About Dr. Mara Loeb, Ph.D.: Mara Loeb is the Graduate Coordinator for the Communication Program within the School of Humanities at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. As Graduate Coordinator, she is the first advisor for new students as well as a mentor as they enter the program and the community. She is also the first line of communication for those interested in learning more about the Communication Master of Arts degree program. She teaches graduate courses in Qualitative Research Methods, Intercultural Communication, and the Proseminar for all new graduate students. Her special areas of interest are Conflict Resolution, Storytelling, and Communication and Culture.
Dr. Loeb earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from The University of Northern Iowa (UNI), with a double major in Communication & Theatre and Art Education. She continued at UNI to earn a Master of Arts in Speech Communication. Her Ph.D. is from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale where she was also awarded a Doctoral Fellowship.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s Master of Arts in Communication program, and how it is structured? What topics are covered in the core curriculum, and what are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?
[Dr. Loeb] The University of Louisiana at Monroe has a 30 credit hour, campus-based Master of Arts in Communication program. Eighteen hours (6 classes) of the 30 total required credits must be at the 5000 (highest) level. Every student takes the following core theory and research classes in order to have a solid foundation in the discipline. These also fulfill half the required 5000 level hours.
- Professional Seminar (0 credit hours): An introduction to the degree, the history of the discipline, and college level research. Students learn about the graduate program’s processes, academic requirements, and best practices.
- Qualitative Research Methods COMM 5002 (3 credit hours): Students learn how to conduct a systematic inquiry about communication topics, including textual analysis, ethnography, phenomenology, and language studies.
- Quantitative Research Methods COMM 5001 (3 credit hours): Students learn the methods and strategies of designing and conducting empirical studies in communication, including identifying problems and inquiries that can be addressed through quantitative data collection and analysis.
- Communication Theory COMM 5010 (3 credit hours): This class provides students with a foundational overview of the major theories and principles of human communication, and how they dictate human relationships in multiple environments and situations.
These core courses are important for students to get a strong understanding of different research methodologies and their purpose.
Students’ remaining hours are chosen from the courses listed below, with the guidance of their Major Professor, to tailor their degree to prepare them for the career of their choice. We pride ourselves on flexibility of degree design to provide students with experience in Advocacy, Journalism, Digital Media, or Public Relations, as their goals require.
Each student will also either write a thesis COMM 5099 (6 credit hours) or complete a professional level Exit Project COMM 5093 (3 credit hours).
For the remaining hours 12-15 hours, students choose from the following 3 credit hour classes:
- COMM 4004 Intercultural Communication
- COMM 4060 Public Relations Campaigns
- COMM 4062 Advanced Studies in Small Group Communication
- COMM 5020 Political Communication
- COMM 5026 Communication in Gerontology
- COMM 5041 Communication and Gender
- COMM 5044 Advanced Studies in Organizational Communication
- COMM 5050 Interpersonal & Conflict Communication
- COMM 4052 Criticism of Contemporary Communication
- COMM 5071 Creative Media Strategies and Techniques
- COMM 5080 Communication Law and Ethics
- COMM 5090 Internship
[MastersinCommunications.com] What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative communication research?
[Dr. Loeb] Quantitative research deals with large numbers of people and limited questions, such as surveys or laboratory studies and experiments. Qualitative research occurs in natural settings, not in the laboratory, and you work directly with human subjects by conducting interviews, ethnographies, etc. Quantitative research most often produces statistical information. Qualitative research produces narrative and themes.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students must complete a comprehensive examination, and can choose to complete either a thesis or a professional communication project. Could you please elaborate on each of these options, and what they entail?
[Dr. Loeb] Our Masters degree requires that students complete either a Thesis, under the guidance of their Major Professor and with the support of their committee, or a professional level Exit Project. The Thesis option is recommended for students planning to continue to a Doctoral degree and usually takes 12 months to complete. Students’ selected research shapes the committee of faculty that they select to support them. Students follow a designated structure for their thesis paper, which is typically about 50 pages long. Students are also required to complete an oral defense of their thesis where faculty in their committee ask questions about their study results, their application of particular theories, and other topics.
The Exit Project option is especially adaptable to the goals of each student. Occurring in the final semester, the student will conduct research on a major project, write a paper detailing it, and present their results in a forum for faculty and interested students. In the past, these have varied from public relations campaigns to rhetorical studies. For example, one student designed a public relations campaign for Tom’s shoes, where she arranged for a promotional day on campus that included shoe sales, advertising, etc. The committee then critiqued her process and final result. We also had another international student from China who is teaching Chinese and wanted her project to focus on interviewing international students taking Chinese here. She wanted to find out what motivates these students, what challenges they encounter, and how they address them. The projects culminate in paper for the committee and a presentation that is open to faculty and students alike. In their paper, students must document the theory and literature they drew upon, the process followed, and conclusions or discoveries made. They have the support of their Major Professor and committee members for this project as well. Both the Thesis and Exit Project options assure that the student graduates with a proof of their mastery in an aspect of Communication.
In addition to their thesis or exit project, students must complete a comprehensive examination that is tailored to their program of study. The members of students’ committee develop questions specifically for their student that ask them about areas of advanced communication methods and research that they studied in their core courses and electives. The exam has both a written and an oral component, though students who choose the thesis option for their final graduation requirement do not have to do the oral component.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s Master of Arts in Communication program, and how can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems?
