About Michelle Baker, Ph.D.: Michelle Baker is the Director of Online Programs in Strategic Communications in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. She earned her BA in Communications/Journalism and her MS in Communications Studies from Shippensburg University. She earned her PhD in Mass Communications from Penn State University. Dr. Baker has been teaching both in-residence and online classes for Penn State since 2009, and she brings with her nearly 20 years of teaching and administrative experience in higher education. She also has experience working as a journalist and freelance writer, and she served as the assistant editor for Bucknell University’s alumni magazine.
As the MPS program director, Dr. Baker talks with prospective students about the program, advises current students, oversees the curriculum development process, and serves as a liaison between the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications and Penn State’s World Campus.
In the online environment, Dr. Baker focuses on developing courses that are both learner-centered and interactive to foster community among students. She also emphasizes the growth of real-world skills by developing assignments that bridge to students’ future careers. Additionally, she has a strong interest in health message design. As a Ph.D. student, Dr. Baker’s research focused on designing health messages to reduce stigmatization associated with health conditions. As an assistant professor at Juniata College, she and her health communication students partnered with a local hospital to disseminate a health message to promote better communication between patients and providers during office visits. She is interested in the relationship between the development of campaigns that promote positive health behaviors and community engaged teaching and learning.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Penn State University’s Master of Professional Studies in Strategic Communications program, and how it is structured? What are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?
[Dr. Baker] Penn State’s online MPS program in Strategic Communications is structured with the working professional in mind. Ultimately, the curriculum is designed to be practical and enable early and mid-career professionals to advance in their careers, which may include advancing into leadership positions, starting their own businesses or agencies, changing their career focus within the industry, or simply learning new skills to enhance the current position they hold. The program is fully online, with no residency requirements, and the content is delivered asynchronously. Because students must have professional experience in the field of communications before entering the program, the courses are designed to enhance students’ professional development and add to the skills and knowledge they have already acquired at the bachelor’s level and through their work experience.
Students can expect to learn how to use big data for audience analysis, how to use theoretical frameworks to enhance the effectiveness of campaign designs, how to conduct quantitative research to determine the effectiveness of campaigns, and how to reach multicultural audiences in a meaningful and ethical way. Students can also customize their program with communication electives, which include advanced data analysis, communication law, and leadership courses. In addition to communication electives, students also take one elective outside of the program, and this course can come from any graduate program offered through the World Campus.
The World Campus is considered one of the locations of Penn State University, and it is the second largest location in the PSU system after University Park. While the professors in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications develop the course content and teach the classes in the MPS program, instructional designers at the World Campus develop the look and feel of the classes so that students interact with content that is easy to navigate, visually appealing, and pedagogically sound. The professors at the Bellisario College are internationally renowned experts in their respective fields, both professionally and academically, so the content being developed and taught is based on meaningful scholarship and relevant to the current strategic communications industry. The instructional designers at the World Campus are also credentialed at the doctoral level, and they bring deep expertise to their online learning design. They can incorporate cutting-edge technology into the online pedagogy, such as virtual reality and 360-video, which have been shown to enhance student retention and recall. Because the professors and instructional designers work so closely together, students experience a variety of teaching approaches in their online classes that incorporate critical readings, discussion forums, videos, podcasts, and other state-of-the-art learning technology.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Penn State University’s Master of Professional Studies in Strategic Communications is offered entirely online. Could you elaborate on the online learning technologies that this program implements to facilitate students’ engagement with faculty and peers?
[Dr. Baker] Since the program is offered entirely online, students will never need to come to campus to complete the degree. The course content is delivered asynchronously using the CANVAS learning management system, a very intuitive interface that resembles a traditional website. Professors provide remote office hours as well as optional synchronous class sessions to answer questions and provide further explanations about course content. These optional sessions are recorded and made available for students who could not attend the live sessions. Though the program content is rigorous, the method of online delivery is designed to be flexible for the lifestyles of adult learners. It is important that our online students feel like they are a part of a learning community and not isolated, so professors take the time to help individual students, and classes are structured so that students engage with each other regularly.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of Penn State University’s Master of Professional Studies in Strategic Communications program complete a Strategic Communications Campaigns capstone course. Could you elaborate on this capstone requirement, and what it entails?
[Dr. Baker] The MPS program culminates in a capstone course, which provides students an opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills acquired in the program to a real-world communications need. Students work individually to complete this capstone project, and the professor works one-on-one with students as they complete their projects. Students choose the organization they will partner with for the project, and this can be the organization they currently work for. The capstone is meant to be professionally relevant to each student, so there is much flexibility in the way students can tailor their projects to meet their career objectives.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Penn State University’s Master of Professional Studies in Strategic Communications program? Independent of faculty instruction and support, what career development resources and academic services are available to students, and how can they make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems?
[Dr. Baker] As a way to support student success in the program, Penn State provides each student with an advisor who will help them to choose classes, answer program-related questions, and direct them to support services offered through the university, including academic tutoring and psychological support services. World Campus also provides career development resources, and professors are available to answer career-related questions. Additionally, with over 172,000 members, Penn State has the largest alumni network worldwide, and the Bellisario College is the largest accredited program of its kind in the nation. Students have incredible mentorship and career networking opportunities with such a large alumni base.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in Penn State University’s Master of Professional Studies in Strategic Communications program, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application?
[Dr. Baker] To be competitive for the MPS program, students should have professional experience in the field of communications. This experience can be broadly construed—for example, advertising, public relations, marketing, journalism, copywriting, digital analytics, promotions, or the like—so students should consider how their professional experience relates to the focus of the MPS program. Relatedly, letters of recommendation should highlight students’ professional experience as well as their academic preparedness for rigorous graduate-level work. Students who are competitive for this program should be able to articulate in their personal statements clear goals regarding why they would like to pursue a graduate degree in strategic communications and how the MPS will help them to achieve their career goals.
We are looking for students who are self-directed, can balance graduate work with other life demands, have clear, well-articulated career goals, and are ready to engage with a community of learners like themselves. We want students who are not only passionate about the field of strategic communications, but what they can add to this field to make a difference in society—in advertising, public relations, political communications, small business, health communication, grassroots advocacy, or the like. Strategic communications is a broad field, and we are looking for students who are excited to make a mark in their specific areas of interest and expertise.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Penn State University’s Master of Professional Studies in Strategic Communications program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Baker] Penn State’s program is unique in the flexibility of its online delivery, its academic rigor, the international reputation of its faculty, and its cutting-edge course content. Students can expect to interact with other industry professionals in their classes, so students aren’t just learning from faculty but from each other, as well. Because of this, real-world problem-solving and case studies happen in the courses. Students also gain access to the resources of a big school, both through the World Campus and the Bellisario College. But because our program is committed to attention for our students, we live up to our college’s motto of “big school resources, small school feel.” We want our students to succeed in achieving their career goals, so students are not just a number in our MPS program. They can expect personalized communication, attentive faculty, engaged peers, and a wealth of services to support their learning.
Thank you, Dr. Baker, for your excellent insight into Penn State University’s Master of Professional Studies in Strategic Communications!