About Dr. Gerald W.C. Driskill, Ph.D.: Gerald Driskill is the Graduate Coordinator and a Professor in the Department of Applied Communication at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where he teaches undergraduate courses in communication theory, ethics, and intercultural and organizational communication. At the graduate level, he teaches organizational cultural analysis as well as applied communication theory. His communication research focuses on communication leadership in the context of developing collaboration across organizations for community development. He is the lead author on an internationally used text, “Organizational Culture in Action” with Dr. Angela Brenton. Dr. Driskill earned his BA and MA degrees at Abilene Christian University, and received his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s (UALR) Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies, and how it is structured? What topics are covered in the core curriculum, and do students have any concentration options within the program?

[Dr. Gerald W.C. Driskill] Difference making is at the core of our program. We equip leaders to be more ethical and effective in their communication. Flowing from our departmental mission of “fostering the co-creation of better social worlds through positive communication,” we partner with our students, alumni, and other stakeholders in a culminating project that is designed to fit student goals. Students begin the program with the end in mind. First semester theory and methods courses introduce six applied communication theory models and guides them in preparing a project proposal based on their interests.

The cornerstone applied theory course introduces students to six communication applications that are then developed further in other courses. Their final project also flows from one of these models. Each model focuses on positive communication–that is ethical and effective application practices. In their course work and final project, students tailor class case studies or projects according to their interests. The following courses provide in-depth coverage of the models introduced the first semester.

  • “Organizational Communication Culture Analysis” — Driskill & Brenton’s internationally used six step model for conducting a cultural analysis is applied in an organization of the student’s choice, where they develop positive communication implications for diversity, leadership, ethics, change, and effectiveness.
  • “Communication Change and Information Diffusion” — Roger’s interdisciplinary model, the “Diffusion of Innovation,” is used by students in case studies or projects of their interest.
  • “Interpersonal Communication” — A course that engages students in conducting interviews in a context of choice using Mirivel’s internationally used model for positive communication.
  • “Conflict Analysis and Intervention” — Students gain insight into effective and ethical strategies for improving their responses to conflict through the application of the “Crucial Conversations” model to case studies students select.
  • “Effective Crisis Communication” — This course engages students in analyzing cases and conducting projects using the “Discourse of Renewal Model,” which guides organizational leaders into using communication practices that tap into crisis events as opportunities for growth and learning.
  • “Organizational Communication Training” –This course guides students in applying Kolb’s learning cycle to conducting a communication training session for a non-profit.

Beyond exploring their interests in a final project, students may use electives and class projects, to develop a focus area. A focus area involves developing an expertise in an applied communication context. Students have developed a range of applications from public relations and intercultural communication to leadership and training and organizational development. Beyond these “focus areas,” we also have a concentration in Health Communication, a concurrent program with the U.A. for Medical Sciences’ Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health, a Conflict Mediation Certificate, and a M.B.A. track with the U.A. Little Rock College of Business.

[MastersinCommunications.com] UA-Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies offers both campus-based and online coursework, as well as classes that are held in the evening, on weekends, and in hybrid formats. Could we have more details on how UALR integrates online instruction into its curriculum?

[Dr. Gerald W.C. Driskill] Our students complete the majority of their course work in face-to-face evening and weekend courses, including hybrid courses that allow more flexibility in an asynchronous context. Some students opt to take 6-9 hours of the 33-hour program in fully on-line asynchronous courses. We are currently exploring ways to expand our face-to-face courses to distance learners.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Students in UA-Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies program can choose between completing a master’s thesis, a master’s project, or an internship paper as their final graduation requirement. Could you please elaborate on each of these graduation requirements, and what they entail?

[Dr. Gerald W.C. Driskill] In the first semester, students are given guidance on the value of a thesis, project, or internship given their focus area. The majority of students select a M.A. project since this option is applied in nature and gives them valuable experience in an organization. In addition, students may complete this M.A. project while also using an elective to engage in an internship. They have the option of an internship in our “Communication Skill Center” where they present workshops on and off campus and coach and mentor undergraduate students. Those seeking off campus internships are given guidance with the expectation that the internship will involve reflection on and application of one or more of the six program models. A student may opt then to use the internship to develop a final M.A. paper.

