About Dr. Marnel Niles Goins, Ph.D.: Marnel Niles Goins is the Graduate Coordinator for the Department of Communication at California State University, Fresno, where she also teaches courses in organizational communication, small group communication, and gender communication as a Professor. As Graduate Coordinator, Dr. Niles Goins supports students throughout their enrollment and serves as their initial advisor in the program. She also helps manage recruitment and supports faculty. Prior to her role at California State University, Fresno, Dr. Niles Goins taught classes in gender roles in communication and organizational communication at Howard University, George Mason University, and the University of Iowa. She is also First Vice-President of the Western States Communication Association, serves as a member of the Executive Committee of the National Communication Association, and is the Immediate Past President for the Organization for Research on Women and Communication.

Dr. Niles Goins earned her Bachelor of Arts in Communication from Oakwood College in 2002, followed by her Master of Arts in Organizational and Small Group Communication at Howard University in 2003. She earned her Ph.D. in Organizational and Small Group Communication from Howard University in 2007.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of California State University, Fresno’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. Niles Goins] Our Master of Arts in Communication program is comprised of 30 course credits. Students take five required courses that provide them with a really great foundation on which they can build their own personalized course of study according to their areas of interest:

  • Introduction to Graduate Studies: This course is a three-unit seminar where students learn about our program and its structure, how to be successful as a graduate student, etc.
  • Seminar in Rhetorical Theory: In this course, students explore different theories of rhetoric spanning classical theories to the modern era and learn how to design and conduct a study examining rhetorical principles.
  • Seminar in Communication Theory and Research: Students investigate human communication from a sociological, psychological, philosophical, and mathematical perspective, and learn how to study human communication using different theories and models.
  • Seminar in Contemporary Criticism: This course teaches students about different methods of rhetorical criticism, as well as the role that rhetorical criticism plays in society.
  • Seminar in Communication Research Methods: In this course, students learn how to apply quantitative and qualitative research methods, as well as critical methodologies, to a wide variety of human communication issues. How to design, implement, and interpret the results of qualitative and quantitative research studies.

Electives that are part of the program include seminars in organizational communication, group communication, instructional communication, and public and strategic discourse. Students can really make their course of study their own, and to use the advanced coursework in our program to investigate issues of import to them. For example, a student who is interested in how African American women are treated as patients in the health industry might take our Seminar in Organizational Communication, as well as our courses in Health Communication and Intercultural Communication. She might also take courses outside of our department, such as classes in Women’s Studies. Below is just a sampling of some of the courses we offer, and the concepts and skills they cover:

  • Seminar in Organizational Communication: This class covers core theories and methods of organizational communication, and how they are applied in interpersonal, group, staffing, employee development, and decision-making contexts. Students learn about and the role that communication plays in organizational systems, such as how communication can diagnose and solve organizational problems.
  • Seminar in Argumentation: Students examine both traditional and modern theories and methods of argumentation, and analyze different forms of argument and their functions, ranging from argument for persuasion, argument as critical thinking, and argument as epistemology.
  • Seminar in Instructional Communication: This course relates theories of learning to theories of communication and communication research. Students learn strategies for communication education, techniques for applying these strategies in academic and professional settings, and methods of conducting research studies in instructional communication.
  • Seminar in Public and Strategic Discourse: How public discourse is used to persuade audiences in political, religious, social, and economic contexts. The principles of crafting persuasive and ethical messaging for the public.
  • Seminar in Group Communication: Students learn how to analyze group communication dynamics and methods using scientific theories and research. They also discuss how group communication research can be used to understand and address contemporary issues in communication.
  • Seminar in Communication Training and Development: Students delve into the communication methods and skills that are used in organizations to develop employees and enable organizations to function. Training and needs assessments, seminar and workshop development, and interventions evaluations are discussed.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students can choose to complete a thesis, project, or comprehensive examination. Could you please elaborate on each of these options, and what they entail?

