Note: In February of 2018, we interviewed Dr. Strawser about Bellarmine University's Master of Arts in Communication program. Dr. Strawser is now an Assistant Professor at the University of Central Florida. For students interested in Bellarmine's MA in Communication program, we have published an updated interview with Kyle S. Barnett, Ph.D., who is the current Graduate Chair for the Department of Communication at Bellarmine University. Dr. Strawser's interview has been archived for historical purposes.
About Michael G. Strawser, PhD: Michael G. Strawser is the Director of Graduate Programs at Bellarmine University, where he also teaches as an Assistant Professor. As Director, Dr. Strawser oversees the Master of Arts in Communication degree and the Master of Science in Digital Media degree at Bellarmine. He advises current and prospective students, teaches courses in both programs, and establishes vision and direction for both graduate degrees. As an Assistant Professor, he has taught classes in communication ethics, organizational communication, strategic communication, intercultural and interpersonal communication, professional and leadership communication, and public speaking. Dr. Strawser’s research focuses include organizational and instructional communication, including distance learning. In addition to his current responsibilities, Dr. Strawser also served as an Instructional Designer for Online Projects at Bellarmine University, a role that enabled him to design and launch hybrid and online courses and support other faculty members in transitioning traditional courses into an online format. Also, in an effort to engage regional and local businesses, Dr. Strawser started Legacy Communication, a communication training and consulting firm, in 2016.
After earning his Bachelor of Arts in Comprehensive Communication from Cedarville University in 2008, Dr. Strawser began teaching communication courses at this university. He earned his Master of Arts in Communication and Leadership from Gonzaga University in 2011, and subsequently began teaching communication courses at Bellarmine University that same year. Concurrently, he also earned his Master of Divinity in Christian Ministry from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. While earning his Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Kentucky, which he received in 2015, Dr. Strawser taught communication classes as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, and also worked with the Assistant Provost for Transformative Learning on the University of Kentucky Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP).
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Bellarmine 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. Michael G. Strawser] The Master of Arts degree program at Bellarmine University is perfectly suited for working professionals or students who want to obtain a terminal degree. Typically, courses occur M-R evening from 6:00-8:30 p.m. We do not offer weekend courses and those who work 9-5 can easily attend our class sessions. We also have flexible course offerings (i.e. online and hybrid) for several core courses and some of our special topics classes. All students in the Master of Arts in Communication (MAC) degree will take seven core classes: Introduction to Graduate Study in Communication; Communication Theory and Literature; Research Methods in Communication; Intercultural Communication; Studies in Digital Media; Introduction to Media Studies; and Ethical Issues in Communication. Students will then take three elective courses (i.e. special topics offerings; thesis; internship, etc.) to complete their degree.
This program is designed to give students a solid understanding of theory and research from a professional and academic perspective. Ultimately, this program allows students to study what they want in terms of ‘communication phenomena’ and apply their course content to their vocation and future pursuits. I believe it is a great blend of theory and practice. I am the academic advisor for all graduate students and I also teach the first course all students will take, Introduction to Graduate Study in Communication. I always encourage my students to be entrepreneurial in their degree construction. “You” know you better than I know you. Our program allows students to work on projects that connect back to their professions and personal lives and we want students to create deliverables that apply what they are learning to their “real lives.” Students have a lot of flexibility within this degree to think strategically about their passions and apply the course material to their situations. This is a great degree for those interested in a promotion at work or looking for a career transition.
Also, our healthcare concentration is a unique offering. Students can graduate with a healthcare concentration if they take three (nine credits) masters of health science classes (all offered online) in place of the nine elective credit hours. The healthcare option is very popular, especially in the Louisville region. We are also exploring an Organizational Communication concentration. Our program is only thirty credit hours and you do not have to take the GRE when applying! Also, students in our Master of Arts program can take courses offered in our Digital Media program as electives. If students want a traditional Master of Arts but also want to expand their digital expertise, they can.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe the master’s thesis, internship/practicum, and independent study options that students can complete as part of their electives in the program? Aside from the required courses, are there any final requirements students must fulfill to graduate?
[Dr. Michael G. Strawser] Unlike many graduate programs, students in our Master of Arts in Communication degree can participate in an internship for graduate credit (three credits to be exact). We believe in the power of experiential learning and practical experience. Students at Bellarmine have completed internships at Brown Forman, Humana, Northwestern Mutual, the list goes on and on. The thesis is optional for a few reasons. We have students who want different outcomes. Some want to be promoted and some want a career transition. So, projects in core classes and experience are key for those students. We highly encourage (I hesitate to say require, although…) students who want to pursue a terminal degree to complete the thesis option because, as you can guess, doctoral programs want to know that applicants can complete self-directed research studies and can “write” at a level necessary to complete doctoral coursework and a dissertation.
