About Dr. Jennifer Almjeld, Ph.D.: Jennifer Almjeld is an Associate Professor and the Director of Graduate Studies for the School of Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication at James Madison University. A former journalist, Dr. Almjeld received her BA and MA at Eastern Kentucky University where she also served as a journalism instructor. Dr. Almjeld received her PhD from Bowling Green State University and her research interests include digital literacy, online identity, community engagement and girlhood. As Director of Graduate Studies, Dr. Almjeld serves as advisor for all incoming graduate students and guides individual plans of study including helping students plan for coursework, seek out internship possibilities, and identify capstone internships and thesis topics.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of James Madison University’s Master’s in Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication (WRTC) program, 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. Almjeld] The WRTC graduate program is a 33-hour course of study including three core courses and a variety of electives on topics ranging from Interfaces and Design and the Rhetoric of Science to Teaching Writing and the Public Work of Writing. Electives are designed to introduce students to the rich possibilities for theoretical and practical work in our field with content important to careers in education, workplace settings and non-profit organizations. In our core courses, students will first receive an overview of the field and the faculty in our school in WRTC 500 and will then discover theory and skills in professional editing and research methods in the additional two core courses.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of James Madison University’s Master’s in Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication program can choose between completing a master’s thesis or an internship. Could you please elaborate on both of these options, and what they entail?
[Dr. Almjeld] For the capstone requirement, students either create a thesis or participate in an internship for an external partner. The thesis option allows students to deeply interrogate an issue, question or trend in the Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication field with the support and guidance of a faculty advisor. Students work with their thesis advisors to create a research question and draft a proposal of the project–including a timeline for producing the work–that will be reviewed and approved by a committee of two or three additional readers. Students then work one-on-one with their advisor to draft, edit and revise chapters for their project before submitting the full project to their committee for review and suggestions for revisions in advance of a thesis defense with the committee.
For the internship option, students complete a 300-hour internship placement – generally in the spring semester of their final year in the program. Besides working with clients to produce a variety of writing and design deliverables, students work with their capstone advisors to reflect on the experience, apply appropriate theory from our field to the work, and to produce a final portfolio that considers both the experience in the field as well as ways the internship relates to previous coursework in WRTC. Internship sites are ultimately chosen by the student, but we have an extensive network of past partners on campus and in the community and so capstone advisors and the Director of Graduate studies can assist students in finding an appropriate placement.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in James Madison University’s Master’s in WRTC 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. Almjeld] Close mentoring relationships is one of the real strengths of this program. Each year we accept about eight students, keeping graduate course enrollment numbers low and allowing students and faculty the opportunity to get to know one another. Graduate students often work one-on-one with faculty as graduate research assistants, in teaching mentorship relationships, as co-researchers and in other capacities. The capstone project also depends on a close mentoring relationship with students receiving guidance on research, writing and reflection, and issues at their internship site from their faculty advisor and members of the capstone committee. These relationships allow faculty to learn about students’ interests and career goals and thus to share information on summer internships, academic conferences and job opportunities that might be useful to students. Faculty often serve as reviewers for students’ job application materials and offer advice and even practice interviews with students.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for James Madison University’s Master’s in Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication program?
[Dr. Almjeld] When reviewing student applications, the biggest things we are a looking for is fit and a clear plan. Successful applicants demonstrate an understanding of our program and what they might gain from joining it. They often mention specific courses they are interested in taking or faculty members they might like to do research alongside. Similarly, the successful applicant usually has a solid plan for their future so they can talk concretely about how the WRTC program fits into that plan. Lots of people change plans once they start grad school–that’s sort of what grad school is for –but it helps to have clear objectives to share with the application committee.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes James Madison University’s Master’s in Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Almjeld] Our program is one of only a few stand-alone writing programs in the country, meaning our writing students focus exclusively on theories and uses for writing in a variety of professional and academic settings. With a low student-to-teacher ratio, students have the opportunity to tailor the program to their own needs and to focus on areas of writing, rhetoric and technical communication that interest them most. While our faculty are involved in a huge range of research fields related to rhetoric and technical communication, all understand the primacy of writing for real audiences as key to our work. Faculty expertise includes teaching writing, digital rhetorics, mobility studies, accessibility and disability and feminism and identity rhetorics. Several graduate faculty specialize in medical rhetoric, making our program ideal for those who might wish to use their writing talents in the medical fields.
The chance to work in your area of study is another benefit of the WRTC program, with several graduate assistantships with the Writing Center, the University Health Center and a variety of university offices offering professional experience while helping to fund your studies. The capstone project also offers students intensive on-site experience in workplaces, with previous students working for our local downtown renaissance organization, an entertainment group and area non-profits. Our university is also located only a few hours from Washington, DC, Baltimore and other major cities that might be ideal locations for internships.
Thank you, Dr. Almjeld, for your excellent insight into James Madison University’s Master’s in Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication program!