About Jennifer Anderson, Ph.D.: Jennifer Anderson is the Program Coordinator for the Master of Arts in Communication & Journalism (both specializations) at South Dakota State University, where she also teaches courses as an Associate Professor. As Program Coordinator, Dr. Anderson’s foremost priority is supporting graduate students in the MA program. In students’ first semester, she serves as their advisor, helping them navigate their coursework and teaching responsibilities, and supporting them as they develop a plan for success. Once students have been assigned individual advisors, Dr. Anderson continues to connect them with resources and information, as well as ensure that they meet program requirements and deadlines.

Dr. Anderson’s primary area of research interest is Health Communication. She researches and teaches classes in that area, as well as in interpersonal communication, and also coordinates the Health Communication minor. At the graduate level, she teaches both SPCM 540: Health Communication and SPCM 541: Health Communication Campaigns. She also has expertise in research methodology, and as such, teaches SPCM 787: Research Methods in Speech Communication.

Dr. Anderson earned her B.A. in Communication from Truman State University, her M.A. in Communication from Miami University—Ohio, and her Ph.D. in Communication from Michigan State University.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of South Dakota State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies and Journalism (Communication Studies Specialization) program? What topics are covered in the core curriculum, and what are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?

[Dr. Anderson] The Communication Studies specialization focuses on human communication, with an emphasis on the meaning and impact of messages we create and share. This specialization is well-suited for students interested in pursuing doctoral work, teaching in higher education, or pursuing other communication-related careers. A major theme in our coursework is the process of discovering, interpreting, and explaining the nature of human communication—whether that is in the context of interpersonal, instructional, organizational, health, rhetorical, or political communication. Every course connects to theoretical foundations and solid methodological choices.

Students in the Communication Studies specialization are required to take 3 core courses: Introduction to Graduate Studies, Communication Theory, and Research Methods. Teaching assistants are also required to take Instructional Communication. Within a 30-32 credit program, only 6 credit hours can be from outside the discipline, 50% of the coursework must be at a 600-level or above, and students can take up to 4 credits of independent study. Beyond that, there are no restrictions for coursework, so students have a great amount of flexibility to design their own course of study. Students in this specialization often have a passion for teaching and instructional communication; other interests include health communication, sports communication, rhetorical studies, political communication, advertising, and interpersonal communication.

In contrast to the study of human communication in the Communication Studies specialization, the Journalism specialization focuses more on the tools we use to tell people’s stories. The coursework in this specialization emphasizes engaging storytelling that uses both traditional and emerging media platforms to communicate with diverse audiences. Students have the opportunity to take classes both on campus and online, allowing them to have direct access to the online platforms where they can develop the skillset of a 21st century journalist. This specialization is well-suited for students interested in pursuing doctoral work or working in the journalism field.

Students in the Journalism specialization are required to take 4 core courses: Introduction to Graduate Studies, Research Methods, Media Law or Media Law Case Studies, and one of these courses: Cross-Platform Storytelling, Opinion Writing, or Health Journalism. There are no restrictions on coursework in the Journalism specialization. Students in this specialization often have an interest in bringing a journalists’ sensibility to writing for social media platforms, health organizations, or public relations.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of South Dakota State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies and Journalism can choose between completing a master’s thesis or a research project. Could you elaborate on both of these options, and what each entails?

[Dr. Anderson] For both a thesis and project, students work with an assigned advisor, as well as a committee that includes another faculty member from the School of Communication. The thesis committee also includes an assigned graduate faculty representative from another unit on campus. The project committee typically includes someone who represents the applied setting where the project is being conducted. Community, and campus, partners are highly involved with the projects because of their applied nature. This provides students with real-world feedback at every stage of the process, which gives them insights about the current dynamics of a given industry and positions them for immediate success as employees in those fields.

A thesis is a traditional, independent research project. In a thesis, the student presents a communication problem, provides a theoretical foundation, uses rigorous methodology, collects and analyzes data, then provides conclusions and implications of the results. Students use rhetorical, critical, qualitative, and quantitative methodologies to study any communication topic they choose. Students typically follow this timeline: develop thesis ideas during their first year, defend their thesis proposal in fall of their second year, and defend in the spring semester of their second year. The thesis is the best preparation for continuing to a doctoral program.

The project provides students the opportunity to ‘think outside the box’ and apply their knowledge of communication or journalism in innovative ways. The end result of the project can take a number of forms, from creating a training or workshop, to developing brochures or posters, to creating a website, to creating a documentary, to assessing or evaluating a campaign, to providing feedback to local businesses about a communication issue. Projects mostly fall into one of these contexts: public/community, business/employer, industry, education. We encourage students to work with partners outside the university to develop and execute their projects.

