About Hamilton Bean, Ph.D., MBA, APR: Hamilton Bean is an Associate Professor at the University of Colorado Denver in the Department of Communication, where he has served as Director of Graduate Studies since 2016. Dr. Bean is also the Director of CU Denver’s International Studies Program, and previously served as the Department of Communication’s Associate Chair. He teaches Introduction to Graduate Studies in Communication. He is also Occasional Visiting Professor at the International College Beijing, where he teaches courses in strategic communication.
Dr. Bean has won multiple awards for scholarship from the National Communication Association. He was drawn to the field of Organizational Communication as a result of his experiences as director of business development for a contractor in the U.S. defense and intelligence sector in Washington, DC in the years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. His research interests include security and communication, mobile public alert and warning technology, and U.S.-China communication.
He earned his BA at the University of New Mexico (History), MA (International Communication) and MBA (Management of Global Information Technology) at American University in Washington, DC, and Ph.D. (Organizational Communication) at the University of Colorado Boulder.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the University of Colorado Denver’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. Bean] CU Denver’s Master of Arts in Communication program offers a 33-credit generalist degree. The program is especially strong in the areas of rhetorical studies, media studies, health communication, and strategic communication. All incoming students take COMM 6013 Introduction to Graduate Work in Communication. They then take a research methods course. The remaining courses are divided among five graduate seminars (discussion-based and research-oriented courses) and four electives, which may include seminar-type courses, but also practice-oriented courses involving new media production, strategic communication planning, independent studies, graduate-level internships, or courses outside our Department. Seminars typically relate to the specialties of our graduate faculty members and include courses in rhetoric, health and medicine, media studies, security, conflict, environment, U.S.-China communication, and others.
All MA students must pass some form of comprehensive exam, i.e., thesis, project, or traditional written exam and verbal defense. Our program is customized to the interests of each student (we admit about nine new students across the academic year), with some gaining intense Ph.D. program preparation (these students receive excellent offers from top Ph.D. programs across the country), and others specializing in communication management, media, social justice, or civic engagement.
All of our graduates are able to describe and explain multiple and diverse theories and metatheoretical perspectives in Communication. They are able to select, apply, and justify the use of communication theories and approaches to provide understanding of (or solutions to) specific, real-world exigencies or problems. Our graduates also are able to critically evaluate communication research, as well as develop original, actionable communication research about real-world problems.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of the University of Colorado Denver’s Master of Arts in Communication program can choose between a thesis, a project, or a comprehensive examination. Could you elaborate on these three options, and what each entails?
[Dr. Bean] The thesis option is a traditional Masters-level research project that involves a significant research question, the answer to which can contribute new knowledge to the field. Theses typically span two semesters and include a comprehensive literature review and original (often field-based) research. Theses must conform to the content and style requirements specified by the Graduate School.
The project option aims to have students produce a study that is acceptable for academic conference presentation or scholarly publication. Working closely with their advisor, MA student projects are typically shorter than theses and written in the style of the academic journal that the student may be targeting for publication. Projects are typically designed to mimic the kinds of studies that students produce in Ph.D. programs as they work toward their dissertation. Several of our students have had MA project manuscripts accepted for publication during or shortly after completing our program.
Comprehensive examinations involve students reviewing (for several weeks) the totality of their coursework and then responding, in writing, to various questions about communication theory, research, methods, and practice. A week or so later, the student verbally defends those answers in front of a committee of faculty members who assess the student’s level of knowledge of the field and command of key concepts. All three of these options require students to work closely with their chosen advisor and other members of their committee across one or two semesters.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in the University of Colorado Denver’s Master of Arts in Communication? 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. Bean] Faculty mentorship plays a critical role in our program. After the first year, MA students select their advisor and chart a degree completion plan, including preparing for comprehensive exams, Ph.D. program applications, and/or post-graduation career options. Our faculty members are committed to student success, working closely with students to ensure that they meet their goals and objectives. As a result, our MA program has a near 100% graduation rate. Occasionally, students will conduct and publish research with faculty members (check out our website and social media platforms). Students routinely secure additional funding via research or teaching projects funded by our Dean’s Office, the Office of International Affairs, the Puksta Foundation, the Graduate School, and other campus or community organizations. Our travel support for academic conference presentation is strong, with up to $1,250 in travel support per year.
