About Michel M. Haigh, Ph.D.: Michel Haigh is the Graduate Advisor for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Texas State University. As Graduate Advisor, Dr. Haigh was active in the redesign of the curriculum for the Master of Arts in Mass Communication at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is the primary advisor for all students of this program, and oversees extracurricular programming such as student networking activities and volunteer events. Additionally, Dr. Haigh teaches courses in the program in areas such as media writing and mass communication theory and research. Her research interests include examining persuasion and social influence as well as communication strategies using quantitative research methodologies.

Prior to her position at Texas State University, Dr. Haigh taught courses in public relations writing, research methods, mass media and society, and public relations campaigns at Penn State University as a member of the advertising and public relations faculty. She earned early tenure and promotion, and served as a faculty member there for more than 10 years. She received her Bachelor of Science degrees in Agricultural Journalism and Speech Communication from South Dakota State University, her Master of Science in Agricultural Education and Communications from Texas Tech University, and her Ph.D. in Communication Studies from the University of Oklahoma.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Texas State University’s Master of Arts in Mass Communication, and how it is 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. Haigh] The program recently underwent a curriculum overhaul, where we as a faculty conducted research with alumni and current students, and did an analysis to try and figure out what kind of program we wanted to be. Before that, our program straddled the line between a traditional academic research program and a professional skill-building program, and what we were finding was that most of our students were really coming for skills. This made sense, considering Texas State University’s location, San Marcos, is situated right between San Antonio and Austin, cities that employ a lot of communication and media professionals.

The way in which the curriculum is structured now, 18 credit hours out of the total 36 are core classes. Specifically, the core curriculum is divided into theory, research, mass media law/ethics, and skills-focused courses with a digital emphasis. The traditional, academic theory and research core courses are:

  • Research Methods in Mass Communication, where students learn how to gather, analyze, and apply insights from primary and secondary data to media writing, data journalism, marketing strategy, and other areas.
  • Theories of Mass Communication, where students learn basic mass communication theories and apply these theories to industry contexts.
  • Media Law and Ethics, a traditional course in which students learn about the laws, regulations, and ethical principles and precedents that govern media behavior and the media industry.

The more professionally focused courses that students take include Digital Story Production, Media Writing, and Storytelling Across Platforms. These classes are designed to ensure that all students have a solid foundation in media and writing skills, digital communication technologies (both hands-on skills and a broader understanding of these technologies’ larger and ever-evolving significance in media), and how to address common challenges in the multimedia and digital media space. One of the advantages of our program is that it is really well suited to students who want to enter the communication field but who do not have an academic background in media. The core courses seek to give students a comprehensive set of skills in media writing and digital communication, so they all embark on their elective coursework with the same foundation.

The electives that students can choose from are very broad, and each semester I make sure to tailor elective selections to students’ interests. Before the start of each semester, I email our students with a list of possible elective offerings, based on our faculty’s expertise, and ask them which ones they would like to have offered for the upcoming term. I keep our students involved in the decision-making process so we offer electives students are interested in and would benefit from. For example, this semester we are offering Data Journalism, a seminar on Strategic Communication, and a course on Media Product Strategy.

The final requirement for the program is a professional project or thesis–students choose one or the other. The vast majority of our students choose the professional project track, and our curriculum generally supports more professional-focused capstones, versus a traditional academic thesis. In our redesign of the curriculum, it became clear to us that we needed to have a professional project option because that was what our students wanted as their program takeaway: they wanted portfolio pieces that could help them get a job or get a promotion.

[MastersinCommunications.com] The Master of Arts in Mass Communication is an applied program designed for working professionals, can you briefly discuss how the program is structured to accommodate students who may be working full or part-time? In a related note, what faculty mentorship and other support structures do students have access to throughout their enrollment?