[Dr. Loeb] During the first semester of their degree, Master of Arts students are advised by the Graduate Coordinator. However, a part of the Proseminar during their first semester is the introduction of the entire graduate faculty and their courses and research interests. This helps the students to select a Major Professor by the end of the first semester. Their Major Professor will guide them in the selection of courses, assist in study and other issues, and guide them through the Exit Project or Thesis stages. Students may change their Major Professor if their interests change or the match is not ideal.
All of our faculty are experts in their field, and most of them hold doctoral degrees in their area of research. The diversity amongst our faculty and their research interests is also a strength, as it enables students to find advisors who match their own interests and goals. The flexibility of our program is also a definite advantage. Our students can choose a focus, and have the resources to explore all facets of a given topic. We’ve got opportunities for film making. We have a TV lab where the students record for the student TV station, which also allows them to direct. They can edit films, they can screen write. It’s a very hands-on degree. As far as Advocacy, which is my area, our students have opportunities to complete projects in the community. For example, some of our students developed a fundraising campaign for a local orphanage. They also held an STD awareness and prevention campaign on campus. There are numerous opportunities both in the classroom and outside of the classroom for students to engage with hands-on projects and activities.
Graduate students also have the option of an Internship for 3 credit hours. This is an opportunity for professional experience before they graduate. Monroe, LA is home to 2 Fortune 500 companies that have been known to provide internships to our students, but many other opportunities can be found as well.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What career development resources and academic services are available to students of this program?
[Dr. Loeb] The University of Louisiana at Monroe has a dedicated Career Services office with experienced staff available to assist in the writing of resumes and cover letters, job search, and interviewing skills. We also host Job Fairs each semester for students to meet representative from businesses and recruiters from throughout the region. Workshops on a variety of other skills are also presented, at no charge, throughout the academic year.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for the Master of Arts in Communication program?
[Dr. Loeb] The Masters program at ULM is growing, but competition is high for Graduate Assistantships and the well-prepared student will have their application completed by the end of January as assistantship offers are made on March 1st. A carefully written statement of goals (accompanying their application) is an opportunity for prospective students to showcase their focus, organization, and level of writing skill. Assistantships are available in many other departments and offices. Students should visit https://www.ulm.edu/gradschool/gapositions.html frequently to see openings. As the statement of goals is an important element of their application, students should make sure they demonstrate strong writing abilities and personal and professional goals that fall within the realm of communication. We are open to different styles, from a more biographical or narrative piece to an essay that reads more like an argument for the students’ professional qualifications and objectives for his or her enrollment in the program. What must come across however is their ability to write well and that they belong in, and can contribute to, the expanding and ever-evolving field of communication.
For students’ letters of recommendation accompanying their Graduate Assistantship applications, they should choose people who have seen them in their optimal “achieve” mode, and who can speak to their drive, competence, and their ability to contribute in a meaningful way to the classroom and to the field of communication overall. Most of our students come from right out of college, and oftentimes have a professor or an internship or job supervisor write their letter of recommendation.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s Master of Arts in Communication unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Loeb] Our program prepares students to represent themselves very well to prospective employers. With a strong base in theory and research practices and proof of their abilities through either the Exit Project or Thesis route, they have evidence of their capabilities. In surveys of employers and agencies, communication skills – written and oral – always appear in the top two requirements for employment! Since job descriptions change so rapidly, it is often communication skills that determine if a person is adaptable to new requirements, and this is frequently more important than their major. We have former students working at all levels of management, including CEOs of their own companies. Monroe, LA. is also home to 2 Fortune 500 companies who support our programs with internships and employment opportunities.
If you can be a critical thinker and have good communication skills, you are a good employee for the next generation of professionals. That is why Google, in a recent study, concluded that they needed more people from the humanities–people who can communicate impactful ideas well help companies thrive. I think we prepare our students to be adaptable for the real world. And this translates into real income over time. We have a great track record of student success post-graduation. One of our students was the Vice President of of Public Relations for Fitbit, and now he has started his own company.
We’ve got a number of people who are teaching at universities, working in governmental offices, the Department of Defense, armed forces, radio, and television, Louisiana Public Television and in the governor’s office. One of our students will intern in Washington this summer with our state representative. We have got success stories that are wonderful.
[MastersinCommunications.com] The University of Louisiana at Monroe is currently designing an online Master of Arts in Strategic Communication. Could we have more details on this program, its course offerings and graduation requirements, and what students can expect to learn through this program?
[Dr. Loeb] We are very excited to start our online graduate degree in Strategic Communication. Although it also requires completion of 30 credit hours, it is different from our face-to-face degree in several ways:
- Courses are 8 week classes, allowing a faster completion of the degree. (18 months instead of 2 years).
- There is no Thesis or Exit Project option.
- Courses are prescribed, with only one exception* and as a result the program is not as flexible.
The courses include the following:
- COMM 5000 Proseminar (0 ch)
- COMM 5002 Quantitative Methods (3)
- COMM 5010 Communication Theory (3)
- COMM 5050 Interpersonal & Conflict Comm (3)
- *COMM 5044 Organizational Communication (3) or COMM 5060 PR Practices (3)
- COMM 5052 Criticism of Contemporary Communication (3)
- COMM 5001 Qualitative Methods (3)
- COMM 5041 Communication and Gender (3)
- COMM 5080 Communication Law & Ethics (3)
- COMM 5084 Persuasion (3)
- COMM 5071 Creative Media Strategies & Techniques (3)
The program’s courses are mainly asynchronous (not at one specific time) to allow students the flexibility to take their classes when it best fits their schedule.
Thank you, Dr. Loeb, for your insight into the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s Master of Arts in Communication program!