About Myria Allen, Ph.D.: Myria Allen is a Professor and the Graduate Director for the Department of Communication at the University of Arkansas. As Graduate Director, Dr. Allen spearheads graduate recruitment, interacts with potential students, and coordinates their admission into the department’s graduate program. She manages processes related to how students progress through the graduate program, utilizing best practices relative to departmental and university policies, and serves as an advocate for graduate students.
At the graduate level, Dr. Allen teaches Qualitative Research Methods, Organizational Communication Theory, and Sustainability and Communication. Her most recent research interests focus on the intersections of organizational and environmental communication. Specifically, Dr. Allen is interested in how organizations communicate their commitment to environmental and social sustainability through messages directed toward their internal and external stakeholders. She explores these topics in her book, Strategic Communication for Sustainable Organizations: Theory and Practice (Springer, 2016). Dr. Allen was drawn to communication because of its power in shaping our shared social world as well as our individual lived experiences.
Dr. Allen earned her B.A. (Journalism), M.A. (Mass Communication), and Ph.D. (Organizational Communication) from the University of Kentucky. She is a Professor and Graduate Director in the Department of Communication at the University of Arkansas.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the University of Arkansas’ Master of Arts in Communication program, and how it is structured? What are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?
[Dr. Allen] In 2017 we were named the National Communication Association’s (NCA) MES Outstanding Master’s Program due to our 1) strength in teaching and research; 2) success preparing our M.A. students for the best Ph.D. programs in Communication and for positions in organizations ranging from Fortune 100 companies to non-profit organizations; and 3) continuing capacity to innovate since our program was established in 1954. Our faculty investigate film, media, rhetoric, organizational, environmental, health, interpersonal, intercultural, and political issues – all through the lens of civic engagement. We utilize qualitative, quantitative, rhetorical, and historical research methodologies.
Our 33-hour program begins with incoming graduate students taking the Paradigms in Communication class and ends when they complete either a thesis or a capstone project. The Paradigms class sets our students up for success and encourages them to begin thinking about how they can use communication to increase civic engagement. They think deeply about their place in our discipline in terms of content area, ontological worldview, and preferred methodological approach. The following semester, two methods classes provide them with the tools they need to answer the research questions they feel to be most important. Because students’ interests differ, our graduate program is tailored to help them reach their individual goals. In addition to Communication graduate seminars, students can enroll in six hours of graduate coursework in other disciplines, complete an internship, and/or work independently with faculty members.
In 2016, we redesigned our M.A. program to focus on civic engagement. We define civic engagement broadly, but our interest is in helping our graduates learn to use communication to create more inclusive organizations, more resilient relationships and families and communities, and more informed and engaged citizens. One graduate seminar focuses specifically on civic engagement, civic engagement-related research is discussed in our methods classes, and graduating students are encouraged to address civic engagement-related issues in their thesis or capstone projects.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of the University of Arkansas’ Master of Arts in Communication program can choose between a master’s thesis and a capstone project. Could you elaborate on each of these options, and what they entail?
[Dr. Allen] For decades the Department of Communication has graduated M.A. students, many of whom completed traditional M.A. thesis projects in order to gain the research and writing skills they needed to succeed at top Ph.D. programs. Today, M.A. students continue that tradition. Thesis projects provide students with the opportunity to design, execute, and write about an in-depth research project exploring communication from a social sciences or humanities perspective. A master’s thesis is typically 70 -100 pages and demonstrates a student’s ability to engage in theory-driven and methodologically sound research. Students work with an individual advisor and defend the thesis before a committee. Recent thesis projects include The Myth of Southern Atonement; The Experiences and Perceptions of Microaggressions among American Assistant Language Teachers Living in Japan; Employees Communicating within Transportation and Logistics Organizations: What Studying Stress and Acts of Incivility in the Workplace Reveals About the Industry; and From Feminist Activist to Abortion Barbie: A Rhetorical History of Abortion Discourse from 2013 – 2016.
More recently, we designed the capstone option to meet the goals of students who do not intend to seek a Ph.D. These projects allow students to display their knowledge of theory and research as they work with faculty mentors to design and execute an applied project. Projects include a written, research and oral component, and are presented before a committee of graduate faculty members. Recent projects include designing a Facebook campaign discouraging the use of nepotism when hiring government workers in Ambon, Indonesia; designing and executing a training program to help student leaders create a more welcoming and inclusive campus environment; designing and conducting a Living Library event at our local public library; and designing a website to be continually updated with stories highlighting the accomplishments of university students representing all of Arkansas’ 75 counties.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in the University of Arkansas’ Master of Arts in Communication 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. Allen] From their first week on campus through their thesis or capstone project defense, graduate students work closely with one or more faculty advisors. Their initial advisor may be replaced by a project advisor but students always have someone who is guiding them in course selection and project design and execution. Since ours is a terminal M.A. program, our 14 faculty work closely with our 30-35 graduate students providing them with academic and career guidance, getting to know them as unique individuals, and helping prepare them for professional success. Incoming students also receive mentoring from the more advanced students, as well as other University faculty and staff. Faculty and students work together on research projects and faculty direct independent projects where they work one-on-one with graduate students. Past students have published articles in the Journal of Communication Studies, Communication Reports, the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, the Journal of Family Communication, the Quarterly Journal of Speech, and the Western Journal of Communication.
