Note: In April 2018, we interviewed Dr. Joe Burns about Southeastern Louisiana University's Master of Arts in Organizational Communication program. This program has been replaced with a new online Master of Arts in Strategic Communication program. Therefore, we have archived this interview for historical purposes. Learn more about the M.A. in Strategic Communication by reading our interview with Graduate Coordinator Elizabeth Robertson Hornsby, Ph.D.

About Dr. Joe Burns, Ph.D.: Joe Burns is the Graduate Coordinator of the Master’s in Organizational Communication at Southeastern Louisiana University. As Graduate Coordinator, he mentors students throughout their enrollment, supports faculty, and manages administrative responsibilities within the program, such as curriculum development and alumni relations. Dr. Burns has held the position since 2012, and is also in charge of recruitment. As a Professor, Dr. Burns teaches the technology class, instructing students on how to build and hand-code a website for a business or non-profit. His research interests revolve around radio, audio production and website design.

Dr. Burns received his undergraduate degree in Communication and English at Westminster College in Pennsylvania. Prior to his work in academia, Dr. Burns was a morning DJ and radio programmer for 12 years in Pennsylvania, Alabama, Oklahoma, and New York. During his last radio job, a professor at Shippensburg asked him to teach a class in broadcasting. After teaching a course, Dr. Burns decided to pursue a career in communication instruction. He earned his master’s degree from Shippensburg University, and his Ph.D. is from Bowling Green State University. His dissertation research dealt with the Agenda Setting effect on radio airplay.

Interview Questions

[] Could you please provide an overview of Southeastern Louisiana University’s Master of Arts in Organizational Communication 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. Burns] First off, we are the only Organizational Communication degree in the deep south. I believe you need to get up into the Carolinas to find another. Here’s the idea of Organizational Communication:

Any group is an organization. Think of a business, a non-profit, a fraternity, a sorority, a school. They are an organization. Inside of that organization, communication must occur. So, we teach communication methods and theories that relate to intra-organizational communication, such as topics in diversity, interpersonal, and intercultural communication, as well as law and ethics. Organizations must also communicate with audiences outside of the organization. Thus, we teach campaigns, grant writing, communication theory, methods and other editing and leadership classes.

To get into the program, we ask at least a 2.5 undergraduate GPA. Students must also take the GRE. We look at the Verbal and the Writing scores. The Writing scores are our best indication of how a student will do in the program. There are levels of required scores. Please head to our website for specifics. For regular admission, the scores must be at or above 148 for Verbal and 3.5 for Writing, respectively.

We have 12, 600-level courses. Students must complete 9 of them. Four of these courses–Law, Ethics, Theory and Methods–are required. We offer three a semester on a rotating basis. Thus, a full-time student can complete their program in four semesters if they take classes over the summer.

Other than the four required courses, students choose five from useful topics such as Campaigns, Diversity, Writing and Editing, Leadership and Consulting. The curriculum is created to deliver a well-rounded knowledge of the Communication Process as it applies to individuals, groups and audiences. Better yet, the classes are all set up so that students are not simply classroom learning. We pair with local businesses and the university so class projects are actually used rather than simply getting a grade and then left behind. Such work makes for a lot of connections and a degree where the student can discuss having applied what they learned to real situations.

We also require a concentration of three classes. Students can take them in Journalism, Public Relations, Health Studies or Sociology.

[] For their final graduation requirement, can students choose to complete a master’s thesis or a project? Could you please elaborate on both of these options, and what they entail?

[Dr. Burns] We do not require a thesis. This is a working degree for people who want to advance their careers in industry. Classes are taught at night so working people can get to the campus. Graduate Assistantships are plentiful so many of our students work as a G.A. during the day and take their classes at night.

We do require comprehensive written and oral exams. This is done over two Fridays in the student’s final semester. It’s fairly intense but a good measure of what a student has taken away from the program. Students who do not pass the comprehensive tests straightaway may be asked to write a paper, meet with professors, or retake a course, although that is rare.

