About Marina Vujnovic, Ph.D.: Marina Vujnovic is an Associate Professor at Monmouth University’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences. She conducts research and teaches courses in research theory, global communication, journalism studies, public relations, and the emergence of new communication technologies. Dr. Vujnovic completed her undergraduate degree in journalism and political science from the University of Zagreb in Croatia in 1998. After graduating, she worked as a journalist for a local newspaper and in 2000 she began working at the University of Zagreb within the School for Graphic Arts. There, she assisted faculty with research and taught courses in communications research and visual communication. During this time, she also worked for a public relations company.
After several years of work, Dr. Vujnovic decided to return to school to earn her Ph.D. and in 2003 she enrolled in the University of Northern Iowa’s master’s program in communication. She subsequently earned her Ph.D. from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Upon receiving her Ph.D. in 2008, she was hired by Monmouth University to teach communication and journalism courses.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Monmouth University’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. Vujnovic] Our Master of Arts in Communication is comprised of 30 course credits, and was recently updated to include concentrations that prepare students for the dynamic and rapidly developing digital communications space, as well as advanced roles in public relations and social media. In addition, we have advanced certificate programs in public service communication, and human resource management. As each of these programs is distinct, I will elaborate on each in turn:
Interactive Digital Media
One of the most recent and exciting new concentrations we have is our Interactive Digital Media (IDM) concentration, which gives students interdisciplinary training in advanced communication strategies, design principles, computer science/coding, and multimedia and multiplatform storytelling. Students learn to combine advanced theory and practical approaches to create innovative and effective products, services, and media. We offer our students a project-based, entrepreneurship-focused environment in which they complete concept design, research and development, prototyping, implementing, and advertising/marketing their projects—in other words, they see their projects through from start to finish, and build their project management, technical, visual design, and communication skills in the process.
We have a new Interactive Digital Media studio and research lab that has the latest emerging technologies in the media space, which students can leverage both for their classwork and their own independent projects. This space supports and encourages collaboration between students and introduces them to tactical work with augmented and virtual reality, AI and robotics, and interactive forms of media.
Students in the IDM program take 18 concentration-specific requirements:
- Interactive Digital Media Seminar
- Interactive Digital Media Studio
- Web-Based Systems
- Entrepreneurship for Innovators
- Interactive Digital Media Praxis
- Interactive Digital Media Project Development and Implementation
They then have the flexibility to choose from a number of electives in areas such as public relations, business analysis and research, digital communication strategies, global media, new media technologies, and message construction. Students can also take classes in software engineering, such as front-end web development and web systems, as well as classes in art and design, such as motion graphics, sculpture, 3D animation, and fine art/design studio.
The IDM concentration is highly customizable, and therefore it meets many different professional needs. We have had artists come to our program to learn the essential communication and marketing skills to succeed in running their own business. Artists these days benefit a great deal from knowing how to code and design an online presence. This program is also ideal for developers and designers who want to learn more communication strategy and how to build engaging narratives. We feel the diversity in our student body for the IDM program will be another asset, as professionals from a wide variety of careers can discuss course concepts, collaborate on projects, and learn from each other. Examples of roles that students could take on once they graduate include digital media specialist or producer, user experience designer, technical designer, content engineer, service designer or game designer, interactive data journalist, product designer, creative director, web designer, digital media analyst, and digital content manager.
Strategic Public Relations and Social Media
This concentration is ideal for students who want to learn how to build, maintain, and optimize an organization’s identity through a combination of branding, ethical public communication, strategic message construction, and mastery of the latest digital communication technologies. As public relations is a very specific field with a very specific skills set, we found that a lot of our students wanted to indicate their training in PR specifically on their resume. Therefore we created this concentration so that students can show employers that they have advanced training in public relations.
Students take the following core classes:
- Communication Theories for Professional Life
- Research Methods for Professional Life
- Graduate Foundations in Communication
- Strategic Digital Communication
- Advanced Public Relations Planning
They then take electives in areas such as global communications and public relations, communication and culture, media and public opinion, crisis and issues management, communication ethics, and presentational communication. Students are also able to take internships, which we recommend for students who do not have a year or more of professional experience under their belts.
Across both of our program options, there is a strong sense of public communication, and how to apply principles of public service to work in both the non-profit and the corporate spaces. Another key theme in our program is the impact that communication technologies have had on communication principles and best practices. Communication technologies today are, in many ways, both enhancing and attacking the dominant paradigms that we have in the field. Technology not only impacts daily practices, but also changes the ethics by which we determine how to communicate with one another individually, in small group settings, and in widely disseminated media forms such as social media and mass marketing.
Students in the Master of Arts program also have the option to take electives from departments and schools at Monmouth University that are outside of the Department of Communication. Students who envision working in the corporate world may take electives in our business department, and take classes alongside MBA students, while students who are interested in health communication may take courses in nursing and health studies with approval from their program advisor. People who want to focus in-depth on communication technologies can take courses in computer science along with some electives in our department. Communication complements–or rather is necessary for–so many areas and industries, and as such we want to make sure that we provide the flexibility and faculty support for students to craft a program of study that meets their precise professional goals and personal interests.