Funding is available for graduate students to present their research at regional and national conferences and they have attended the conventions of the Southern States Communication Association, the National Communication Association, the International Communication Association, and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, among others. Career support, including career fairs, are available in the University of Arkansas Career Development Center.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in the University of Arkansas’ Master of Arts in Communication program, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application?
[Dr. Allen] Before you begin writing your personal statement, familiarize yourself with each of our faculty and his or her research interests. The strongest statements of purpose tell us what you have done in the past, what your professional aspirations are, and how studying in OUR program specifically will help you reach those aspirations. In terms of civic engagement, you might discuss how your past experiences demonstrate your interest in civic engagement or how studying with us will help you contribute to civic engagement-related issues in the future. Your statement of purpose and writing sample should demonstrate graduate level writing and critical thinking skills. Letters of reference should come from past faculty members. Grade point averages and GRE scores are also considered, especially if you are applying for one of our initial financial awards or seeking an assistantship.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the University of Arkansas’ Master of Arts in Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Allen] The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, is a doctoral-granting research university with a very high level of research activity (RUN H). This means our M.A. students have access to the outstanding research and library facilities typical of research universities. They study on campus with over 4000 graduate students in 75 M.A. programs and 53 Ph.D. programs. The Center for Communication and Media Research is located in the department. The center seeks to advance knowledge and support scholarly and applied inquiry into the study of interpersonal, group, organizational, and media communication. It sponsors outreach programs designed to reach under-served populations, educational institutions, media companies, and businesses non-profit organizations. It includes a lab for conducting behavioral and physiological research.
Following our most recent program review the external evaluators identified several things which made the program particularly strong, including the faculty’s continuing emphasis on scholarship and research publication activity, their appreciation for a range of perspectives on scholarship, and their commitment to their graduate program.
Our M.A. graduates succeed in educational, for profit, and nonprofit settings. Because of the rigorous M.A. courses, graduates are routinely admitted to strong Ph.D. programs including the University of Arizona, Texas A & M, University of Minnesota, University of Missouri-Columbia, the University of Maryland, and Louisiana State University. Other M.A. graduates go the corporate route and work for companies such as Walmart and Tyson Foods, both of which are headquartered in our region, Northwest Arkansas. Others move away to work with companies including FedEx or work overseas (e.g., Saudi Aramco). Nonprofit organizations attract still other students (e.g., Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art).
Incoming graduate students interested in studying various aspects of civic engagement are eligible for a number of competitive department awards. The Lambda Pi Eta Alpha Chapter Award in Civic Engagements supports young scholars committed to researching and creating more inclusive organizations, more resilient communities, and more informed and engaged citizens. Moreover, the Janice Hocker Rushing Award is available to students interested in the critical analysis of all forms of communication. Finally, the Richard S. and Kay Kelley Arnold Graduate Fellowship is available to strong students who focus their coursework on the United States constitution, free speech, political communication, the judiciary, or public service.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Students of master’s in communication programs often must balance work, internships, coursework, and rigorous research projects. What advice do you have for students in terms of successfully navigating their graduate school experience, and making the most of the opportunities presented to them?
[Dr. Allen] Wherever you decide to study, during your first semester you will need to work on your time management skills. Resources are available on campus to help you. In terms of building faculty connections, faculty are often focused on their own research agendas, but are certainly open to working with you. Reach out to them. Contact specific faculty members you might be interested in working with now as you are deciding where to do your graduate work. Our graduate students are smart and they work hard. And they are congenial. This is a departmental norm we all work hard to continue. Being congenial yourself will help you form peer connections. Remember this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is challenging, exciting, and designed to help you reach your goals. Take advantage of the resources our graduate program offers. Finally, take time to enjoy our region and community. Life outside graduate school helps you balance the challenges of your academic career. For example, here you can enjoy a range of activities including sailing, canoeing, biking, hiking, shopping, along with world class art, the theatre and live music.
Thank you, Dr. Allen, for your excellent insight into the University of Arkansas’ Master of Arts in Communication program!