About Shawna Malvini Redden, Ph.D.: Shawna Malvini Redden is the Graduate Program Coordinator and an Assistant Professor in the Communication Studies Department at California State University, Sacramento (Sacramento State University). Her research examines the intersections of emotion, identity, and sensemaking in high reliability organizations, as well as teen online life. Her academic work has won awards at national and international communication conferences, and has been published in various outlets including Management Communication Quarterly, Communication Monographs, Qualitative Health Research and Journal of Applied Communication Research. When she’s not teaching graduate and undergraduate classes related to organizational communication or qualitative research methods, she is working on her first book—a creative nonfiction adaptation of her dissertation, tentatively titled “101 Patdowns: An inside look at the Transportation Security Administration.”
As Graduate Coordinator, Dr. Malvini Redden supports graduate students throughout the program and leads the five-member Graduate Committee, which is responsible for recruiting graduate students, evaluating applications, and supervising the graduate program.
A first generation college student, Dr. Malvini Redden earned a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication, emphasizing Journalism and Public Relations from Walla Walla College, a Master of Arts in Organizational and Instructional Communication from Sacramento State University, and a doctorate in Organizational and Interpersonal Communication from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Sacramento State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies, 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. Malvini Redden] Our program is rigorous, methods-driven and designed to give students significant flexibility in achieving their scholarly and professional goals. A 30-unit program that admits students in both fall and spring semesters, there are three core, required courses—Qualitative Research Methods in Communication, Quantitative Research Methods, and Seminar in Criticism. These classes give students a grounding in important methodological and paradigmatic traditions, while showing numerous ways to understand and approach communication. Students can then specialize in a subject area (or areas as the case usually is), including interpersonal, organizational, media, criticism, health, instructional and intercultural communication.
The program typically takes two to three years to complete, depending on which culminating experience option students choose, and the pace at which they take classes. The typical full time course load is two classes per semester. The program is also structured to accommodate working professionals, and most classes are held in the evenings.
An important feature of our program is flexibility and students very often craft programs unique to their interests. To support this flexibility, students are allowed to take up to six units of coursework from other disciplines or from our advanced undergraduate curriculum (then tailored to make it graduate level). Likewise, they can pursue graduate level internships or complete independent study projects with a professor of their choice for graduate credit.
In every course and indeed through the entire program, graduate students are invited to develop their own research programs and engage in scholarly community, whether as preparation for doctoral study or to advance professional goals. Our students regularly present at local, regional, national, and international conferences in communication and related disciplines, and win awards related to scholarship including placing at university-level research competitions, achieving top papers at academic conferences, and earning competitive scholarships.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students in this program can choose between a Directed Study and Comprehensive Exam option, or a Culminating Experience option that allows them to complete either a master’s thesis or a project. Could you please elaborate on each of these options in turn?
[Dr. Malvini Redden] Another example of flexibility in our program is that students have three options for their culminating experience. The standard option is the comprehensive examination, which involves 10 hours of responding to questions developed by a committee of the student’s choosing. The questions, of which there are usually six or seven, cover the three core courses and whatever subjects the student is specializing in. Students work with committee members to develop reading lists, and guided by their committee chair/advisor, prepare for the questions that they see for the first time during the two examination days. The written examination is then defended orally a few weeks later. Students who do comps will have one extra class in their program of study, as the exam option is worth three credit hours.
The second most common culminating experience is the traditional thesis option, where with the approval of their advisor and the graduate committee, students embark on their own research study. The thesis and project options involve similar processes of developing a proposal for study and a scholarly rationale, but the project option (option 3) includes a practical deliverable such as a training program, curriculum, program evaluation, video or documentary. Thesis and project options typically involve six credit hours, and both include an oral defense.
With advanced planning, students can complete their culminating experiences in fall or spring semesters.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Sacramento State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program, and how can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems? Additionally, what career development resources and academic services are available to students of this program?
[Dr. Malvini Redden] Faculty mentorship plays a huge role in our program. Students work closely with faculty, whether in classes, as research assistants or as teaching assistants/associates. We encourage students to work with faculty members on research projects and to get to know them in formal capacities like committees for culminating experiences, as well as for more casual mentoring. Students typically work most closely with their advisor, who is the chair of their thesis, project, or comprehensive exam committee.
