Note: In February 2019, we interviewed Dr. Federica Fornaciari, Academic Program Director for the Master of Arts in Strategic Communications program at National University. Because NU does not currently offer a graduate program in the field of communication, this interview has been archived for historical purposes.

About Federica Fornaciari, Ph.D.: Federica Fornaciari is the Academic Program Director for the Master of Arts in Strategic Communications at National University. As Director, she oversees curriculum development, student recruitment and admissions, and also advises students in the program to help them tailor their coursework to their interests and goals. As an Assistant Professor, Dr. Fornaciari teaches a variety of courses including Communication in a Global Environment, Emerging Media Strategies, Interpersonal Communication, Intercultural Communication, Interactive Storytelling, and the Capstone Project. Through her instruction, Dr. Fornaciari helps students build the theoretical and practical tools to understand and navigate the complex, multifaceted world of strategic communication.

Dr. Fornaciari received a Laurea (equivalent B.A.) in Communication and Mass Media from the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia (Italy), a Master of Arts in Journalism and Mass communication from Marshall University, and a Ph. D. in Communication with a Concentration in Electronic Security and Privacy from the University of Illinois at Chicago. The latter was sponsored by a grant received from the National Science Foundation.

Before joining the Department of Arts & Humanities at National University in 2016, Dr. Fornaciari taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago, DePaul University, Fullerton College, Moorpark College, El Camino College, and Irvine Valley College.

Interview Questions

[] Could you please provide an overview of National University’s online Master of Arts in Strategic Communications program, and how it is structured? What are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?

[Dr. Fornaciari] Throughout the Master of Arts in Strategic Communications, students learn to operate in an increasingly complex and interdependent global environment and acquire the theoretical and practical foundations for developing strategic communications programs and campaigns. Each course provides an essential stepping-stone on the way to planning, executing, and evaluating effective strategic communications efforts. The degree is very versatile in order to provide students with the means that they may apply to their chosen career paths.

As a result, students develop and strengthen several skills including the following: persuasion, audience analysis, campaign planning and development, understanding of uses/features of traditional and new media, research methods, crisis evaluation and management, ethics/ethical norms for media industry, decision-making, problem-solving, project planning and management – as well as interpersonal, intercultural and organizational skills for the workplace. Finally, in the Capstone Project, students put together a professional e-portfolio to display and present material developed throughout their coursework – this is a fundamental tool for students who are getting ready to apply for jobs or promotions.

With 4 week-long, intensive classes, our curriculum is fast-paced and designed to meet the needs of working professionals who have busy schedules. The program consists of ten core courses, and can therefore be completed in less than a year. Most of our students have to balance full time jobs, family responsibilities, and military duties with school requirements. Therefore, the program is fully online and can be completed asynchronously – but students have the option to connect synchronously with instructors and classmates through weekly online seminars.

[] What online learning technologies does the Master of Arts in Strategic Communication program use to facilitate student engagement with faculty and peers?

[Dr. Fornaciari] Our classes are intensive 4-week long classes, fully online. We offer weekly online seminars through Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. During these seminars students have the opportunity to connect synchronously with their instructors and peers, ask questions, discuss course material, deliver professional presentations, and develop a sense of community. These live seminars are also recorded so students always have the option to watch them asynchronously.

Assignments include discussion board posts, peer responses, individual assignments, group work, wikis, and other collaborative tasks that facilitate interaction.

Instead of holding traditional office hours, professors encourage students to schedule one-on-one conversations as needed – these may be held via phone, email, video conference, or in person (when students’ location and schedule allows it). This flexible format is truly appreciated by our nontraditional students, as their busy schedules do not always allow them to be available during pre-determined office hours.

[] For their final graduation requirement, students must complete a capstone project consisting of a digital e-portfolio. Could you elaborate on this requirement, and what it entails?

[Dr. Fornaciari] During the Capstone Project students reflect upon their chosen career path, analyze the market in their field of choice, and draw the connections between their own learning experience at National University and the skills necessary to successfully enter their career of choice. The Capstone Project is a practicum course – cohorts are therefore divided into smaller sections or 5-6 students. Thanks to such small classes, instructors are able to become, almost, personal career counselors for their students.

