose a hypothetical scenario where they choose to focus on a large corporation or a specific product from a large corporation, but they might not have direct contact with that company (For example, if a large beverage company launched a new product, a student may select the campaign that was used by that company as the basis of their project). Students work with their instructor to make the best decision on what will work for them.
After selecting their client company or organization, the student identifies a communication need. These will differ in type depending on the student’s concentration area. The instructor then approves the client selection. The first deliverable is a situation analysis. Through research, each student writes up details about the client and their communication situation. This is a critical assessment that might include components like a SWOT analysis, interviews and more. The next deliverable is a proposal. This part addresses the communication challenges that were identified in the situation analysis. This is the student’s opportunity to find unique and creative solutions to problems or suggestions for improvement. The final part is an assessment. Students detail how the implementation of their suggested plans will be measured and what actions might be taken based on that assessment. By the end of the semester, all three of these parts are combined to create one written deliverable. Additionally, students create a presentation that they deliver and record to be submitted to the instructor along with the final report.
Throughout the capstone experience, students work individually under the guidance of their instructor. There are also peer-review activities so students can collaborate and provide each other feedback on their progress.
Students complete the capstone experience in their final semester, and they are required to have completed all their core coursework prior to enrolling. This ensures they have learned the key knowledge and skills that can help them develop the most complete project. We’ve received a lot of positive feedback from students who’ve found this experience to be fun, challenging and useful.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is faculty mentorship integrated into University of Florida’s Online Master of Arts in Mass Communication program, and what advice do you have for students in terms of making the most of the mentorship opportunities and support systems available to them?
[Dr. Evan Kropp] We support our students in several ways–firstly, by building courses where faculty are engaged with students, where they can make connections and foster relationships. For example, since many of our students are interested in eventually leveraging their new degrees to become adjunct faculty members, I created a course called Seminar in Mass Communication Teaching to educate them on the history of higher education, course design, teaching strategies and more. I work closely with my students to help them build teaching portfolios that will help them get jobs. After the course, many students choose to stay in touch and I help them find jobs to apply for, I provide references and, when they start teaching, I continue to provide them with advice and support as they need. We really believe in building these types of long-term relationships with our students and alumni.
Within our department, we have full-time Graduate Student Advisors who are dedicated to our online students. We also have a Success Coach who is available as needed to students at any point during their graduate student journey.
We also rely on other college resources for our students. For example, we have a librarian who is assigned to our college and she does a wonderful job helping students find the resources they need. The Career Connections Center at UF also provides us with a dedicated employee who can work with our students 1:1 to craft resumes, search for jobs, conduct mock interviews and more.
The University of Florida has so many wonderful resources I couldn’t talk about them all here. All our students are enrolled in our Student Resource Center when they start our program. We provide a comprehensive list of resources there and, of course, students can reach out to our advisors at any time with questions about resources that are available to them.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How can students who are interested in the University of Florida’s online Master of Arts in Mass Communication program put forth a competitive application?
[Dr. Evan Kropp] The first thing applicants need to consider are the minimum criteria, which are set by the University of Florida Graduate School. Requirements are a minimum 3.0 upper-division GPA (calculated by determining the GPA of a student’s final 60-undergraduate credit hours) and the undergraduate degree must be conferred by a regionally accredited institution. If applicants aren’t sure if their undergraduate institution is accredited or if an international applicant is unsure if their institution is recognized, they can simply contact our admissions team and we let them know. Exceptions to the minimum GPA requirement can be made and admission has been offered to students who don’t meet the minimum GPA requirement, but that is rare and compelling evidence must be provided to “counter” the low GPA.
My advice for applicants is to provide information for the admissions committee that will be helpful determining the applicant’s motivation, interests and ability to succeed in the program. We conduct holistic reviews, which means we consider more than just the GPA, so the more information we are given, the better chance the student has to offset any deficiencies. For example, we may compare two applicants with the same GPA. But, if an applicant explains that during their undergraduate studies they were a single parent, working two jobs and dealing with a long commute, that gives us greater context than a GPA number alone. Providing this context is helpful.
We do not have any required standardized tests. But, if a student took the GRE or another test that might have been required by another university, they are more than welcome to submit those scores to us if they feel they strengthen their application.
Our admissions is competitive. Each semester we receive a greater number of applicants than we can admit. We receive applications from individuals around the world, from many different disciplines and people at various stages of their professional careers.
People often ask if they should bother applying because they are concerned about the competition. I always advise students to apply and give it a shot. I think of the well-known quote, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” and that’s certainly applicable here. The holistic review process means it’s not always the applicants with the highest GPAs that automatically get in. Applicants should try to make a compelling argument for why our program is a great fit for them and why they can be successful with graduate-level study.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the University of Florida’s online Master of Arts in Mass Communication program an excellent graduate degree option for students? What are some unique, standout aspects of the program, and how do the specializations prepare students particularly well for advanced careers in communication leadership? Can you also explain the Master Access program and how it is advantageous for master’s graduates?
[Dr. Evan Kropp] I am certainly biased here but I think our master’s program is one of the best in the world and we receive many accolades from online program ranking sites. We are student focused in everything we do, from selecting the best instructors to designing strong courses and ensuring course content is current and applicable to the workplace. The personal support we provide students ensures that while they may not be physically on-campus, they remain connected to us and receive any support necessary. Our flexible options from certificates to tailored master’s options means students can take courses on content that’s most applicable to them.
The learning also doesn’t stop at graduation. After graduation, any of our master’s alumni can enroll in our Master Access program. For only $500/year, students can get access to audit any courses they choose. This allows students to continue learning about topics they didn’t cover in the program through electives and keep up with changes in our rapidly evolving field.
The students in our online program receive the same degree as our on-campus students. That means they receive all the same benefits of being an Alum and member of the Gator Nation! Just being a Gator can open many doors in Florida and beyond as UF grads have a special connection to UF and really do share a strong sense of pride in their degrees and school. Go Gators!
Thank you, Dr. Evan Kropp, for your excellent insight into the University of Florida’s unique, versatile, and innovative online Master of Arts in Mass Communication program!