We do have non-terminal degree seeking students complete the thesis as well. The expectations of the thesis are, obviously, the same for working professionals or those who want to pursue doctoral work. There are still high research expectations, etc. For working professionals, we do encourage the thesis topic to be something related to their current or future vocation.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Bellarmine 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. Michael G. Strawser] If I could define my vision for teaching and leadership in one word it would be mentorship. I approach my courses as a mentorship opportunity and I treat every student as a unique individual. Practically, this means that I help students design a program that fits their needs. Thankfully, the other graduate faculty at Bellarmine share this perspective. Students visit the homes of professors, we (graduate faculty) have written hundreds of reference letters, and we (faculty) allow students to design a degree-seeking experience that is beneficial and helpful for each individual student. The student is primary and a faculty cohort that is passionate about mentoring students helps create an atmosphere and environment of advocacy. I encourage students to visit faculty in their offices, attend campus events, talk with faculty before and after class and, in all honesty, just get to know their faculty members.
In terms of career mentorship, Bellarmine has an incredible Career Development Center and all of our alums get Career Services for life. We have employer panels in graduate courses where students can ask questions of potential employers (and network) and many of our faculty bring the Career Development Center staff into the classroom to give targeted interview, cover letter and resume prep. We also have a well-designed library staffed with full time research librarians who go above and beyond to assist in all phases of research.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for Bellarmine University’s Master of Arts in Communication program?
[Dr. Michael G. Strawser] If your readers are interested, I developed a resource called “Ace the App” specifically to help students create an incredible application (email: firstname.lastname@example.org). However, my best advice… edit. Second best piece of advice… edit again. Applications with typos, spelling errors and/or mechanical/grammatical mistakes show the committee a red flag. Also, choose your references wisely. In our program(s), we have such a broad spectrum of student applicants that we see students highlight “fit” with the program, professional experience, research acumen, etc. I am a big believer (and I hate to be cliché) in grit. Meaning, when I read your personal statement I want to know that you are passionate about communication and will persevere through the program. As a result, I encourage applicants to discuss passion and perseverance in their personal statements.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the Bellarmine University’s Master of Arts in Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Michael G. Strawser] Our degree program is unique to each student in that students can select courses (i.e. special topics course) like strategic communication, podcasting, communication campaigns and analysis, digital portfolio, data visualization and storytelling, etc. that resonate with them. We also allow students to either explore academic interests, in the form of traditional research papers, or practical and professional interests, in the form of projects. We also have a very diverse faculty with a broad skillset so students can approach a variety of topics on an independent study basis as well. We have seen an influx recently in students who want to pursue a terminal degree. Our degree initially started (in 2010) primarily as a degree for working professionals but we have had several students recently who have either been accepted into COM-based PhD programs or are actively pursuing doctoral study by completing a thesis or writing articles and book chapters with their professors.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Bellarmine University also offers a Master of Science in Digital Media. Could you please elaborate on the curriculum and key learning outcomes for this program? What kinds of careers does this program prepare students for, and how does this program differ from the Master of Arts in Communication?
[Dr. Michael G. Strawser] I am a little biased, obviously, but our digital media degree is a fantastic program option for those who feel the “traditional” master of arts in communication does not fit their current professional or personal needs. Our digital media degree is deliverable focused. By deliverable I mean project-based. Consider this a “hard-skill” or technical degree in a soft-skill discipline. Students learn how to make digital portfolios, video production, sound production (i.e. podcasts), data visualization, campaign design, visual and graphic design, technical writing, and other digital skills. Students who want to be social media managers, digital content creators, digital media coordinators, directors of e-communications, and digital strategists should pursue this degree. However, I believe this degree would also be a great option for someone who is currently in a marketing, PR or generalist communication vocation who has been asked to “expand” his or her communication toolbox to include more digital skills. This degree is also unique in that it is interdepartmental. All of our digital media students take a MBA course to round out their experience. I love this MBA option and it draws many students into this program. In some ways it is an MBA for people who do not need all of the course offerings available in a traditional MBA program.
Thank you, Dr. Strawser, for your excellent insight into Bellarmine University’s Master of Arts in Communication program!