[Dr. Niles Goins] For the master’s thesis, students write a research paper with the support of an advisor and committee. Students think of a research question, work with their advisor, and write an introduction, a literature review, and a proposed research methodology. They then go out and conduct their research, whether that is focus groups, some kind of survey, or individual interviews. Once they have gathered their data, students continue on to their results, discussion, and conclusion sections. The master’s thesis is six units of course credit, and is much like a dissertation in its structure–many of our students who want to pursue a Ph.D. select the thesis option because it prepares them for their dissertation later.

The project is a bit different. It can be either three or six units of course credit, and as it is geared more towards the students who would like to go into industry, it tends to be more hands-on. For example, right now I am advising a student who is working on a workshop for the retail industry that teaches participants how to be more respectful of people’s gender identities in retail settings. This project wouldn’t fit into the thesis structure as it’s more of a direct problem-solving initiative directed at supporting managers, rather than a study. We’ve had other students design workshops for interpreters, for teachers to train them how to do service learning, and for curriculum developers in terms of how to redesign certain courses. We had another student design a course for our Richter Center for Community Service and Engagement. As with the thesis, the project option necessitates that students receive support from a committee and also present their project to its members.

The comprehensive examination, the third option, is actually zero units. So students who choose this option have to take one additional course on top of preparing for their examination. Though students who choose this option do not have to present a project or defend a thesis, they must nevertheless form a committee whose members are professors who have taught several of their key courses. The comprehensive exam is comprised of a paper and three questions. With help from their committee, students also determine the topic of their examination paper, which is a 25-30 page paper on an issue of their choice. This paper is distinct from the thesis in that it requires no research study, and it is not like a hands-on project that aims to solve a problem in the workplace. Instead, it is like a seminar paper that students have about a week to a week and a half to complete.

After this paper, students then must sit down and respond to questions posed by members of their committee. Each committee member gives the student a question–one committee member asking about rhetorical theory or communication theory, one who writes a question about methods, and a third who will ask a question specifically about an area in which the student is interested and has focused his or her studies. Students meet with each member of their committee and receive advice on what they should brush up on before their exam. For the actual exam, students have between 2-3 hours to finish each question in writing, and work on one question per day. At the end of this section, the paper and the exam responses are sent to the student’s committee for assessment. If the committee has determined that a student has done well, they ask him or her to come in to defend the seminar paper segment of the examination.

In terms of deciding which option to choose, it really depends on the student’s individual goals and strengths. Some students really love quantitative and/or qualitative research, and have the goal of entering a Ph.D. program, and for those students they’ll want to do a thesis. For students who are really good at impromptu writing, have a strong grasp of course concepts, and are good at responding to questions both orally and in writing, the comprehensive exam might be a suitable option. For students who want a concrete project to showcase in their portfolio once they graduate and enter industry, the project might be ideal for them.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in California State University, Fresno’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. Niles Goins] When students first enter the program, I am their first advisor, and I help them through any issues or challenges they encounter, particularly during that first semester, but also afterwards. Once students get into the second semester of their program, they should start really thinking about what areas of study they want to enter, and with that what faculty members they might want to approach to be their advisor. Students’ individual advisors work closely with them throughout the remainder of their program, and are also instrumental as mentors during their thesis/project/comprehensive examination.

At California State University, Fresno we take a very active and proactive approach when it comes to advising students and helping guide them through a course of study that best matches their interests and goals. They ask questions such as, “What do you feel are your writing strengths? What do you feel you need to work on? What areas of communication excite you the most? What do you want to accomplish once you graduate?” Advisors also help students decide which final graduation requirement would work best for them, given their comfort with in-depth research, less structured projects, or sit-down timed examinations. And when the time comes for student to start applying for jobs or Ph.D. programs, their advisors are often one of the first ones to walk them through the processes of applying and exploring different jobs or schools, and will write letters of recommendation for them. For students who want to go into teaching, their advisors will also help them apply for graduate assistantships and teach courses at Fresno State in preparation for teaching at the community college level. We are committed to meeting students where they are at and helping them develop their strengths in the individual direction they desire.

