About Dr. Nathan Stormer, PhD: Nathan Stormer is the Chair of the Communication and Journalism Department at the University of Maine, where he is also a Professor specializing in the intersections of feminist studies and rhetoric, cultural studies, and medical communication. He has published works examining the impact of cultural rhetoric and medical rhetoric on women’s reproductive rights. Dr. Stormer earned his BA in Speech Communication from the University of Minnesota in 1991, as well as his MA in Rhetorical Studies and his PhD in Rhetorical Studies with minors in Cultural Studies and Feminist Studies from the same institution in 1994 and 1997, respectively.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the University of Maine’s Master of Arts in Communication and Mass Communication program, and how it is structured? What core topics are covered in the core curriculum, and what concentration options do students have?
[Dr. Stormer] Students take a core of classes involving communication theory, mass communication theory and their selection from methods courses. From there they develop a concentration in Communication or Mass Communication in consultation with their advisor. It is self-directed and flexible.
Available methods courses are research methods, qualitative methods, rhetorical ethnography, cultural criticism, rhetorical criticism, and the historiography of rhetoric.
Elective courses include courses such as critical studies of media, social media, media ecology, media history, propaganda and persuasion on the Mass Communication side of the curriculum and environmental communication, risk communication, rhetorical theory, rhetoric criticism, and historiography of rhetoric on the Communication side.
Topics courses are offered frequently as well in such areas as culture and resistance, new materialist philosophy, and rhetorical ethnography, among others.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please elaborate on the master’s thesis or research paper that students must complete as part of their graduation requirements?
[Dr. Stormer] Students can elect to write a thesis or a research paper. The thesis is typically a multi-chapter work ranging from 100 to 200 pages. The Research Paper option is intended to match the size and scope of a standard journal article. Students may elect to produce a scholarly project or performance-based project in place of a research paper with the support and guidance of the advisor.
Thesis option students must complete a prospectus, preferably by the end of May of their first year. They must have a committee in place by early Spring semester. Research paper students do not have to have a prospectus, although we advise students to have a meeting with the whole committee about their project. Students are supported by an advisor and two other committee members. The arrangement varies by student. In some cases the advisor is the principal person who meets regularly with the student and only on occasion with the whole committee if deemed necessary. In other cases, students are co-advised with one faculty member supporting methods perhaps and another supporting content specialization. Students are expected to meet frequently with advisors throughout the process.
We accept one committee member from outside the Department, either from other units on campus or from another University if the student feels his or her input is important to the thesis or research paper.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Independent of faculty instruction and support, what career development resources and academic services are available to students of Maine’s Master of Arts in Communication and Mass Communication program?
[Dr. Stormer] Master’s students are encouraged to take internships for those planning on entering the workforce. We have well developed guidelines and expectations for internships and a dedicated internship coordinator who manages the process of setting up the internship and evaluates the work product that results. We typically have several Master’s students conduct an internship in any given year.
Another important component of professional development for our Master’s students is the teaching assistantship that the great majority of our MA students use to pay for their education. Our TAs are almost all instructors of record, meaning they teach their own courses. Students develop a significant number of professional skills through teaching, such as personnel and project management, team development, evaluation, training, and planning skills, not to mention developing one’s own interpersonal and presentational communication skills. We have a dedicated teaching assistantship coordinator who works closely with our TAs throughout every semester, meeting regularly to help them develop as teachers. A teaching pro-seminar is part of the curriculum required of all new TAs. Our TAs are also observed by faculty every semester as well as by peers to also help them develop. Our TAs are well supported and their teaching experience is a significant part of their professional development because the skills they learn in running a classroom transfer to almost any career.
The Department also supports Master’s student travel to conferences, in conjunction with the Graduate Student Government. The campus has a career center and the Graduate School provides additional professional resources. The Career Center has a jobs and internships hub that connects students with prospective employers. The Graduate School helps coordinate graduate assistantship opportunities, hosts PhD recruitment fairs, and a range of other support services for students who need assistance during their program.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for students who are interested in your program, in terms of submitting an optimal application? What is the typical academic background of students who pursue a master’s in communication at the University of Maine?
[Dr. Stormer] The optimal background is a student with a bachelor’s degree in Communication, Mass Communication, or related field, but we have admitted and successfully graduated students with academic backgrounds in music, environmental sciences, and sociology, to name a few. We also frequently admit international students to our Master’s program, who may have very different academic preparation relative to a typical US bachelor’s student.
We like to see an academic writing sample that lets us know an applicant’s potential for graduate level work, and letters of recommendation that can speak to that potential as well. We evaluate applicants based on the whole application, not any single part of it. Students with clear purpose for graduate education and the personal qualities needed to succeed are valued.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the University of Maine’s Master of Arts in Communication and Mass Communication unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Stormer] Our program is small and features extensive mentoring of Master’s students. We have engaged graduate faculty who work closely with their advisees throughout their two years with us. As a sign of our success, we have over a 90% completion rate of our graduate students. Also, nearly all MA students finish in two years, indicating the continuous support and guidance that we take pride in. We meet our MA students where they are at and help them find the direction they need. We work well with both students who are planning to re-enter the workforce, which is the majority of our MAs, and those planning to move on to doctoral programs. Among our Master’s alumni we include professors, entrepreneurs, teachers in secondary education, marketing specialists, communication directors at hospitals, university administrators, and many other careers.
We also fully fund most of our Master’s students through teaching assistantships (occasionally local professionals attend part-time and are not on assistantship). The teaching assistantship comes with a full tuition waiver (meaning students do not pay for any course including summer courses), an annual wage stipend paid monthly from September through May, and health insurance (which students may opt out of if they have other coverage). Our MA students are able to earn their degree without incurring a large debt, in other words. They typically find summer work to supplement the stipend, but our MA students only work as a TA while taking classes during the regular academic year. Some MA students also teach a course during the summer (usually online), find work on research grants with faculty, or take on administrative positions on campus during the summer to supplement the stipend. It is important to note that we support our MA students and our doctoral students equally, offering the same level of financial support to both cohorts.
We have a very collegial, close-knit, and supportive environment. Our master’s program began in the 1940s and has undergone many changes, but we have maintained the program and it is noted for the quality of its graduates.
Thank you, Dr. Stormer, for your insight into the University of Maine’s Master of Arts in Communication and Mass Communication program!