The process for completing a project is similar to the thesis process. Students generate and defend a project proposal before embarking on the project. The project proposal is written in a professional, rather than academic style, and therefore may be more concise and use different terminology than a traditional thesis. Students then complete the project and defend the final product. The project proposal occurs the semester before the student plans to graduate (typically fall semester of the second year, for Communication Studies specialization students).

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in South Dakota State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies and Journalism 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. Anderson] Faculty mentorship is at the heart of our program. Our graduate teaching assistants receive award-winning teacher training, and have won regional teaching awards, because of the extensive mentorship we provide. In terms of coursework and advising, our faculty are extremely dedicated to student success. Every student has an assigned advisor throughout their enrollment. Faculty provide support and feedback not only for students’ graduate work, but also as they begin to apply for jobs or doctoral programs. We work hard to help our students develop an extremely attractive and competitive skillset, and we are constantly looking for opportunities to support them and connect them with additional resources.

Many of our students work with faculty on independent research opportunities, which allow them to present their work at state, regional, and national conferences. Graduate students who present their work at conferences receive travel support. Our graduate school also offers a Professional Development Certificate, which can be completed online or on campus.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for South Dakota State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies and Journalism?

[Dr. Anderson] The students who experience the greatest success are those with clear goals for graduate study in Communication or Journalism. To that end, we want to see—in your personal statement and letters of recommendation—that you are prepared for graduate study, that you have a passion for the discipline you’ll study, and that the program at SDSU is the best fit for your professional goals.

We love to see applicants who are passionate about communication and/or journalism, as well as passionate about teaching—especially if they are interested in the assistantship. Students with clear career goals that require a graduate degree are the best fit for this program.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes South Dakota State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies and Journalism program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Dr. Anderson] This Fall 2018, we are launching the School of Communication and Journalism at SDSU, which is a vibrant new collaboration between the Communication Studies, Journalism, Advertising, and Public Relations programs. With increased connections between these programs, our faculty are more excited than ever to offer our students an outstanding educational experience that includes dedicated mentorship to each student.

Our graduate teaching assistants receive incredible teaching training. Our teacher training program was recognized by the National Communication Association as a Program of Excellence. All of our teaching assistants also earn an Excellence in Teaching Certificate through our university’s Center for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning. These opportunities pay off, as two of our graduates have won the prestigious Cooper Award for teaching, from the Central States Communication Association (CSCA). Many of our graduates have also secured teaching positions at universities like Clemson University, Illinois State University, University of Wisconsin—La Crosse, Louisiana Tech University, and Iowa Western Community College.

Our students and faculty are award-winning. Our students have not only won the Cooper Award, but also Scholar of the Year (from the National States Advisory Council); the Outstanding Thesis Award from the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, & Gender; Top Paper in the Health Communication Division at CSCA; Top Panel in the Basic Course Division; and Top Graduate Student Poster at the Health Communication Mini-Conference. Our faculty have received multiple awards for teaching, research, and service. Many faculty are nationally-recognized scholars in their areas of expertise and have received research grants. Our faculty are also well-networked with community partners interested in student collaborations.

Our students also enjoy tremendous success upon completion of their degree. Some of our graduates are pursuing doctoral degrees at George Mason University, Duquesne, and Wayne State University. Other graduates are teaching at Clemson, and more. Other graduates are working in higher education in areas like admissions, advising, and honors programs.

Bottom line: our program provides personalized support to each student to help them reach their full potential—no matter their career goals. As a master’s only program with award-winning, dedicated faculty, students in our program will receive outstanding mentorship that prepares them for a lifetime of success.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Students of master’s in communication programs often must balance work/internships, coursework, and intensive 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. Anderson] Begin with the end in mind, but take one day at a time. Be clear, from day one, about your personal and professional goals and how they relate to earning a master’s degree in communication. With that big picture in mind, work backwards to establish smaller/intermediate goals that need to be accomplished along the way. Then, communicate those large and small goals to a mentor and a peer group who can keep you motivated—and hold you accountable. Next, be deliberate about scheduling routine, small blocks of time to make progress on your intermediate goals. Finally, give yourself the flexibility to adjust your goals and schedules, the optimism to say yes, the courage to say no, the grace to ‘fail’ sometimes, and the grit to pick back up and keep going.

Thank you, Dr. Anderson, for your excellent insight into South Dakota State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies and Journalism program!