In addition to faculty mentoring, we have a peer mentorship program where more seasoned students in the program partner with incoming cohort members to help guide them and answer questions about grad student life.
Career development resources come from several different places on campus. The Graduate Committee regularly offers colloquia aimed at professional development, including CV/resume crafting, conference presenting preparation, and writing workshops. Likewise, our Communication Graduate Student Association serves as an important resource for students by hosting events, and providing access to campus funding for student research and travel. Graduate students can also access many resources on campus related to career development, including the Career Center, the Office of Graduate Studies, which administers workshops and financial resources, and Associated Students Incorporated, which offers classes, leadership opportunities, and many other services for students.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for Sacramento State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program?
[Dr. Malvini Redden] A competitive application is a well-rounded one. Our five-member graduate committee evaluates the whole package that a prospective student submits—the statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, writing samples, as well as the test scores and grades. Each member has the piece that moves them the most. For me, it’s letters of recommendation. The most competitive applicants have letters from professors who know them well, that speak to their intellectual ability and track record as a student, as well as qualities that will make them successful as graduate students, like perseverance, creativity, and work ethic.
In general, our committee wants to see that applicants can articulate a clear purpose for pursuing graduate study in communication, and that their career goals (even if vague!) match what our program can provide. One of the most common reasons for students not to be accepted into our program, even if they have good grades and test scores, is a matter of fit. For instance, if someone wants to study broadcast journalism and writes a statement of purpose all about that goal, our committee is likely to wonder why they’ve applied to us since we don’t offer those classes at the graduate or undergraduate level. However, if someone wants to ultimately pursue broadcast journalism as a career, and articulates how our coursework in communication can help them achieve that goal, even though we don’t offer those specific classes, it’s easier for us to see how our program and their goals would be a good match. In other words: A prospective applicant should carefully craft the statement of purpose to show why they want to study communication, why they want to study in our program specifically, and how they would be a good fit for our program.
The Graduate Committee is also looking for evidence of strong scholarship, especially in regard to academic writing. The strongest applications offer polished, well-developed writing samples that make clear arguments and demonstrate the ability to synthesize complex information. Writing samples are especially important for those who did not complete their undergraduate degrees recently and for those who do not have a background in communication studies.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Sacramento State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Malvini Redden] Three features make our program a particularly strong degree option for students.
First, a hallmark of our program is student teaching. We offer students paid teaching opportunities in the form of the Graduate Assistant program where students assist a professor by leading breakout sections of a larger lecture course, and the Teaching Associate program, where graduate students can be the instructor of record of their own undergraduate classes, typically introductory public speaking or “the communication experience,” which combines public speaking with a mini survey of communication. To support student teaching, our program offers instructional communication courses every semester—Instructional Communication Practicum in the Fall, and Instructional Communication Theory in the Spring. As a result, many of our graduates go on to teach at the community college and university level with their M.A.s, and are well-poised for becoming professors if their goals include doctoral study.
Second, as mentioned throughout this interview, an important aspect of our program is flexibility. Students can truly tailor the program to their career goals. For some, the goal is doctoral study, which approximately 25 to 30% of our graduates pursue (at top tier programs with full funding!). For others, the goal is to teach locally or apply skills learned in the program to their professional careers. In fact, our graduates go on to work in a wide array of careers from communication management and consulting, politics and advocacy, health care, education, recruiting, and more. Students frequently ask how a methods-driven, academic MA program can help their careers. I tell them that the program doesn’t just teach people how to understand, critique, and create academic research using a variety of methods; it also teaches people how to synthesize complex arguments, distill important information, apply it to a variety of contexts, and communicate it clearly. That skill set is incredibly valuable in any type of occupation.
Third and finally, a strong element of our program is community. Our graduate students collaborate with and support each other, both professionally and personally. Whether through study groups, writing partnerships, department events, happy hour or just complaining over coffee, our students tend to be close knit, collegial, and motivating.
Thank you, Dr. Malvini Redden, for your excellent insight into Sacramento State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program!