Note: In July 2018, we interviewed Dr. James Hutson, Assistant Dean of Graduate and Online Programs in the School of Arts, Media, and Communications at Lindenwood University about the school's master's in communication degree programs. Because Lindenwood does not currently offer a graduate program in the field of communication, this interview has been archived for historical purposes.

About Dr. James Hutson, Ph.D.: James Hutson is the Assistant Dean of Graduate and Online Programs for the School of Arts, Media, and Communications at Lindenwood University, where he oversees graduate and distance learning. This role involves the review of potential student application materials, program development and assessment, as well as strategic planning. In addition, he teaches the graduate core courses, including the Graduate Seminars and Research Methods and researches issues of gender and theory in his field. Dr. Hutson earned his Bachelor of Arts in Art at the University of Tulsa, his Master of Arts in Art History at Southern Methodist University, and Doctor of Philosophy in Art History at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Interview Questions

[] Could you please provide an overview of Lindenwood University’s Master of Arts in Mass Communications and Master of Arts in Advertising and Strategic Communications, and how these programs are structured? What learning outcomes can students expect from each program, respectively?

[Dr. Hutson] The Master of Arts in Mass Communications program has been recently redesigned with an industry standard model, blending in some of the adjacent areas of study such as Journalism and Public Relations, specifically to give students a bit more flexibility in choosing what areas in which to specialize. That approach opens up more opportunities in selection of as many as six “practical skills” areas, such as television production, media analysis, and more. The balance between theory and skill is handled on an individual level beyond the program base level, with the focus being on the student’s targeted outcome. This is managed through the support of a common core for students where they learn methods and scholastic writing in the field and work on their projects in the graduate seminar and thesis/project classes. These courses provide students with subject-matter experts and the latitude to work expressly on the areas and interests leading to the final project.

The Master of Arts in Advertising and Strategic Communications program has also been recently redesigned in order to provide students with an interdisciplinary program of study that prepares them ideally for advanced roles in strategic communication. This program includes courses in areas such as Web and Graphic Design, Mass Communications, Journalism, and Public Relations, and gives students a great deal of flexibility in crafting their individual course of study. Similar to the Mass Communications program, this program enables students to build expertise in six “practical skills” areas, such as traditional Advertising coursework like Campaign Management and Copywriting, as well as Media Management, Digital Content Strategy, Web Design, and more

For both programs, course content is designed to mimic real world work environments so the student can apply skills learned in the classroom. However, there is more to this model than applying learned skills. Real experience means learning time management, meeting deadlines, following protocols, negotiating relationships and being responsible for outcomes. These are the intangibles that cannot be developed without being in a shared space, working toward common goals.

In both of our Master’s programs, we take this prioritization of real world applications further. Students of the Master of Arts in Advertising and Strategic Communication have the opportunity to develop their advertising skills in actual industry scenarios. This is especially true for the course in Advertising Campaign Management, where students work together on rebranding real-world clients and also competing at DECA. Students of the Master of Arts in Mass Communications program have the opportunity to develop supervisory talents by managing crews of other students. As Associate Producers, these individuals may develop programming and projects under the oversight of the Mass Communications department. In the role, students produce television programs and learn the specifics of oversight related to each role. Once approved, implementing those projects becomes the responsibility of the graduate student. All program facilities are at their disposal, including a cadre of production personnel who work in concert to achieve the approved vision of the Masters candidate.

Students learn managerial techniques while upgrading and perfecting existing technical applications. The result is a student who is ready to enter the workforce with confidence that they can negotiate a diverse workplace and adapt to changing industry developments.

[] Lindenwood University’s Master of Arts in Mass Communications and Master of Arts in Advertising and Strategic Communications are hybrid programs that combine online and campus-based courses. Could you elaborate on which courses are required to be completed on campus, and which can be completed online? Also, what online technologies do these programs implement to facilitate students’ interactions with course faculty and peers?

[Dr. Hutson] Both the Master of Arts in Mass Communications and the Master of Arts in Advertising and Strategic Communications are designed to provide students with the flexibility and support to achieve their academic and professional goals. The 18 credits of the graduate core, including Research Methods, Research and Scholastic Writing, and the four Graduate Seminars for both programs are offered online. These courses are the backbone of the program that provides the academic skills necessary to effectively investigate the field and the framework that builds towards the final Thesis or Project. Each semester, students are given support by their embedded committee, reference librarian, career strategist, and graduate writing specialist. These resources assist students in identifying their direction and the skills necessary to complete their final project, whether that be a film reel, script, or traditional graduate thesis.

The topics or skills identified as part of students’ interests are fostered through exposure in the on-ground coursework in the other 18 credits of the program. These content-specific classes are selected in collaboration with a faculty advisor who helps identify those areas that the student would most benefit in advanced training. All the classes involve hands-on instruction with industry standard hardware and software, whether in the Converged Media Lab, the Television or Radio Stations on-campus, or in the classroom investigating advanced topics that have emerged in the fields of Mass Communications and Advertising/Strategic Communications. Subjects covered in these on-campus courses often serve as the core of subsequent investigation in the online graduate core courses, allowing students to spend more time focusing on one specific area of interest. These include developing specific technical skills in the industry or investigating topics that will become the subject of segments produced.

