About Dr. Stephen Perry, Ph.D.: Stephen Perry is a Professor in the School of Communication and the Arts at Regent University, where he also serves as Director of Graduate Programs in Communication. Additionally, Dr. Perry is the Program Coordinator for the Master of Arts in Journalism and the Master of Arts in Political Communication offered through the School. As Program Coordinator, Dr. Perry advises students throughout their enrollment, supports faculty, assists with curriculum development and recruitment, and manages administrative responsibilities within both programs. As a Professor, he teaches courses in strategic communication, journalism, and communication studies.
Dr. Perry’s research interests include broadcast history, media effects, media technologies, and mass communication. Prior to his role at Regent University, he was a Professor at Illinois State University, where he taught a wide variety of courses, including classes in mass communication theory and effects, mass communication regulations and policy, international communication systems, and disaster and crisis communication. He also served as a Fulbright Scholar for the University of Mauritius in the Republic of Mauritius.
Dr. Perry earned his Bachelor of Science in Mass Communication and Mathematics with a minor in Computer Information Systems from Trevecca Nazarene University in 1987. He subsequently earned his Master of Arts in Telecommunication and Film from the University of Alabama in 1993 and his Ph.D. in Mass Communication from the same institution in 1995.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we have an overview of Regent University’s Online Master of Arts in Political Communication and how it is structured? What key learning outcomes can students expect from this program?
[Dr. Perry] To start, I will back up one step and talk about Regent University’s overall mission. Our slogan is “Christian Leadership to Change the World.” So our objective in all our programs, including the Master of Arts in Political Communication, is to train Christian leaders to improve their world. We encourage our students to think about how questions of faith and God will guide them, help them to make good decisions and be ethical, and to serve humanity through their profession.
So that underlying philosophy is present in the Master of Arts in Political Communication program, and may be even clearer in our curriculum than in others, what with the importance of ethical communication in preventing government corruption and empowering the public to hold government officials accountable. One of our central aims is to teach our students how to cut through the noise, and to be guided by internal ethics that are bigger than winning and losing an election.
So within the program, students learn about the importance of culture, narrative and story, and how politicians, speechwriters, campaign team members, policymakers, and other political communicators can tell a story that connects with their target audience and shows that they understand and are invested in the same things that their stakeholders are. How to show audiences that they know what it is like to be an American, a Virginian, a Californian…and that you understand the unique history and challenges that come with living in a certain area.
To that end, our students learn the foundations of the American political system, Christian concepts in politics, fundamental and advanced topics in media and social influence, popular culture and storytelling, and media research and analysis. That’s the core of the program, after which students can choose any three classes (9 credit hours) from the Department of Strategic Communication and Journalism. Such courses can include social media and internet marketing, media law and ethics, media and the church, crisis communication, public relations, and critical approaches to strategic communication. Students are also able to take electives from within the Robertson School of Government in areas such as economic policy, healthcare policy and ethics, crisis management, terrorism and homeland defense, and international relations.
So half the program is core courses and half is electives in order to give students a lot of flexibility in crafting their program of study to match their interests. For example, if a student is interested in becoming a journalist who writes about political issues, he or she could take more electives specifically in journalism, feature writing, and multimedia storytelling. Other students might want to be more strategic communication oriented, with the goal of working with teams to get a message out to the public or help a certain policy or political candidate to gain traction. So they might take classes on strategic political campaigns, public relations, crisis communication, and other related areas.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How do you integrate politics, communication and religion into your courses?
[Dr. Perry] We integrate those three areas both through the interdepartmental course offerings that students have, and in certain courses where we cover the connection between them. For example, for the course Story, Popular Culture, & World View, we apply religious principles to stories to illustrate certain communication best practices.
So let’s take a movie–A Christmas Carol, for instance. It is at its core, a story about a person who is redeemed. Scrooge at the beginning of the story has the philosophy of “It’s all about me,” but then in the end his life is transformed through the visitation of these ghosts. So we’re not necessarily talking about stories that are based in the Bible, but rather stories that illustrate something about human nature, and which are applicable to real political and public situations.