Human Resources Management and Public Service Communication Certificates
In addition to our two concentrations, students can also earn certificates in Public Service Communication and Human Resources Management & Communication. These certificates are ideal for students who already have a graduate degree or who want to gain relevant skills and an advanced credential in a shorter amount of time. The certificates are 18 credits. The Public Service Communication certificate is ideal for professionals who want to build advanced skills in social justice work, corporate social responsibility, community relations, and advocacy. For this certificate, students take classes in areas such as mass media for public and corporate interests, crisis and issue management, strategic digital communication, global communication, persuasion and social influence, political communication, and conflict management and negotiation. The certificate in Human Resources Management & Communication is for students who want to learn how to optimize organizational culture and workflows. Students in this certificate program can take classes in human resources management, interpersonal and intercultural communication, conflict management, executive and leadership communication, and diversity management.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of Monmouth University’s Master of Arts in Communication program in the IDM concentration must complete a professional project, while students of the Strategic Public Relations and Social Media concentration can choose between completing a master’s thesis, a communication project, or a comprehensive exam. Could you describe the options for each concentration, and what each entails?
[Dr. Vujnovic] For the IDM program, students complete a professional project that culminates in the development of a prototype for an innovative product or service. Under the guidance of faculty, students conduct both industry and scholarly research to establish their project’s objectives and parameters. They then develop a proposal for their product/service and build a prototype, consulting with external organizations and stakeholders to hone their project and develop a business plan. The objective of this project is to springboard students into their future careers through a project that incorporates all of the important concepts and skills they have learned in the program, from comprehensive digital media management to entrepreneurial strategy and persuasive message construction.
The Strategic Public Relations and Social Media concentration has several options for students: a traditional master’s thesis, a professional project, and a comprehensive examination. The thesis is a graduate research paper through which students investigate a particular research inquiry concerning human communication as it relates to issues in social service, politics, corporate communication, political communication, and other areas. This option is ideal for students who are interested in pursuing further communication studies at the doctorate level. Students who choose this option consult their advisor and select members for a committee that advises them in their completion of their thesis. In the Communication Thesis Proposal course, students complete a ten to fifteen page proposal that includes a focused research inquiry, a study rationale, a literature review, a thesis research methodology, and if applicable an Institutional Review Board approval for research with human subjects. Students then complete a course that allows them to delve specifically into their thesis, and complete 25 to 30 pages of their thesis. This course also encompasses students’ presentation and defense of their thesis before their committee members.
The project option is ideal for students who wish to enter industry after they graduate, and is more flexible in terms of structure. It emphasizes practical skills that are directly applicable to industry projects and roles. Many of our students either acquire or come in with certain skills like television production, radio production, video production, programming, film design and development, and how to construct messages for media channels, and therefore want to use their culminating experience to further hone these skills. Students take two project-specific courses. The first course is a Communication Project Proposal course, during which students review scholarly and industry literature and develop a project proposal for submission and approval by their advisor and committee. The second course is where they dive into their work on their project under the supervision of their advisor.
Examples of projects that students have engaged in in the past include a video for the local SPCA branch, content for AVP (an Alternatives to Violence Project that helps former prisoners and incarcerated people), and a study that examined how elementary school teachers integrate communication technologies both inside and outside of the classroom. Typically, for the project, the work that students complete connects to a real world organization and/or issue. We have had students work with PR agencies, a non-profit organization, or a corporation, and they present their work and research in front of this organization in order to get feedback.
The third option, the comprehensive exam, is one of our most popular options, as approximately half of students choose it. The exam does not count for course credit, so students who choose this track must take an additional six course credits in order to graduate. The comprehensive exam is designed to test the knowledge that students have acquired in their graduate studies. It is typically held on a Saturday, and is a four-hour examination about communication theory and methods, research, surveying human subjects, and other core and advanced concepts. Students also write an essay to apply their knowledge of the theories they learned to practical examples. After students complete the four hour exam, their committee reviews their responses in a blind review, and typically revisions are requested. Some students may consider the comprehensive exam option because they think it will be easier and faster than the thesis or project. But I will say taking the exam is not easy either! It is highly rigorous, and even though students finish this requirement faster than they would a thesis or a project, the other two options have the benefit of giving students something concrete that they can include in their portfolio.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Monmouth 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. Vujnovic] We have numerous mentorship opportunities and support systems both within and outside of the classroom. We conduct regular surveys with our students, and also our alumni. And overwhelmingly, our alums say that what really stuck with them in the program after they left is faculty. Our faculty truly care, and focus on each students’ needs, accessibility, and potential. Even if you have a faculty advisor and thesis advisor already, all doors are open in our department, and students can chat with different faculty about different concepts and issues. I think that faculty mentorship plays a huge role in our department in this way.
