About James Kiwanuka-Tondo, Ph.D.: James Kiwanuka-Tondo is the Director of Graduate Programs for the Department of Communication at North Carolina State University, where he also teaches numerous courses as an Associate Professor. As Director of Graduate Programs, Dr. Kiwanuka-Tondo oversees curriculum development and course offerings, student advising, faculty hiring, and student recruitment and admissions. His commitment to students as a faculty member at North Carolina State University has been recognized numerous times through awards such as the Lawrence M. Clark Faculty Excellence Award 2013 and the Advocacy Award for Promoting the Presence of African Americans at North Carolina State University.

Dr. Kiwanuka-Tondo’s research focuses primarily on health communication campaigns, particularly in the prevention of HIV/AIDS through public health education. His research has garnered numerous awards, including the Outstanding Global Engagement Award of 2015, a 2017/2018 Fulbright Scholarship, the Jackson International Service Award of 2017, and the Carnegie Africa Diaspora Fellowship of 2016.

In addition to his responsibilities as Director of Graduate Programs, Dr. Kiwanuka-Tondo serves as the Vice President of the East Africa Communication Association (EACA), and is Co-Chair of the Advisory Board of the North Carolina Community AIDS Fund. He is also the Vice Chairman for the Bantadde Development Association in Uganda.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of North Carolina State University’s Master of Science in Communication, and how it is structured? What topics are covered in the core curriculum and electives, and what are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?

[Dr. Kiwanuka-Tondo] The Master of Science in Communication is a two-year program that started out mainly focusing on people who were already in industry and wanted to increase their knowledge for marketability and promotion purposes. Since then, our focus has expanded to also include people who want to go to a Ph.D. program and proceed to academia. The program itself is comprised of 36 credits, with 9 credit hours of core, after which students are free to craft their own course of study through a wide variety of electives. The core includes two research methods courses and one theory course.

The curriculum emphasizes the research and writing skills to prepare students to understand and address communication challenges across many different contexts, from organizational, marketing, and public relations communication to media studies, cultural studies, and interpersonal communication. Students take a required theory course that covers theories of interpersonal, organizational, group, and mass communication, as well as other communication and social scientific contexts. Students have a choice between three methods courses, of which they must choose two; these courses are Critical and Interpretive Inquiry in Communication, Quantitative Methods, and Qualitative Methods.

Elective courses from which students can choose are wide-ranging, and include courses on rhetorical history, communication campaigns, gaming, risk communication, intercultural communication, visual content analysis, political communication, campaign development, media ownership, non-profit communication, health communication, and more. As mentioned previously, we began as a program that focused mostly on public relations and organizational communication, but that has since expanded to include other areas that students have voiced interest in, from the expansion of demand for health communication professionals to an increased interest in interpersonal communication, environmental communication, and media studies, just to name a few.

In addition, as our faculty team changes and newer and younger faculty members with a variety of research interests have come on board, I expect our program’s department–and therefore its programs–to shift and expand in focus over time.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of North Carolina State University’s Master of Science in Communication program have the option of completing either a thesis or a comprehensive exam. Could you please explain what the required deliverables are for the thesis and the exam, respectively?

[Dr. Kiwanuka-Tondo] For their culminating experience, students have a choice between completing a comprehensive examination and completing a thesis. For students who opt for the comprehensive exam, they are expected to answer three questions: one on research methods, one on theory, and the third on their area of specialization. Given how each student’s course of study is dependent on the methods courses and electives they select, comprehensive exams are highly individualized, and students work with a committee of faculty who design their questions.

For the comprehensive exam, students begin assembling their faculty committee by the end of their first year, when they select an advisor from within our department. During students’ second year, their faculty advisor will help them choose a graduate committee which means choosing two other faculty members. Comprehensive examinations span two days, are always done in the spring of students’ second year; students have two hours to answer each question, and complete two questions one day and the last one on the second day. After students have completed the written exam, two weeks later they must pass an oral defense of this exam.

The thesis option was introduced later on, in order to serve the needs of students who were interested in research, particularly continuing on to a Ph.D. program. The thesis is an independent research project that answers a research inquiry relating to students’ research interests and course of study. For students who opt for the thesis, they must start assembling their committee during the spring of their first year, so that they can dive right into the work on their thesis from there.