[Dr. Haigh] One of the things that makes our program really distinct is how we take a very student-centered approach to understanding and improving our students’ experiences. Even from the class scheduling standpoint, we are always looking for ways to better tailor our program to students’ needs, learning preferences, and schedules. For example, when I first came to Texas State University, we were stacking some classes with undergraduates during the day (meaning students had to leave work), we also had students take three-hour evening classes. I could tell that the students would be zoning out a bit during these classes, which was understandable as they were just coming from a full day of work. I decided to try splitting up each evening into two, 1 hour and 20 minute classes, punctuated by a 10-minute break. My thinking was that maybe by shifting the topic and also giving students a chance to take a break and connect with each other would help with their alertness and engagement. We tried it, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. We also stopped stacking courses. This example illustrates our approach, where concern for students’ well-being and their learning experience is top of mind.

Similarly, as I don’t want our students spending a lot of time driving, especially during evening rush hours, we made some of our courses hybrid so that students can benefit from asynchronous distance learning technologies. This way, students will have classes on Tuesday in person, but on Thursday they can complete asynchronous course modules on their own time. Most of our students work full-time, and I make sure our faculty are cognizant of that. Students have the support and flexibility they need to succeed in our program while still having time for their families and their jobs.

[MastersinCommunications.com] May we have more details on the professional project track and thesis track, including the processes students undertake to complete each, the types of faculty support and advising students receive, and examples of thesis topics and projects students have chosen in the past?

[Dr. Haigh] The professional projects that students complete really depend on each student’s goals, the classes they’ve taken, their interests, and their work context. For example, several of our students work in strategic communication and completed campaign plans for their places of work. Other students have produced short documentary films, multimedia pieces, and websites. Students are by no means limited to any one particular project form, and have a lot of leeway in terms of what they can create. With that said, there are project guidelines and milestones that students have, such as submitting a project proposal that they must defend, and having a final presentation of their project to their committee at the end of their program. No matter what form students’ projects take, all students must create a written report that includes communication theory and discusses the research component of their project as part of creating the project proposal. This fall, our students just submitted paperwork for their projects, and we have several who are doing strategic communication campaigns, and a few who are doing multimedia pieces.

Students’ committees for their professional project are comprised of two faculty members. The committee chair is a faculty member who has expertise in the area that students are exploring in their project. Recently, we’ve also been working on helping students complete some of the background research for the future professional project during their core research class, so that they get a head start on their research work and can start applying what they learn in that and other classes immediately to their project process.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Texas State University’s Master of Arts in Mass Communication program?

[Dr. Haigh] I am students’ primary advisor from the beginning of their enrollment. Once students are admitted into the program, I send them an email welcoming them, and outlining what next steps are for them in terms of registering for classes and other logistics. Then on a regular basis I send out the News & Notes emails with information specific to our graduate students, and it’s in these periodic emails that I also ask for feedback on electives, etc. I also arrange volunteer events in the San Marcos area in order to help students engage with each other around a worthwhile cause. Once students have identified a final project topic and established their committee, the members of their committee also provide valuable mentorship and guidance.

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

[Dr. Haigh] This program is very much designed for working professionals, and therefore I strongly recommend that students have some work experience that has informed their decision to apply to our program, and what they wish to do once enrolled. And to that point, I would say the personal statement and resume are the most important components of your application. On our website we actually provide instructions on what applicants’ personal statements should cover. We ask them to address how the curriculum would give them the skills they need, and why they want to enroll in graduate school in the first place.

Letters of recommendation are also important. We do not require the GRE anymore, though we do have a minimum GPA requirement of 3.0. With that said, for applicants who have been in the work force for many years, their GPA from their undergraduate education might not be as representative of their ability to perform. We consider each candidate individually and holistically.

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

[Dr. Haigh] The way in which we really work to tailor our program to the needs of working professionals, right down to the mentorship aspect where we as a faculty team are committed to helping each student individually to realize his or her goals. Our courses have a strong balance of writing and communication principles, and extensive training in timely digital communication skills, so students not only learn the latest media technologies to help them get a job in today’s communication industry, but also adapt to the changing nature of this industry.

Thank you, Dr. Haigh, for your excellent insight into Texas State University’s Master of Arts in Mass Communication program!