About Patricia Dobson, Ph.D.: Patricia Dobson is the Department Chair of and Graduate Coordinator for the Department of Communication at Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU). As Department Chair, Dr. Dobson manages the budgets, scheduling, and program review processes, advises students, and oversees the daily business of running a department for faculty, staff and students. As Graduate Coordinator, she makes sure students are in the proper courses for their program, manages teaching and graduate assistants, and supports students to help them stay on track for their thesis work or capstone work.

As an Associate Professor, Dr. Dobson teaches classes at the graduate and undergraduate levels in writing, photojournalism, journalism, public relations, and family/group/interpersonal communication. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and her Master of Arts in Public Relations from Eastern New Mexico University. She subsequently earned her Ph.D. at Capella University in Education. Prior to her work at ENMU, Dr. Dobson was a journalist and news editor and subsequently transitioned to promotions before she was hired by ENMU to be the promotions coordinator for the College of Fine Arts.

Of her alma mater, she stated: “I’ve always felt that ENMU helped me find my voice, and I have the distinct privilege of helping students now do the same. What I teach has involved much of my research with students and colleagues; I research bullying and the different interpersonal, group and family dynamics involved. There is something so satisfying to be able to help students figure things out, both professionally and personally.”

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Eastern New Mexico University’s Master of Arts in Communication, and how it is structured? What are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?

[Dr. Dobson] We have worked diligently to create a program that will allow flexibility in terms of face-to-face or distance learning. All of our master’s students take four core courses: communication research methods, mass media and society, critical analysis of mass media, and communication theory. From there, students choose electives that will best serve their educational and career paths. Students choose electives that fit their needs, ranging from public relations and journalism to media literacy and criticism. So while all students take the four core classes, they have the ability to choose the electives to suit interests and future plans. We have a thesis track, where students complete 24 course hours plus 6 hours of thesis (30 hours total). We have a capstone (non-thesis) option in which students complete 27 course hours plus a 3-credit capstone project. Many of our students choose this path as they’re completing a master’s degree to either help them advance in their current career or to make the jump to a different position. In both thesis and capstone, faculty guide students through their process.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Eastern New Mexico University’s Master of Arts in Communication is an online program, with the option for students to complete some of their electives on campus. Could you elaborate on the technologies the program employs to facilitate student engagement with course peers and faculty? Also, which courses are students able to take on-campus?

[Dr. Dobson] Students can earn their master’s degree online or choose face-to-face classes requiring travel to campus. All four of our core classes are offered face-to-face and online via lecture capture. These are asynchronous options, and allow for working students to attend as their schedules require. This is particularly helpful for our students who are working one or two jobs and cannot attend classes during the day. To enhance peer-to-peer and student-to-faculty engagement, we require a weekly activity that requires students to discuss class concepts online via discussion boards. The majority of our elective choices are delivered in the same way; although our broadcast journalism/production electives are offered face-to-face only since those involve television studio and cameras.

Most of the courses offered in the master’s program do have a face-to-face component as well, for our students who wish to meet faculty and classmates in person. The face-to-face classes also allow our international students residing in the United States to meet their federal requirements of six hours of face-to-face classes per semester. Offering both online and face-to-face options for our students means that they can also mix and match online and on-campus classes to suit their schedule. This also has the added benefit of giving our on-campus students an option to catch up on lectures if they have to miss class due to personal or professional obligations—the same course material is captured via lecture capture and uploaded online.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students can choose between a master’s thesis and a communication capstone project. Could you elaborate on both the thesis and the project, their required deliverables, and how students should determine which option is best for them?

[Dr. Dobson] The thesis and capstone projects require the same amount of work. For the thesis, students take their first 3 hours in the next-to-last semester of their program. Students, with their thesis chair and graduate committee, complete the prospectus and go through the human subjects’ process if required. During their final semester, they complete their final 3 hours, which is the study and final two chapters. For the capstone route, most students take an individual research class during their next-to-last semester. They complete their capstone, which is the production of a body of work, during their last semester. Capstone projects have included documentaries, public relations campaigns, writing of anthologies of short stories, and promotional health programs for a local hospital. Thesis projects have included studies of interpersonal relationships in school programs, film analyses, content analyses of political news articles and religious news articles. Thesis students have a final defense, and capstone students have a final presentation of work.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Eastern New Mexico University’s Master of Arts in Communication? Independent of faculty instruction and support, what career development resources and academic services are available to online students, and how can they make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems?

[Dr. Dobson] We provide numerous support structures for students in our program. I as the graduate coordinator serve as students’ initial advisor when they begin the program, and when the time comes for them to start their capstone or thesis project, we have a matchmaking type of service that matches students to faculty who are ideally suited to support their research and work.

For their thesis project, students are required to submit a write-up of what they want to research and/or create for their project, and then this proposal is sent out to all of the faculty members. We as a faculty team meet to talk about the different projects, what each of the students might need, where the strengths are in their project proposals, and where they might need some additional work. At that point, faculty volunteer to work with students and then reach out to these students to help guide them through the initial stages of their thesis.

In addition to their primary advisor, students also receive mentorship from two other faculty members who, along with their main advisor, comprise students’ thesis committee. Committee member selection is handled in much the same way as the advisor selection—through faculty discussion we identify the best mentors for each student’s project, and these mentors then work with students directly.

While I as the graduate coordinator, students’ thesis/project advisor, their committee serve as their formal advisors in the program, I often tell my students, “Anybody in our department is happy to help you—we are just your on-paper, go-to advisors, but I encourage you to reach out to other faculty as well.” We have a small and very close-knit group of faculty, all of whom are highly committed to students’ success.

In addition to faculty mentorship, local and distance students may make use of the career center on campus, the Golden Student Success Center, and tutoring services. These services are available face-to-face or via technology.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in Eastern New Mexico University’s Master of Arts in Communication, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Dobson] Along with the application and transcripts, we require a statement/letter of purpose. This document really serves to introduce the applicant to faculty members. We require that the document include a bit of information about the student’s background, their future plans, why they want to study at ENMU, and what they hope to achieve. It is their chance to allow us to get to know them before they set foot on campus, or start their program.

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

[Dr. Dobson] This is a flexible program. We realize not everyone can pick up and move to our campus; so, we offer that opportunity via technology. It is unique in that we offer the flexibility to pursue advanced study in the discipline. The program is beneficial to both residence and distance students who are pursuing the degree to 1) enter the workforce directly upon graduation; 2) as a means to advance in their professional careers; 3) enter a doctoral program. This benefits working professionals who need flexibility and practical experience for career advancement. Graduates are prepared to continue or pursue employment/advancement in public relations, journalism, publishing, broadcast journalism or production, media relations, management, human resources, business, education, marketing, political consulting, advertising, sales, the nonprofit sector, or in government. It also prepares candidates for entering doctoral programs in communication and other related fields.

The close-knit nature of our faculty team, and the diverse areas of research expertise that we bring to the table, also make this program unique. We have celebrated scholars in social media, media management and analytics, political communication, journalism, public relations, and leadership communication. Because of the diversity of our faculty, our program serves a wide range of student interests and goals, while our commitment to each student helps empower them to make the next step in their careers.

Thank you, Dr. Dobson, for your excellent insight into Eastern New Mexico University’s Master of Arts in Communication program!