For example, political scandals seem commonplace now in the media, and scandal isn’t relegated to just the field of politics. Corporations, non-profits, government agencies, and candidates for office, field numerous attacks on their character, their history, etc. And if you are on the team who has to manage these scandals, you have to find a way to maintain transparency and ethics, but to still tell the story in a way that allows for redemption. Maybe the person being accused needs to resign, but if it’s something from a past life that is not relevant to his or her fitness for a position, then there’s a different way to handle that. And one way of handling these situations is looking to stories in our culture, what do people value in the culture, and allowing that value system to then help them evaluate and present the candidate. So just in this one course, students learn how to apply the principle of compassion, which is a major tenet in Christian teachings, to better understand human communication and culture, and to address real-life political situations.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you elaborate on how Regent University uses online technologies in its courses to facility students’ engagement with faculty and their peers?
[Dr. Perry] Most of the classes for the online program are asynchronous video lectures that students can access anytime. Alongside these lectures, students complete assigned readings and are given discussion questions that they have to post responses to on the class forum. Students are also required to interact with their peers by responding to each other’s posts in a form of online discussion.
We complement the asynchronous video lectures with optional synchronous sessions that give students the opportunity to discuss course concepts with their faculty instructor and their classmates. For example, this term I have several afternoon synchronous discussion sessions for my media research and analysis class, where students who join ask questions about the subject of the week and we discuss topics relevant to the course concepts covered thus far.
These synchronous sessions are optional because our students live in different time zones, so we don’t want to mandate a meeting that requires some students to get up at 3 am for a call. We record the live sessions for any students who want to view them afterwards. While our master’s program is 100% online, we do have some students who do hybrid courses on campus, but that is primarily students who live locally. I would say only about 10 to 15 percent of our master’s students in political communication are taking on-campus classes. The vast majority of students in the program are online.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please elaborate on the final graduation requirement for students?
[Dr. Perry] Students have the option of either completing a master’s thesis, a directed project, or an internship. If the student is planning to continue on to a Ph.D. program, then we would encourage him or her to do a master’s thesis. The thesis is basically comprised of looking at theory and constructing a research project to find the answer to a question in the realm of politics and communication. For example, a student might examine the media coverage of a political event, the factors impacting this coverage and the effects that this coverage had on political outcomes.
Students who are not interested in pursuing a Ph.D. and who want to work in industry directly after their program should choose either the internship or the directed project. The internships can take a variety of forms, but should be connected to political communication. Students must write up and submit an internship proposal to their advisor for approval prior to the start of their internship. We support students in finding internships that match their interests and learning goals, but a lot of it is on the student to make the connections with people and organizations in their area. For example, two weeks ago one of my students started making a connection with Congressman Bobby Scott’s office out of Norfolk, Virginia, and she was able to make some connections there. She actually landed a part time job that will turn into her internship in another semester.
The directed projects are a little more independent but can still involve working for an organization. Students can be fairly creative with their directed project, and it can include such items as a social media management plan, public relations content, campaign media for an organization, and more. Students must submit evidence of the work they’ve done to the faculty along with a reflective piece explaining how their project connects to the curriculum. The directed project is a good choice for students who want to focus on building concrete items for their portfolio. So if a student wanted to become a campaign manager for a Congressperson in Virginia, he or she could focus on creating a portfolio that reflected the kinds of work a campaign manager does.
So there’s a little bit of writing in terms of the academic paper that goes with the examples of their work, but in some ways this option is also kind of like an internship in that students engage with real industry tasks and issues. And as mentioned, students really have a lot of flexibility in what they do.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Regent University’s Master of Arts in Political Communication?
[Dr. Perry] The faculty at Regent University are very committed to supporting students throughout their enrollment in the program. For the online students, the synchronous discussion sessions and online office hours are two core ways in which we help students connect with faculty and form those mentoring relationships. Students obtain their program advisor fairly early on in the program, and this faculty member guides them through the final graduation requirement, and also helps them to navigate their course selections and post-graduation goals. Our faculty take their role as advisor to students very seriously. For example, one of our faculty, once his students decide on their thesis, directed project, or internship, he sends them weekly emails with updates and offers to answer any questions that have arisen for them as they work on their final graduation requirement.