In addition to helping students with choosing courses and navigating their final graduation requirement, faculty are invested in connecting with students on a personal level, and supporting them in not just academic and professional areas, but also in the personal as it relates to their performance. If a student is stressed or has other life obligations going on, we are always receptive to hearing about it and supporting students through it insofar as we can. Furthermore, professors have helped many students apply for grants and scholarships both within and outside of the school. We had a faculty member who was an advisor to a student who won a Fulbright Scholarship and who has now just finished her Ph.D. this December. While we do not have a designated career center in our department, many of the faculty in our department are connected to people within the industry.

For example, I had a student who wanted to complete a project that was specifically a workshop about optimizing email communication in a corporate setting. I used one of my contacts so that she could go into the industry and actually apply her project by teaching real employees. So she had real-world experience implementing her project and seeing its impact, which helped her with her job prospects down the road.

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

[Dr. Niles Goins] Write a strong but concise personal statement. A lot of people like to tell personal stories, which can work, but keep that part fairly secondary to your overall thesis, which should explain what you want to do within our program, and how you would be an asset to our student community. And in writing about your objectives, make it clear that you have done your research about our program and what it offers. Sometimes an applicant might say, “I want to study public relations.” That is great, but we do not have that as part of our program. If you’re interested in mass communication and journalism, that does not necessarily fit our department either, but environmental communication does, as does intercultural communication. So make sure you review the website and know exactly what we can offer you.

For the writing sample, make sure it is freshly edited. Some of our students come straight from undergrad while others are returning to school after several years in the workforce. Regardless, you should go through your writing sample and revise it as necessary. If it was a class paper, look at the instructor’s comments and address them before submitting. We also require the GRE, and our minimum GPA requirement is 3.0 or above.

If you can obtain your three letters of recommendation from faculty at your previous program, that would be great. However, if you’ve been working in industry for a while and would like to use a professional reference that is also fine; just make sure that an faculty member is at least one of your recommenders. Don’t ask a coworker or a friend–we need to receive letters of recommendation from people who have seen you perform in a rigorous academic and/or professional setting.

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

[Dr. Niles Goins] Our faculty are what make our program stand out. Their genuine investment in students, and their diversity in terms of race, gender, ability, interests, industry experience, and research expertise means that we are able to serve a broad range of students in a very individualized and productive way. We have faculty who are experts in environmental communication, science communication, intercultural and interpersonal communication, organizational and small group communication, rhetoric, gender studies, political communication, and more. Our students are able to study a wide variety of topics and put together a program of study that is comprised of all their interests. And we always stay engaged with our students so that we know how they are doing. We want to make sure they are successful, and provide them with suggestions and advice, connections and recommendations as needed to help them get where they aspire to go.

We also provide students with funding to attend and/or present at conferences. For example, we provided funding for our students to attend the National Communication Association’s conference last week; they hold a conference in a different city each year and this year it was held in Texas. So we provide students with funds to help them attend these out-of-state conferences, as well as conventions such as the Western States Communication Association Convention. On top of this funding, students can also obtain additional stipends from the Division of Research and Graduate Studies.

Within our department, we also have independent student organizations and associations that students can benefit from joining during their enrollment (and which can benefit them even after they graduate). We have a professional communication association on campus that brings guest speakers to present to the graduate students. We also have an honor society, clubs, and other opportunities for students to build a close-knit community among their peers. Community is one of the primary reasons why our program serves students so well–amongst the students, amongst the faculty, and between students and faculty there are strong connections where all parties are invested in each other’s success.

Thank you, Dr. Niles Goins, for your excellent insight into California State University, Fresno’s Master of Arts in Communication program!