About Josh Averbeck, Ph.D.: Josh Averbeck is the Graduate Coordinator for the Department of Communication at Western Illinois University. As Graduate Coordinator, Dr. Averbeck recruits and serves as advisor to new students. He also has oversight over curriculum changes and program assessment. Dr. Averbeck is also an Associate Professor, and primarily teaches courses in Persuasion, Campaigns, Message Production, and Research Methods. He has research expertise in irony and sarcasm, health communication, and message design and processing in interpersonal and mediated contexts.
Dr. Averbeck earned his bachelor’s degree in General Science from North Central College, master’s degree in Communication from Western Illinois University, and doctorate in Communication from the University of Oklahoma.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Western Illinois University’s Master of Arts in 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. Averbeck] The program provides a general overview of Communication but allows for students to specialize. Students are required to complete a course in Communication Theory, Research Methods, and Message Production. We also offer a graduate seminar in Persuasion, Rhetoric, Interpersonal, and Organizational Communication. Every semester students may enroll in a Special Topics course. Recent topics have included humor, jealousy, irony, training and development, and health. Students are also permitted to take classes outside of the department to further strengthen their desired areas of expertise or skill training. For instance, a student interested in non-profit work may choose to add a grant writing course, or a student interested in a doctorate may add another research methods course. Recently, students have specialized in public relations, health communication, nonverbal display of arguments, and sports communication.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students in this program can choose between a master’s thesis, a creative project, or a research paper. Could you please elaborate on each of these options, and what they entail?
[Dr. Averbeck] We offer 4 exit options. The thesis is a traditional research project that is advised by a faculty member and presented to a committee. Those completing a thesis are often interested in a doctoral program or have a topic of research with which the student found joy. The applied project is a research project that requires some degree of control that is outside of the student’s hands. In other words, some outside organization has already produced the materials being examined or has an agenda that the student would work to accomplish in an applied project. Recent examples include organizational audits, target audience research for a business, and a manual on student athlete recruitment using Communication theories and research. Students completing the applied project are looking to show their research skills to employers and demonstrate an area of expertise.
The research paper option consists of a revision of a previous course paper. This exit option requires more coursework and is chosen by those who want the degree completed but don’t have research interests. Finally, the internship exit option requires students to write and present a scholarly paper based on a completed internship. This is geared towards those who wish to enter the workforce immediately. The internship is completed for course credit, and the department assists the students in their search for internship opportunities.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Western Illinois University’s Master of Arts 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. Averbeck] The program is small enough that students receive a lot of one-on-one attention. As graduate coordinator, I provide the initial advising. I see the students through their first 1-2 semesters by making sure they are completing coursework and any necessary paperwork. At the conclusion of the first year, I meet with the students to determine who might best serve as the students’ permanent advisor. Students then work with the advisor on their exit option. The faculty have been very successful at placing interested students in PhD programs. We also have a track record of placing students in teaching positions due to our extensive teaching training program. Those who complete an applied project or internship have been able to leverage the relationships formed during their exit option project for employment. Finally, our graduate student organization organizes workshops on topics related to writing, completing research, resumé writing, and interviewing.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for Western Illinois University’s Master of Arts in Communication program?
[Dr. Averbeck] Western Illinois University has a rolling admissions deadline. However, initial graduate assistantship offers are made mid-March. The best thing to do is to apply early. Students are required to submit a writing sample (3-5 pages), goals statement, transcript, and 3 letters of recommendation. The goals statement should explain why the student wants a master’s degree in communication and some idea of what the plans are after graduation. The writing sample can be from an undergraduate course that shows the student’s strong writing abilities.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the Western Illinois University’s Master of Arts in Communication unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Averbeck] Students are able to gain a lot of experience in our program. Our program features accomplished scholars. Dr. Carpenter was recently recognized as part of the top 5% in research productivity in the field. According to Google Scholar, we have more faculty in the top 20 in research productivity at the university than any other department. We have an extensive teaching training program that has been instrumental in our graduates being offered teaching jobs over other more experienced candidates.
We also place our students in graduate assistantships to best prepare them for eventual career aspirations. Those with an interest in advising get positions in the advising office or career development center. Those with an interest in athletics have had positions in the athletics and marketing departments. Those with interests in public relations have had positions with university relations. Because of our reputation of having very good students, our offices on campus ask us for graduate students to fill their assistantship positions. For the past four years, we have had more positions than students. In other words, we will train you to get to the next step of your life and give you hands-on experience to ensure you get the career you want.
Thank you, Dr. Averbeck, for your excellent insight into Western Illinois University’s Master of Arts in Communication program!