[] Students must take and pass a written and oral examination. Could you describe what the oral examination involves, and how students can best prepare for it?

[Dr. Burns] On the first Friday, students take a written test from 8 am until 2 in the afternoon. The test is narrative and all questions are written so that students must pull from multiple classes for the answer. Since not all students take the same classes, we offer a series of questions and the student must only answer so many, say, four of six offered. We’ve found that method to be successful in assuring that no matter what classes the student chose, he or she has a test that allows then to use their knowledge base. We will also, now and again, go with a format where one question comes from all nine classes the student takes. We have also paired students with local businesses and had them solve “real world” problems in the business.

A week later, the students will return for an oral exam based on the written exam they took the previous Friday. Anything they wrote is up for grabs. As I like to say to the student, “You brought it up.” The oral exam can last as long as an hour. It’s fairly intense but once through it, students have a real sense of accomplishment.

We expect students to manage their preparation for the exams. We do not offer study guides. Students are asked to meet personally with each professor and to ask him or her for major ideas from the class that have the best chance of showing up on the test. Once they have met with all six professors, the student should have a fairly good idea of what will be expected of them. It will then be up to the student to take the test and assimilate the information into a useful answer. We focus on “real world” situations and questions.

[] What role does faculty mentorship play in Southeastern Louisiana University’s Master’s in Organizational 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. Burns] We’re proud to say that we have a 100% placement up until now. Everyone who has come through our program either has gainful employment or went on to a graduate program. That simply cannot happen without a supportive faculty.

I am students’ first advisor, and support them throughout their enrollment in the program. I keep the paperwork, walk them through the classes and fill out the form required to get them through graduation. However, I am not the only mentor. Every graduate professor is also an undergraduate professor so we more than understand the idea of mentorship.

What’s more, the mentorship process is organic. Students are not assigned to anyone but me and will often gravitate towards a professor they like. Every professor on the staff has their own success stories.

We have a G.A. network in order to find students assistantships. We have an internship coordinator to find them real-life experience and we have a University help center for resumes and cover letters and to help with job searches. We are with the students from the moment they are accepted until they walk across the stage at graduation.

Our reviews have suggested we are doing it correctly too.

[] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for Southeastern Louisiana University’s Master’s in Organizational Communication program?

[Dr. Burns] Contact me. I have got this down to an art. Get in touch with me and we’ll either meet face to face or over the phone and plot a course. I have a great amount of influence on how and when a student gets in. It’s my job to make sure the student is admitted in the smoothest way possible and also to get them set up with their first semester of classes. I then carry them through the next two years of their life, completing the program with as little friction as possible.

We went to a statistic based admission process a few years back, as we have been able to accommodate every applicant that met the standards. It is as fair as we can make it. If you hit the numbers, you are in. If you do not hit the numbers initially, try again.

In the future, if it happens that we cannot accommodate all successful applicants, then we will think about a different method of choosing, but currently we’re graduating between 3 and 7 students a semester and we can handle that.

So, let’s make it easy. Just contact me. Email is: and the phone number is 985.549.3694.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

[] What makes Southeastern Louisiana University’s Master’s in Organizational Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Dr. Burns] Take out a phone. Open a computer. Simply search what employers are looking for in a new hire. Communication skills of all types will come up again and again at the top of the list. That’s what we teach. Moreover, we’re not just a COMM degree. We are an Organizational Communication degree. When you are done with our program, you are prepped for the real world. You do not have a bunch of theories and methods just bouncing around in your head.

We prepare people for advanced careers. We are real-world based. We are a working degree for working people who want to be the best they can for an employer.

When an employer asks if you have communication skills, you can pull out an avalanche of proof.

Plus, the word “Communication” is in the title of your degree.

This is what you want in today’s world. If you’d like to have it, contact me.

Thank you, Dr. Burns, for your excellent insight into Southeastern Louisiana University’s Master’s in Organizational Communication program!