[] For their final graduation requirement, students of Lindenwood University’s Master of Arts in Mass Communications and Master of Arts in Advertising and Strategic Communications can choose between completing a master’s thesis or an applied project. Could you please elaborate on the differences between these two options?

[Dr. Hutson] Students are encouraged to discuss the best option with their advisor and committee and weigh the benefits of both the Thesis and the Project option. The Thesis option is often a study of an advanced topic in the field and a student’s original contribution to the dialogue. Examples of theses have been comparative studies of media across various cultures and media literacy projects. The Project option encompasses a range of possible outcomes and deliverables that meet the student’s professional goals. Regardless of the option chosen, students have an advisor and committee to provide guidance and expertise to assist in successfully realizing their vision. Most students select the project option if they plan on continuing in the industry versus academia.

Students of the Mass Communications program can work on a variety of projects according to their interests in mass media, journalism, video/audio production, etc. For example, we have students working on projects that include an examination of unethical journalistic practices in areas such as Venezuela where the final Project will be the production of a documentary film, and a study in new media (specifically pod-casting) with a focus on developing a best-practices scenario for production, marketing, and monetization. A past example of a Project would also be the production of a half-hour news magazine-style feature program for a student with interest in pursuing the broadcast journalism field. The project required that the student produce (shoot/edit) 5-6 natural sound packages (1:30-2 minutes with multiple sound bites and b-roll) on topics with a common thread. The student would then write a script to introduce the pieces from a studio setting; this would also include tosses to breaks and additional studio interviews. The goal of this project was to provide the student with demo reel material that showcases his or her work in a variety of competencies related to broadcast journalism. These skills include producing, writing, directing, shooting, editing, and serving as on-camera talent.

Most students in the Advertising and Strategic Communications program select the project option, as they tend to want to enter industry after graduating. For instance, we currently have students working on projects that entail rebranding an independently owned company, including logo and website redesign, along with a range of accompanying print and digital media marketing. This approach required that the student also take advanced coursework in graphic and web design. Other students have leveraged coursework in digital content strategy to conduct demographic analyses to target audiences for their own businesses.

[] What role does faculty mentorship play in Lindenwood University’s Master of Arts in Mass Communications and Master of Arts in Advertising and Strategic Communications? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems?

[Dr. Hutson] Lindenwood University’s Master of Arts in Mass Communications and Master of Arts in Advertising and Strategic Communications utilize a vast alumni network and individualized and department-specific support systems that meet our students’ needs. We also have a new Career Center with a range of resources for students, including their own career strategist, internship, and, finally, job specialist. These individuals work with students to secure internships, fellowships, and job opportunities through the network of arrangements we have with a number of companies, both regional and national.

The program has had even greater success working through our alumni network. Being located in a top-25 media market is an advantage to which not every program can lay claim. We have program graduates at most major in-market media outlets, and a number who have moved on to the network level. We also have numerous graduates at prestigious advertising firms, and who work for large companies in their media, marketing, and public relations departments. Those alumni have been more than willing to assist whenever possible with either speaking engagements or more personal mentoring activities. We have for the last several decades been actively encouraging students to attend both local and national events, and are looking at ways to increase participation and opportunities while accepting economic realities.

[] What makes Lindenwood University’s Master of Arts in Mass Communications and Master of Arts in Advertising and Strategic Communications unique, and particularly strong graduate degree options for students?

[Dr. Hutson] Lindenwood, again because of its location in a top-25 market, has a wide pool of professional talent from which it may draw. We pride ourselves in structuring much of our program around professional practices, and instruction from individuals actually working in their chosen fields. In order to maintain the latest equipment and pedagogical strategies in the field, the faculty in the Communications Department are active in associations such as the Broadcast Education Association (BEA) and attend both academic conferences, as well as trade shows. In the last 20 years, the Mass Communications program has focused on building and maintaining state-of-the-art audio and video facilities designed to give the student the most relevant hands-on experience possible.

Likewise, the faculty in the Advertising and Strategic Communications Department are active in associations such as the American Advertising Federation (AFF), AFF Ad Club St Louis, Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), and National Student Advertising Competition (NSAC). They also compete in DECA and mentor students to prepare them for the field after graduation. Our faculty have a vast amount of experience, and a concerted effort is being made to replace those retiring with a good balance of youthful energy and cutting edge experience.

[] For students interested in Lindenwood University’s Master of Arts in Mass Communications and Master of Arts in Advertising and Strategic Communications, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Hutson] I would recommend that a prospective student be interested in the application of new technologies and approaches to media. It is universally understood that the media “landscape” has begun to change drastically, and that the more traditional approaches may no longer be as effective as they once were. The successful graduate in the 2020’s will be one who understands new media and knows how to rapidly produce quality content across varying platforms. For this reason, we recommend students diversify their skill sets and take coursework in web design, photography, digital content strategy, and related fields that are integral to supporting the field of advertising and a successful campaign.

In addition, a sample of their work as appropriate for their area, such as a reel or writing sample, demonstrating proficiency in audio and video editing is important. A Letter of Intent should address the specifics of how our program would best meet their goals given their interests, backgrounds, and goals. Finally, three letters of recommendation from working professionals and/or academics who can speak to their commitment as a student and accomplishments in their fields.

Thank you, Dr. Hutson, for your excellent insight into Lindenwood University’s Master of Arts in Mass Communications and Master of Arts in Advertising and Strategic Communications programs!