Others with an interest in pursuing a Ph.D. may explore a thesis, yet we have had a 100% acceptance rate for students using their M.A. projects in Ph.D. applications. We prepare students in a first semester course to develop a research proposal. Then, with an advisor, they are guided in the process of data collection, analysis, and developing applied applications for each project. Example final M.A. projects include:

  • Communication Excellence Theory: Stories of Communication Excellence between Physicians and Patients at Arkansas Children’s Hospital
  • Let Us Sit Down Together at the Table of Brotherhood: Narratives of Reconciliation in Black and White Friendships
  • Bridging the Gap: Improving Parent-Teacher Communication
  • A Cultural Analysis of a Youth Development Center: Creating Tomorrow’s Leaders
  • From the Backyard to My Front Yard: An Analysis of Heifer International’s Diffusion Process
  • Assessing communication excellence in an elementary school anti-bullying program
  • “No comprendo”: A Culture-Centered Approach to Risk and Health Communication Message Preferences for Arkansas’ Hispanic Population
  • The Discourse of Renewal and the Obesity Crisis in the Arkansas Delta
  • “Green Diffusion in the Natural State: Using Communication Theory to Accelerate the Adoption of Going Green in Arkansas.”
  • An Examination of the Diffusion Process of Nonprofit Outreach in Hunger Relief in Arkansas
  • A 360 Review: How Positive Communication Can Enhance a Leader’s Effectiveness
  • Mentors and Positive Communication: Can One Speech Act Change a Life?
  • Encouragement on the Challenge Course: An Application of the Model of Positive Communication
  • A Cultural Analysis of a Non-Profit Organization: Alzheimer’s Association
  • A Cultural Analysis of International Friendship Outreach Communication
  • Discourse of Renewal in CDC’s Communication Response to the 2012 Fungal Meningitis Crisis
  • The Separation of Church and Hate: Positive Communication in Faith Communities

[MastersinCommunications.com] UA-Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies program also requires students to take and pass a comprehensive examination. May we have more details on this examination and how students can optimally prepare for it?

[Dr. Gerald W.C. Driskill] The comprehensive exam occurs at the end of the first year of course work and focuses on a case analysis using the applied models introduced in the first semester and developed through courses. The case analysis involves a 3-5 page description of a challenge facing an organization that may be addressed by application of one of our models.

In addition, students maintain a portfolio of their work that is presented to students and faculty during a final seminar/capstone class.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in UA-Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies program, and how can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities? Additionally, what career development resources and academic services are available to students of UA-Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies program?

[Dr. Gerald W.C. Driskill] We learn about student goals and interests in our intake interviews and work to connect them with a faculty advisor in their first semester. Their faculty advisor guides them in discerning their focus area as well as in developing their final project. A committee is then engaged in reviewing their final project proposal and providing additional feedback at a final meeting in which the student presents their final project to their advisor and committee. In addition, we introduce students during their program to our alumni mentoring network. Some students engage with our alumni in internships on and off campus, others shadow alumni, and still others may do projects that further connect them with career paths of interest to them. Students may take initiative on their own to shadow alumni, but faculty also aid them in making connections. We also have a “LinkedIn” group that students are encouraged to join. Beyond our campus career center, alumni from our 30-year old program regularly visit classes, and our alumni board hosts an end of program gathering to aid student networking options.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For both domestic and international students interested in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application?

First, set up a phone or Skype call, or an in-person visit so I can get acquainted with your interests and goals and respond to questions so together we can discern if you are a good fit for the program. In preparation for our discussion, send your unofficial transcript so we can identify course work that may be needed before entry. If after the interview and transcript review, a decision is made to move to the next step, you may then apply to the program. Your next step is to then submit writing samples and your professional statement. These materials provide our faculty with the information needed to discern your level of preparation. Our goal is to accept students who are a good fit for the program and have evidence that they are prepared. We want to set students up for success. Thus, we will work with applicants to find pathways to success if they do not currently meet requirements. This process may mean additional course work. Concerning competitiveness, our focus is on supporting applications and discerning students’ best options. For some applicants, applying for a Graduate Assistantship is an option. In the interview, we can discern if you have the background needed for one of these roles, either inside or outside of our department. Both national and international students need to know that these roles are highly competitive, yet we will guide them in discerning if they would be qualified.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes UA-Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does the program prepare students for careers in communication research and instruction, as well as roles in industry?

[Dr. Gerald W.C. Driskill] Our mission of “fostering the co-creation of better social worlds” is woven throughout our program. Students coming to our program soon realize that faculty research and community service as well as our student focused learning culture all enact this mission. This mission reflects our alumni and stakeholder connections that create pathways for students to explore their career interests. Alumni range in their difference-making work from project management at nonprofits and marketing/PR directors at educational and medical institutions to professors serving in universities across the country as well as leaders in talent management/organizational development and doctor-patient communication.

Thank you, Dr. Driskill, for your excellent insight into the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies!