About Janet Steele, Ph.D.: Janet Steele is the Director of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication at The George Washington University, where she also serves as Director of the Master of Arts in Global Communication program and teaches courses as an Associate Professor of Media and Public Affairs and International Affairs. As Director of the MA program in Global Communication, Dr. Steele advises students on navigating the program’s options, oversees updates to the curriculum, and supervises student recruitment and admissions. She also teaches undergraduate courses on media in the developing world, media history, theory and practice of journalism, and narrative journalism.

Dr. Steele is a former Fulbright professor, and a frequent visitor to Southeast Asia. She speaks Indonesian, and has been a State Department speaker-specialist in fourteen countries on three continents. The author of numerous articles on journalism theory and practice, her most recent book is Mediating Islam, Cosmopolitan Journalisms in Muslim Southeast Asia.

Dr. Steele received her Bachelor of Arts in History from the College of William and Mary, and both her Master of Arts in History and her Ph.D. in American Cultural History from Johns Hopkins University.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of The George Washington University (GW) Elliott School of International Affairs’ Master of Arts in Global Communication program, and how it is structured? What topics are covered in the core curriculum, and what are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?

[Dr. Steele] The Master of Arts in Global Communication is offered jointly through the Elliott School of International Affairs (ESIA) and the School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA) in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, so the core curriculum and electives are thus highly interdisciplinary. Students receive their degree from the Elliott School, but they have access to the classes and resources from both schools. While this is a graduate degree in global communication, students also receive advanced training in areas of foreign policy and international affairs, strategic political communication, international economics, and economic development.

While we do have faculty who work part-time as journalists, we are not a journalism program. The Global Communication program helps students understand the complex global information environment, its implications for governance, security, and business, and how to communicate effectively with global audiences.

Students must complete 15 credits of core coursework, consisting of the following:

  • Media and Foreign Policy: The relationship between American and international media, and the dynamics between foreign governments as a result of media representation in the U.S. and other countries. The impact of new communication technologies on military operations, trade negotiations, and other aspects of international relations.
  • Research Design: The principles, methods, and processes of effective quantitative research initiatives. How to develop and frame research inquiries, identify appropriate variables, formulate testable hypotheses, gather and analyze data, and prepare reports of results.
  • International Affairs Cornerstone: An overview of advanced theories of international relations across different academic disciplines, from economic models to political and social theories. How to apply these theories to real-world scenarios.
  • Their choice of one of the following two courses:
    • Survey of International Economics: An introduction to international finance and trade, including macroeconomic principles, the impact of one country’s economic status on the global economy, trade protection and liberalization, and determining exchange rates.
    • Survey of Economic Development: The economic challenges faced by developing countries, and their causes. How to address these economic problems through effective policies, programming, and assessments.
  • Their choice of one of the following three courses:
    • Media Effects, Public Opinion, and Persuasion: The central principles and theories of persuasion through media. How media impacts people individually and at the mass level. How different forms of content and delivery methods impact audience cognition and behavior.
    • Strategic Political Communication: The theories and principles of strategic communication as they apply to policymaking and political situations. National and international applications of strategic communication processes.
    • History and Its Uses in International Affairs: An examination of how past political and social events impact current policies and international affairs. How different countries have used communication tactics to negotiate the discussion and resolution of controversial or difficult aspects of their past with other international players.

After they complete the 15 core credits of the program, students can choose from a number of different specializations: Public Diplomacy, Communication and Information Technology in International Affairs, Conflict and Conflict Resolution Specialization, Global Gender Policy Specialization, Global Health Specialization, International Development Specialization (which has eight sub-specializations in Anthropology, Environment, Humanitarian Assistance, International Development Management, International Education, Global Health, Political Economy, and Women and Development), and International Economic Affairs Specialization. Each of these specializations has its own set of curricular requirements, and pulls from courses in departments such as Anthropology, Economics, Geography, Professional Studies, Sociology, International Affairs, Philosophy, and Public Policy and Public Administration, just to name a few.

Independent of these specializations, we also work with students who have a particular interest in an area for which we do not have a devoted concentration. Graduate school is an expensive endeavor—both financially and in terms of time—and I believe that students should have the opportunity to get what they want out of their graduate experience. For students who want to focus on a different area, I ask them to give me a course list and explain why they want to pursue this particular course of study. If they can present a strong case and demonstrate how this specialization will further their career goals, I’m typically happy to sign off on it.

We are part of a consortium of universities within the Washington, D.C. area, which allows students even more flexibility. For example, one of my former students wanted to take an advanced journalism class, and as we don’t offer graduate courses in journalism, she took such a course at Georgetown University, which is part of our consortium.

Our faculty consists of practitioners as well as scholars, so students can benefit not only from studying with internationally recognized researchers, but also from working with professionals who are directly engaged with the issues about which they teach. For example, our Public Diplomacy Fellow is a member of the Senior Foreign Service who is with us on detail from the State Department.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please elaborate on the Elliott School’s Global Capstone Project requirement for students of the Master of Arts in Global Communication program? What steps must students take in order to complete this project, and do they have the support of an advisor and committee?

[Dr. Steele] The capstone is a four-credit group project that students complete over the course of a year. The capstone is handled through the Elliott School of International Affairs. At the end of their first year, students meet with a capstone advisor, and decide on their work group. The groups usually consist of three to four students, and together they work with real-world clients on an agreed-upon project. At the end of the program, the group is required to present their project to faculty, and to show us the work they did for their client.

There is an opportunity to apply for travel money to complete the capstone projects. For example, one team of students worked with KONTRAS, an Indonesian NGO that focuses on “the disappeared and victims of violence.” The students helped KONTRAS make a presentation to the United Nations, and organized documentation for their website. Many Global Communication students use the spring break of their second year to go to the country that they’re writing about, and meet with clients to help solve real problems. It’s a worthwhile endeavor, and one that often helps students clarify what it is they want to do once they graduate.

Because we are situated in Washington D.C., there are many, many agencies and private organizations that work on international projects, so it is not hard to find a client for a great capstone project. The Elliott School supports students in finding client organizations; it is a joint endeavor in that we expect students to take the helm on finding organizations and initiatives about which they feel passionate, but we also provide them with guidance throughout the process.

The Global Communication capstone projects have incredible reach and impact. Students work with agencies and NGOs in countries as varied as South Korea, Italy, Afghanistan, and Mexico, and in both the private and public sectors. Capstone projects can solidify a student’s connections with important organizations around the world that can be a springboard into a career once he or she graduates.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in GW’s Master of Arts in Global 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. Steele] The expertise, energy, and brilliance of our faculty are a major highlight of our program. Class size is generally small – 20 to 30 students — so students can get to know their professors and establish lifelong relationships. The Career Center of the Elliott School has a dedicated team of career advisors, which includes a former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy. Not only are career counselors active in helping current students find jobs, but alumni can also continue to use this career planning office indefinitely.

GW’s Master of Arts in Global Communication program offers many an opportunity for networking and connecting with leaders in international communication. Each of the institutes and programs of the Elliott School and the School of Media and Public Affairs hosts speakers, forums, and panel discussions–sometimes there can be as many as three or four a week–so there is plenty to keep students occupied outside of class.

Students benefit from individualized advising from a Graduate Academic Advisor in the Elliott School. While I’m always available to help with “big picture” questions, it’s the professional Elliott School advisors who sit down with each student to address specific concerns and answer questions about program requirements.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for GW’s Master of Arts in Global Communication program?

[Dr. Steele] When I’m reading applications, I look for evidence that prospective students have paid attention to what we teach and what we offer. We are not a journalism program, nor are we a public relations program. I suggest that applicants read through the description of the program and make sure that it’s really what they want. There may be another program elsewhere in the Elliott School that would better suit their needs. Familiarity with our program and a demonstrated interest in or commitment to the field of global communication is also very important. We require the GRE, and the TOEFL for our international students. We do have a lot of international applicants to our program, and we expect them to have a strong mastery of the English language.

In building our student body, we also seek to develop diversity, and therefore I encourage applicants to write about their background and work experience. Some of our students are older, and come to us with fascinating life experiences that add a great deal to seminar discussions and student group work. We also have students right out of college who bring energy and fresh perspectives to our classrooms. All of our students are highly motivated, and their disparate life experiences, cultural insights, professional backgrounds, and personal interests mean that our students can learn as much from one another as they do from their instructors.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes GW’s Master of Arts in Global Communication unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Dr. Steele] The hybrid nature of our program that gives students resources and mentorship from two separate schools; our strengths in both international affairs and strategic political communication, public diplomacy, and other areas that equip students for advanced political, public affairs, and entrepreneurial work; and our faculty who are experts in their field and constantly seeking to improve students’ experiences are several aspects of our program that make it both unique and an excellent choice.

There are very few programs that offer a degree that combines international affairs and policy with media, strategic communication, and advanced research in areas ranging from women’s studies and anthropology to global health and sustainability. In addition to faculty from the Elliott School of International affairs, and our career diplomat from the State Department, we also have professors from the School of Media and Public Affairs who are known for the excellent courses they offer in areas such as strategic political communication and research methods.

Our program is situated in the heart of Washington, D.C., and a short subway ride from just about anywhere in the city. We are right at the Foggy Bottom Metro stop, and we offer many of our classes in the evening. Thus our location combined with the timing of our classes makes it especially convenient for students who are working as they complete their degree.

The need for knowledgeable and capable communicators in the arenas of international politics, global business development, human rights, environmentalism, and more is growing rapidly. Our program is uniquely suited to preparing students for impactful careers in these areas, through its highly customizable curriculum, its capstone requirement, and our faculty’s expertise and commitment to student success.

Thank you, Dr. Steele, for your excellent insight into The George Washington University’s Master of Arts in Global Communication!