About Katherine Bell, Ph.D.: Katherine Bell is the Director of the Graduate program at California State University, East Bay. As Director, she is responsible for recruiting new students, scheduling graduate seminars, helping guide students through the graduate experience, and ensuring they meet requirements to graduate. Dr. Bell also serves on the graduate thesis/project/exam committees. As faculty coordinator for The Pioneer, a student-run publication, she is responsible for the budget of the newspaper, and for mentoring and supporting student editors, who produce a print and online newspaper each week that the University is in session.

Dr. Bell is a career journalist with a master’s degree in Communication and Culture from York University in Toronto, and a PhD from University of Washington in Seattle. She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in gender, race and class in the media, queer cultures, general communication theory, and journalism.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of California State University, East Bay’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. Bell] We launched a new curriculum in Fall 2018 when CSU East Bay moved to a semester calendar (from the quarter system). The new degree places a heavy emphasis on critical studies and rhetoric, and students are able to tailor their studies in terms of their specific areas of interest. Students have three capstone completion options: thesis, special project, or comprehensive exam.

The core requirements under the degree are Comm 600 (a 1 unit proseminar) that introduces students to faculty, their research and the areas of Communication that our department specializes in. Comm 601 (Theories in Communication) surveys key theories in communication, including critical, phenomenological, and social scientific approaches, Comm 604 or 603 (Qualitative or Quantitative research methods). Then students take Comm 602 or Comm 605 (Critical Cultural Methods or Contemporary Rhetoric). Comm 602 emphasizes critical cultural methods such as political economy, textual analysis and ethnographic methods. Comm 605 emphasizes methods for rhetorical analysis of text and images, including classical and critical rhetoric, and exploring tensions between theory, criticism and practice. Students in these seminars choose research topics that help them advance their existing interests and plan of study in communication; they may use them as a means to explore the field if they are just beginning the program or coming to us with an undergraduate degree in another field.

Students choose 12-16 units of electives geared toward their areas of interest. Our program emphasizes digital organizational communication and futures of organizations, media studies, and identity and difference in media. Sample courses include Identity and Difference in Media, which takes up theories of difference, such as intersectionality, disidentification and homonormativity, and emphasizes marginality, border-crossings, and transgression; Future of Media and Society, which examines the landscape of current and future media through short, medium and long-term evolution in technology and culture; and Teaching Communication, which gives graduate students the pedagogical skills and theoretical knowledge to teach Communication courses at the college undergraduate level.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of California State University, East Bay’s Master of Arts in Communication program can choose between completing a master’s thesis, a project, or a comprehensive examination. Could you please elaborate on these three options and what they entail?

[Dr. Bell] For all three options, the students choose a committee, normally made up of three faculty members with one member acting as chair. The University thesis is an original piece of research done with the supervision of a faculty chair and committee. It entails an original contribution to communication theory and/or method, as determined by the student and their committee. The committee gives progressive feedback throughout the process, including proposal, research and writing stages. An oral defense is scheduled for about two weeks after the student submits a final thesis to the committee members. Students have completed theses in a wide range of areas. For example, one student recently conducted a study of the expression of non-binary gender identities online.

The special project is an applied use of communication theory that has utility in the student’s work life or intended career area. For example, it could be a short film, advertising campaign, or some other project. The student must have the skills and knowledge (usually based on their professional life) to complete the project as the MA program itself does not teach skills such as video making.

The comprehensive exam is a set of essay questions based on the main theory and method seminars, and other key seminars. It is done in a closed setting over two days and is open-book. Questions are determined by the students’ three committee members based on course work. Thus, for this option the student will have a committee composed of faculty from their course work experience. Faculty and the student agree upon a reading list in advance. Questions are provided on the first day of the exam. Students are expected to demonstrate the knowledge and application of foundational literature in Communication. Questions ask students to explain theory and methods and may also ask them to apply these theories/methods to an example or text. These original questions are formulated based on the reading list and the students’ interests in the field.

In all cases—thesis, project and exam—students are required to do an oral defense of their work after completion of the written portion. Students who choose the comprehensive exam option will complete four more units of coursework than those completing the thesis or project. In addition, in all cases the student approaches faculty members to request their participation on a committee. The student then works with the faculty member who has agreed to be chair of the committee and who directly supervises the student’s work, while also keeping the other members apprised of progress and drafts of the thesis.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in California State University, East Bay’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. Bell] Our tenure-track faculty work very closely with students to support their graduate experience and help them explore career options for after they complete their MA. We also put them in touch with current and former graduate students with similar interests and experiences who can help them adjust to the expectations of graduate school. Additionally, CSU East Bay has a career center and staff dedicated specifically to helping graduate students prepare for and pursue their career goals in the Bay Area and beyond. The University hosts five career and internship fairs throughout the year.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for California State University, East Bay’s Master of Arts in Communication program?

[Dr. Bell] Students should get a sense of what the program offers by reading the calendar and getting in touch with the graduate director as necessary. We are a small, focused program, usually about 40 students in total at various stages of completion. Our faculty have primary expertise in digital media, organizational communication, cultural studies, rhetoric, media and representation, journalism, filmmaking, and public relations. In some circumstances we do accept non-traditional applicants, such as those who demonstrate potential that may not be fully evident on their transcripts. If students have the maturity and ability to take advantage of what our program offers, we are interested in hearing from them.

Students should indicate their aims for the degree in terms of learning and career goals, as well as the areas of communication studies that they are most interested in. They should address the reasons for any deficiencies on their transcripts in order to give the review committee the context from which to make a determination about admission. Letters of recommendation should be from people who can write an enthusiastic and detailed account of the applicant’s potential as a graduate student – such as former professors or, in some cases, work supervisors who are in a position to discuss an applicant’s maturity, attention to detail, critical thinking and writing skills etc.

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

[Dr. Bell] We are a program that includes a variety of students at various stages of life, from recent undergraduates to mid-career professionals. This is one of the strengths of our program, along with its racial, gender, and class diversity. Our graduate student body has both life expertise and intellectual aptitude. Our graduates have used their degrees to move up in their careers/organizations, as preparation for law school or a Ph.D. program, and as a way to increase their skills and visibility in a competitive Bay Area job market. We also welcome international students who are looking to study in the above areas at a U.S. University. Our students, no matter the stage of life, have the opportunity to get to know professors and receive personalized support from our tenure-track faculty.

Thank you, Dr. Bell, for your insight into Cal State East Bay’s Master of Arts in Communication program!