During this course, students develop a market analysis for their field of choice, looking at possible job openings, exploring job descriptions, and collecting valuable information about their desired job’s outlook from sources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Then, students complete a reflective journal to reflect upon their learning experience at National University, and start drawing connections between their acquired toolkits and current market needs in their field of choice. In the journal they are encouraged to discuss what they learned/which skills they developed in each class completed.

Upon identifying professionals who are currently employed in their field of choice, students are mentored to schedule, prepare, conduct, and reflect upon an informational interview. This may be obtained by attending networking events (such as job fairs) or by reaching out directly to selected professionals via LinkedIn, email, or phone calls.

Finally, students curate and update their LinkedIn page (or create one, if they don’t already have it). Also, using a platform of their choice, students put together a professional e-portfolio. This includes a bio, a professional headshot, an updated resume/CV, links to professionally oriented social media profiles (such as LinkedIn and Twitter), and at least two selected paper or projects completed during the Master of Arts in Strategic Communications. Depending upon their career goals, students are mentored as to which projects they should include. Students are also allowed (and often encouraged) to include additional projects that they may have completed for their current or previous employers/clients.

Ultimately, students can consider their instructor for the Capstone Project as a career coach who mentors them to get ready for their upcoming steps in the job world – which may be a career shift, a promotion, the start of a new business, etc.

[] What role does faculty mentorship play in National University’s Master of Arts in Strategic Communications program? Independent of faculty instruction and support, what career development resources and academic services are available to online students, and how can they make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems?

[Dr. Fornaciari] As the Academic Program Director for the Master of Arts in Strategic Communications, I mentor and support students before, during, and after the program. As students navigate through the program I help them to make the most out of their learning experience. I also encourage them to start thinking about their professional plan as soon as (or even before) they join National University. I always encourage students to discuss their career path with me as well as with other faculty members.

The Capstone Project course provides students with a terrific opportunity to put together their professional e-portfolio and learn how to develop and benefit from a professional network. This course is also a dedicated venue for them to discuss their career path and receive personalized feedback from faculty.

Additionally, students can access the National University Career Services (either online or in person). The services offered include the following: career counseling, salary negotiation, employer information sessions, resume and cover letter review, online job portal, career fairs, interviewing techniques and mock interviews, career exploration and assessments, and online workshops.

[] For students interested in National University’s Master of Arts in Strategic Communications program, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Fornaciari] The Master of Arts in Strategic Communications welcomes students who are passionate about learning and desire to further their theoretical and practical knowledge of strategic communications. We seek students who have strong communication skills, or who are strongly motivated to improve them. Ultimately, our students should demonstrate enthusiasm, grit, proactivity, perseverance, and curiosity.

Our program officially starts twice yearly, in March and in October. However, thanks to our flexible four-week format, we welcome students to start the program when it best fits their schedule, year round. Students can easily start their application online or by phone. To do so, they may contact directly our admission team at (855) 355-6288 or using the admission website: They may also reach out to me directly, at ffornaciari @ if they wish to gather additional information about the program.

[] What makes National University’s online Master of Arts in Strategic Communications program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Dr. Fornaciari] The Master of Arts in Strategic Communications is an exciting program that integrates theoretical and hands-on applications of relevant communication theories, providing students with the toolkits necessary to become communication specialists in a complex media environment.

The curriculum is well-designed and frequently updated to meet the needs of a diverse and nontraditional student population. Course Learning Outcomes and Program Learning outcomes are frequently assessed and adjusted to best align with market needs.

The Master of Arts in Strategic Communications is currently a member of the National Communication Association and of the International Public Relations Association. Thanks to these memberships, faculty in the program have access to constantly updated case studies, assessment resources, and guidelines for program review that strengthen our ability to keep the program current and relevant.

Our interdisciplinary faculty includes communication professionals, as well as established and emerging researchers who specialize in a variety of fields such as social and digital media, public relations, marketing, crisis communication, and more.

Thanks to the combination of resources listed above, this program equips students with the tools necessary to launch professional communication careers in a variety of private, public sector, and non-profit organizations. The program delivers a great combination of theoretical and practical skills that enable students to be competitive in the marketplace.

Thank you, Dr. Fornaciari, for your excellent insight into National University’s Master of Arts in Strategic Communications program!