Students begin the program with me as their advisor, and then they narrow down to an advisor that matches their areas of interest within the program. Once they get to the point where they have determined their final graduation requirement option, and (in the case of project or thesis) the topic of their culminating experience, students then seek faculty advisors who can best support their work. For instance, one student is investigating propaganda, new media, and democracy, and we have faculty who focus on political communication. He’s chosen to work with one of the faculty members whose expertise is in media technologies and democracy. So depending on where their interests are or the methodologies they want to use, students have a wide range of options in terms of their graduate advisors and committee members throughout the program.
Many of our students also do internships. We have an internship course that students take advantage of, and which we implemented in response to student feedback saying that they would find a course devoted to practical internship work to be helpful. We have always been very responsive to students’ input regarding how we can make our program better.
In terms of devoted career development services in the program, our department focuses on what we call “Life After Monmouth”; in other words, we work to answer students’ questions around, “What is going to happen to me once I’m no longer a student at Monmouth? What resources will be available to me after I graduate?” Every spring, our department organizes a networking event where we invite professionals from the field. It’s an all day event, and we have over 100 participants and organizations that hold both undergraduate and graduate panels there. Students have to be dressed up nicely, and organizations have tables and booths that students can circulate. Students are encouraged to bring their resumes and portfolios. Organizations often give them other resources and contact information. There have been very successful partnerships between students and these organizations in terms of internships, employment, etc. That is our department-specific career event.
Monmouth University also has general, campus-wide job fairs and career events. And the career center is available to students at any time, where they provide resume help, portfolio feedback, job and internship databases, interview prep, and more. In terms of academic services, we have a writing center that students use a lot, as well as library resources that help them in their research.
One thing I wanted to mention is graduate assistantships, which are in high demand in our program. We have three types: graduate research assistant, graduate teaching assistant, and a general graduate assistant who can be assigned to various tasks. Our graduate research assistants are typically paired with a faculty member to work on research that interests them. Graduate teaching assistants are paired with a faculty member based on their interest, and help with teaching and assignments. The general graduate assistants can be assigned to do a variety of work. For example, some of our students work in production services within our department, which is a company that works with clients to develop films and short films. We also have a polling institute where students can work. And currently, one of our students is working with a faculty member who is working with the American Society of Andrology to critique their communication and social media strategies so that the organization can better understand where they should put their resources and what their communication plan should look like moving forward. This student feels really grateful that she has the opportunity to work with real clients and do the kind of research that interested her and apply what she learned in classes to actual projects. GAships are great opportunities for students that can also offset the cost. We have about six GAships per semester, so 12 per year.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for Monmouth University’s Master of Arts in Communication program?
[Dr. Vujnovic] We look for an essay that shows real intention, strong letters of recommendation, and a GPA of 3.0 or higher. We also ask for a portfolio of past work. Some students see that requirement and worry that, as they are just coming from undergraduate, they don’t have the work history to put forth a strong portfolio. However, a portfolio as we define it can include everything from writing samples from your past courses to any kind of service work you completed within and outside of school. And if you are a working professional, it can include any of your past work, including communications campaigns or press releases, video releases, etc. Typically students submit their portfolio in electronic form.
Our students come from a wide variety of academic, professional, and social backgrounds. We have a mix of people who come from industry, as well as people coming straight from undergraduate. Our students have degrees or work experiences in areas such as journalism, broadcasting, or communication disciplines, oftentimes. But occasionally, we get people from the business discipline, computer science, psychology, sociology, history, and anthropology. We believe that this diversity in our program enhances students’ potential for growth, which is why we have a foundational course where students discuss advanced communication concepts and bring their own experiences, insights, and ways of thinking and problem solving to the discussion table.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Monmouth University’s Master of Arts in Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Vujnovic] I would say one of the core ways in which our program is unique is how we bring different disciplines together to prepare students for optimizing media, corporate relations, and other key communications across a wide variety of contexts. Our programs show students the intersections between media technology, public relations, team management, marketing, business development, and more. Many programs are more narrowly defined, such as master’s programs in public relations, organizational communication in corporate settings, marketing, or broadcasting and journalism.
Our program allows students to be specific in the skills and knowledge they obtain for their jobs post-graduation, but also the larger aim is for our students to be able to look at communication and how it encompasses a wide variety of areas–emerging technologies and media, message construction, public speaking–all of these areas are helpful whether you work in corporate communication or public communication and social responsibility.
Another element of our program that is really important to us is our ethics as a Department, and as a program. One of our central aims is empowering students to give back to the community, and also teaching them how to think about communication and its role in organizational culture. Culture is a really important aspect of an organization, whether you work for a corporation, a non-profit, or a governmental agency. We teach students that whatever they do, whatever communications occur within an organization and between that organization and the public has reverberations in the community. So I would say that our emphasis on ethics and social service is a major reason why our program is unique and a strong option for students who want to maximize their options and impact in the communications field.
Thank you, Dr. Vujnovic, for your excellent insight into Monmouth University’s Master of Arts in Communication program!