Career development resources and academic services available to students are what one would expect at a major, urban university — from knowledgeable staff at the Career Services office to helpful volunteers at the LGBTQ Student Resource Center. Our instructors routinely invite staff members from various offices on campus to visit courses, discuss important issues, or support student projects. Students are also encouraged to make their own connections and develop opportunities. But perhaps the most useful resource are our MA program alumni who never hesitate to speak with current students, offer advice, and share their perspectives during classroom visits and Department events.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in the University of Colorado Denver’s Master of Arts in Communication, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application?
[Dr. Bean] We seek diverse applicants from the U.S. and abroad who can demonstrate a commitment to (or strong interest in) furthering our Department’s mission, which is to cultivate “the ability to use communication to create a more equitable and humane world.” Competitive students will ensure that their personal statement describes what they hope our program will help them accomplish personally and professionally, identify the specific elements of our program that they think best match their interests and can help them achieve their goals (including linking to the research interests of graduate faculty members), and demonstrate that they have carefully considered the elements of our program. Overly generalized personal statements typically are not useful enough to convince admissions committees that students are a good fit for our program.
We also ask students to provide a writing sample, and those that demonstrate interesting, innovative, and critical thinking (and that are error-free) are well received. We are a writing-intensive program, and we need to ensure that admitted students will be able to meet our high standards of scholarship. Letters of recommendation from people who can speak to a student’s probable success in a graduate education program are more useful to admissions committees than generalized letters of support. We strive to provide teaching assistantships to all of our MA students who seek them, so indicating one’s desire to teach in our program and what preparation they have toward that end is useful. Finally, most of our MA students have earned undergraduate degrees in the Communication discipline, but not all; nevertheless, successful applicants emphasize their commitment to gaining a deeper, more critical understanding of how people use communication to inform and influence each other.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the University of Colorado Denver’s Master of Arts in Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Bean] The quality of MA-level education is highly dependent on the expertise, engagement, and mentorship of graduate faculty. In that regard, CU Denver’s MA program is competitive with the best in the country. Our graduate faculty members have won multiple awards from regional, national, and international communication associations for research, teaching, and service. Our previous Department Chair is Past-President of the National Communication Association, and all of our faculty are active in the discipline. The research output of our faculty is on par with Ph.D. programs. As a result, our Ph.D.-bound graduates often find themselves with multiple offers from top programs across the country, and they have gone on to become successful assistant professors. We also have a strong track record of securing new positions or promotions for students pursing communication management roles in government, nonprofit, and commercial enterprises — especially those with a social service mandate. Our program prides itself on community engagement (via our annual Communication Days celebrations, our Daniels Fund Colloquia for Ethics in Communication events, and the publication Captured Words Free Thoughts), global education (via our International College Beijing program), and quality of life (balancing academics with taking advantage of all the fantastic opportunities provided by living on the Front Range).
[MastersinCommunications.com] Students of master’s in communication programs often must balance work, internships, coursework, 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. Bean] One of our faculty members, Dr. Sonja Foss, literally wrote the book on this subject, and we engage with all of these issues in our Introduction to Graduate Work in Communication course. My advice is to chart a plan for what you want to achieve. Talk to multiple faculty members and other stakeholders about that plan and gain feedback. Keep your eye on the ball but be open to unique opportunities that might lead you in a new and unexpected direction. For example, some of our students have entered the program thinking that they wanted to be communication managers only to fall in love with teaching and research and instead pursue an academic career. Finally, check out the helpful essays in this volume: https://www.natcom.org/sites/default/files/pages/NCA_Career_Center_Getting_the_Most_from_the_Graduate_Education_in_Communication.pdf.
Thank you, Dr. Bean, for your excellent insight into the University of Colorado Denver’s Master of Arts in Communication program!