About Mark J. Piwinsky, Ph.D.: Mark J. Piwinsky is a Professor in Communications Media and Coordinator of the Master of Science in Strategic Communication at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). He holds a B.A. in Political Science from St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from The Ohio State University. His extensive background as an administrator in higher education includes serving as Director of Analysis and Planning at Ohio State and Vice Provost for Administration and Technology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania before joining the Department of Communications Media. His work has included several major initiatives in administration, research and technology where effective communication, planning and implementation are essential. These include technologies for teaching and administration, budget and capital planning, curriculum implementation support, crisis information systems, and building research consortiums.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Science in Strategic Communication? How is it 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. Piwinsky] The Master of Science in Strategic Communication is a 36-credit program designed to serve current and aspiring communication professionals by combining writing, research, and media production skills. The program prepares students to pursue a variety of careers in organization, health, education, crisis and political communication as well as in the media profession. To do so, the program focuses on building the writing, storytelling, and content production skills as well as the theoretical and practical strategies that make strategic communication campaigns successful. Key learning outcomes include the ability to analyze and address communication needs; to construct strategic messaging; to integrate written, verbal and media messaging; and to design and implement goal-oriented communication campaigns.

The program core provides a foundation in the theory and principles of strategic communication, the writing and storytelling skills, and the research methods essential to communication campaigns. To prepare students to work with various media and media production teams, it also includes coursework on the production process for online and traditional media. Electives include courses in persuasion, online campaigns, and health, political, crisis and global communications.

Students have the option of pursuing the research or applied track. For the research track, students complete a thesis with their research focused on strategic communication campaigns, techniques and analysis. Students in the applied track undertake an internship working with communications professionals in organizations that reflect their career interests. Full-time students can complete the program in 13 months and part-time students in two years.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students in IUP’s Master of Science in Strategic Communication can choose between completing a master’s thesis or an internship. Could you please elaborate on both options, and what they entail?

[Dr. Piwinsky] Students in both the thesis and internship options take a common course in research and professional development that prepares them for their chosen culminating experience. Students in the research track will do the 6-credit thesis option. In their course work, students will explore possible topics and receive guidance on the thesis process as well as assistance in their actual research and writing process. During the course, they will work with their thesis adviser. Research will be oriented towards such areas as studying persuasion and information techniques, examining strategic communications campaigns, or exploring the effectiveness of various media and media techniques in communication campaigns. This track also provides valuable research experience for students considering our Ph.D. program.

The applied track is designed for working professionals and for those seeking careers as strategic communicators. Students in the applied track will do the 6-credit hour internship option. These students do a 240-hour internship placement with an appropriate communication organization. The internship includes close faculty mentoring and students will be at sites committed to supporting the goals of the program. Their work in the course will include the identification and analysis of applicable internship sites, a plan for their internship experience, a final assessment of their experience and an internship portfolio to showcase their work and assist them in their career objectives.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for IUP’s Master of Science in Strategic Communication program?

[Dr. Piwinsky] In reviewing applications, our committee takes a holistic view of potential students. The required elements – a goal statement, resume or vita, letters of recommendation, and transcripts – help us to assess the abilities and interests of the applicant and their fit to the program. Given the applicability of strategic communications to so many areas, prospective students who show a range of skills, experience, and interests are well suited to the program. Strong writing skills and a solid academic record are important. An interest in or experience working with the media production process – TV, video, social media, radio – is also helpful.

Our program welcomes both traditional students entering graduate study directly after receiving their bachelors as well as working professionals. As a result, while a solid academic record is expected of all applicants, letters of recommendation and the goal statement are especially valuable. Letters from professors, employers or fellow professionals that know the applicant well, have experience working with them, and can speak to their strengths, creativity and commitment are very important. The goal statement is also a critical component. We are looking for individuals whose career aspirations mesh well with the focus of the program. In addition, as strategic communication is a writing intensive field, the quality of the applicant’s writing and their ability to clearly articulate their objectives in the goal statement is another key dimension of the admissions process.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes IUP’s Master of Science in Strategic Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Dr. Piwinsky] IUP’s Masters in Strategic Communication provides students with the competitive edge needed for success as a communications professional. To begin, the applied and research tracks provide students with the ability to select the option most in line with their career goals and tailor their studies and experiences accordingly.

One of the unique elements is the inclusion of courses on the media production process. With strong media production components in our undergraduate and doctoral programs, we have the capabilities and see the advantages that communication professionals have when they can work effectively and efficiently with media producers. Our graduates will become adept at developing media campaigns with the understanding and tools needed to work with producers of both traditional and online media.

Students in the program will take some of their courses with our doctoral students. This will give them an opportunity to explore possible doctoral study as well as a chance to work with a wider range of students. Faculty teaching in the program bring an extensive array of experience and expertise to provide students with a diverse base of knowledge from which to draw. This includes theory, writing, media policy and ethics, promotions, global media, political communication and activism, and multiple areas of media production. In addition, others bring backgrounds from higher education administration, instructional design and training, policy studies, and technology management.

Another key element is a course schedule designed to support both full-time students and working professionals. Several courses are fully online using a combination of learning management systems and videoconferencing. Others are taught in a hybrid format with a combination of on-campus and online or videoconferencing sessions. As a result, students receive both the benefits of face-to-face interactions and much of the flexibility that online learning options provide. Typically, each hybrid course involves four to six on-campus sessions a semester. The on-campus sessions are particularly valuable for the media production courses where students work with the most current technology and have access to our advanced television, audio and photography studios. Our non-traditional and part-time students in the program helped shape this schedule and see the hybrid approach as an advantage.

Together, the scope of our curriculum and the experience of our faculty provide a unique range of opportunities and expertise for our students. In Pennsylvania and nationally, communications and media are among the largest job sectors and these skills are applicable to a wide range of career options. Graduates of our program will be well prepared with the knowledge and the communication and media skills needed to be exceptional contributors to their organizations. For those who decide to pursue doctoral studies, they will have a solid academic and media production foundation.

Thank you, Dr. Piwinsky, for your excellent insight into Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Science in Strategic Communication program!