Faculty mentorship also occurs on a class-by-class basis, by which I mean some classes involve more faculty mentorship and teamwork on projects than do others. For example, we just had a seminar last year on terrorism in communication and the students for that class had projects for which they had the support and oversight of the faculty instructor throughout. Students would have an online live session as a group with the teaching assistant, the faculty member, or both, and talk about what they were doing for their project, how the project was progressing, etc. And the instructors would walk them through the process of designing a survey or conducting a content analysis.
Outside of the classroom, our faculty are available for students to contact if they have any questions about coursework or projects. Some of our faculty members are particularly proactive in that they call the students in their class each individually at the start of the course, and/or before the assignment of an important project, just to connect. I know one of my colleagues jumps on the phone, and if he gets an answering machine, which of course you do a lot these days, he just leaves a message telling the students that he is just checking in, and that they are free to contact him with any questions they have throughout the course.
So it’s really that back and forth that happens on an individual class and faculty basis that creates those mentorship opportunities. No matter what opportunities we present, however, the student has to be interested in that mentorship or else it will not happen, especially with an online program. So students have to take advantage of the opportunities and reach out to the faculty. The synchronous sessions and office hours really help with that.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What career development resources and academic services are available to students of the Master of Arts in Political Communication Program at Regent University?
[Dr. Perry] We do have a career development office that provides university-wide support to students, in terms of resume editing, job skills development, job fairs (some of which are held online/virtually), interview prep, etc. Some of our faculty also have useful connections for students, though those connections tend to be local to Virginia Beach, and therefore might not be as helpful for students of the online program. Some of our faculty have industry connections–for example, one lady who teaches public relations courses in our program also runs a public relations agency. Students who are interested in those connections could contact her.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for students in terms of submitting a competitive application?
[Dr. Perry] In a nutshell: Write well. If someone expresses themselves well in their essay and uses good writing mechanics, that holds a very high value for us. Select a strong writing sample as well. Having a good GPA from past academic experiences is also important. That said, high quality and in-depth professional experience are also important elements of an application, especially if an applicant has been out of school for a while. For example, if we got an application from someone who had been working for 10 years as a journalist and their undergraduate GPA was only 2.3 but then they had this decade of experience working at reputable publications and creating some great content, then we would feel that person’s professional experience is worth much more than their GPA. A lot of our applicants are more than just two or three years out of undergrad. We sometimes admit students on a trial or provisional basis, and so they have to maintain a 3.0 GPA in their first nine hours of coursework to maintain enrollment.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Regent University’s Master of Arts in Political Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Perry] Regent University is the premier place for students who specifically want to integrate faith and a Christian perspective into their learning experience. Our focus is on service, social responsibility, strong ethics, and strong communication skills that can be applied to enact positive change in our communities at different scales.
I tell my students, “Look, you’re in for more work than you might get at another university because not only do you need to learn the theories and methods and skills in communication that other programs provide, but you also have to integrate questions of how faith connects to everything we do, personally and professionally.” That is indeed challenging and adds to the intellectual rigor of our program, but we believe it is worth it.
We have very qualified faculty, many of whom have had professional experience in communication and politics. For example, I bring my own experiences of being an elected official, running for higher office, and working with other people who run for office. We also have two government courses that are in our core. Furthermore, one of our faculty members who teaches our courses in government is a former governor of Virginia, and we have a woman who worked for several years in Washington, D.C., where she focused specifically on terrorism in political communication and in politics. So our faculty have incredible experience in the field that they then use to prepare students for their vocations.
Many of our graduates go out and teach at other Christian colleges around the country, because they receive such a strong foundation in faith, service, leadership, communication, and pedagogy. Our curriculum is focused on principles and structures that underlie good performance in communication and in politics, and that foundation is powerful in a wide variety of contexts.
Thank you, Dr. Perry, for your excellent insight into Regent University’s Master of Arts in Political Communication program!