Once students have assembled their committee, this committee helps walk them through the process of preparing and presenting their prospectus. Once students have successfully defended their prospectus, they begin collecting data. Due to the time commitment that the thesis involves, students earn credit for their thesis work, while students who take the comprehensive examination take an additional elective course.

An example of a thesis project that comes to mind is one student whose committee I chaired, who was interested in health communication research specifically to address HIV/AIDS and perceptions of it. Much of my research concerns health communication campaigns, with a specific emphasis on HIV/AIDS public health campaigns. Every summer, I take students who are interested in HIV/AIDS campaigns and public health communication abroad to Botswana where they can collect data for their research projects. This student in 2013 accompanied me to Botswana in order to collect data among students of the University of Botswana, as her research question concerned the perception that college students have of HIV/AIDS and how that impacts HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns. So depending on their thesis chair and committee members’ areas of research focus, students can have the option of traveling to collect their data.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in North Carolina State University’s Master of Science in Communication program, and how can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems? Additionally, what career development resources and academic services are available to students of this program?

[Dr. Kiwanuka-Tondo] When students start the program, the Director of Graduate Programs becomes their mentor and advisor, and the Director continues to advise students in terms of course selection, etc. In the spring of their first year, students are ask to begin looking for a primary faculty advisor, whom they should select based on their areas of research and professional interest. Once students have selected their advisor, this advisor becomes their mentor throughout the second year of the program, and more often than not becomes the chair of their committee.

The Director of Graduate Programs still assists students as necessary, though specific research and comprehensive examination guidance comes from students’ primary advisor and their committee. I should also note that when assembling their committee, students usually select the traditional three members, but if they feel they need the input of an additional committee member, they are free to include a fourth.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you elaborate on the Graduate Assistantships program in North Carolina State University’s Department of Communication? What responsibilities do graduate assistants have, how are they supported, and what additional learning outcomes do they experience?

[Dr. James Kiwanuka-Tondo] We offer numerous graduate teaching and research assistantships to full-time students. The benefits of the graduate assistantship is that we pay for graduate assistants’ tuition and health insurance, and also provide them with a stipend that ranges from $10,000 to $12,000 per academic year. Most of our graduate assistants are teaching assistants, but there are a few who are also given the opportunity to serve as research assistants for any professor who has a research grant.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for North Carolina State University’s Master of Science in Communication program?

[Dr. James Kiwanuka-Tondo] The personal statement is of primary importance in students’ applications because it is where students can really put their personality on the page and also clearly explain why they are interested in our graduate program. A strong application should tell us why the student is specifically interested in our program, for we need to understand how our program can serve their interests.

We also ask for writing samples, which are also highly important. The students who gain admission to our program, the students who are the stronger candidates, are those who have excellent writing samples. These samples could be research papers they have done as undergraduates, articles they have written for media outlets, works of journalism, etc. We ask for writing samples so that we have a clear idea of how strong students’ writing skills are, so that we can determine whether they can handle the rigor of the assignments, exams, and research that this program requires.

Similarly, references are extremely important. I recommend that students find people who can strongly recommend them, and who have seen the quality of their writing work, whether in an academic or a professional context. This typically means former and current professors and supervisors who can speak to specific types of writing work that students have completed. And of course, we expect a strong GPA of not less than 3.0, though there are times we grant exceptions. We used to have the GRE as a requirement, but we have now changed that to be optional; students who have done very well on the GRE and do not have as strong of a GPA, for example, can submit their GRE scores as a way of offsetting their GPA and demonstrating that they have the writing abilities to succeed in our program.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes North Carolina State University’s Master of Science in Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Dr. Kiwanuka-Tondo] Our Master of Science in Communication program is distinctive because of our very committed faculty who really help students to succeed. Our faculty go out of their way to work with students on research papers and help them strengthen their research skills through concrete projects. We take care of our students and do everything in our power to help them succeed. Throughout the many years we have had this program (since 2001), 100 percent of our professionally focused students have been able to get jobs within the first 90 days of graduation, and students who wish to continue into academia have been admitted to Ph.D. programs at a rate of 100 percent as well by graduation. 100 percent job provision and 100 percent admission into Ph.D. programs is compelling evidence that our program is quite strong.

Thank you, Dr. Kiwanuka-Tondo, for your excellent insight into North Carolina State University’s Master of Science in Communication program!