About Dr. Steve Sohn Ph.D.: Steve Sohn is the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication at the University of Louisville, where he also teaches courses as an Associate Professor. As a Director of Graduate Studies, Dr. Sohn’s responsibilities are to handle all affairs concerning the Department’s graduate program and student support. He oversees recruiting, admission, and academic advising, and heads the graduate committee in the department. He also serves as an advocate for the graduate students in the Department of Communication, and performs other administrative duties.
As an Associate Professor, Dr. Sohn teaches courses in Research Methods, International Communication, Strategic Media Management, and International Service Learning. He also conducts research on the effects of mass media, particularly advertising, on male and female body image disturbance.
Dr. Sohn earned his BA and MA in Advertising from Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI, and Ph.D. in Communication with focus in Marketing Communication at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the University of Louisville’s Master of Arts in Communication program, and how it is structured? What topics are covered in the core curriculum, and what are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?
[Dr. Sohn] Before I offer you my responses to these questions, please know that we are currently discussing and deciding on re-structuring our MA curriculum. It will not result in any major re-structuring of the program, but the resulted outcome potential will have some discrepancy from the information I am providing today, which is based on our “current” curriculum.
Our program takes more of a General Communication approach with areas of focus that each student can decide on. We do not offer any “official” concentrations that will be shown on the transcript or on the diploma. The degree from the program will simply be “Master of Arts in Communication.” However, we do offer courses in various areas of communication. Moreover, we would like to see our MA students become knowledgeable not only in the area of their interests but also in other areas of communication as well, for a holistic understanding of human communication as it occurs across multiple interrelated contexts.
Students are required to take 13-credit hours of core courses, including Ethical Problems in Communication, Communication Theory & Practice, Communication Pro-Seminar (1-credit hour), Qualitative Communication Research, and Quantitative Communication Research. Afterwards, they are encouraged to take at least one course out of each of three areas of communication as their elective courses, those areas being “Interactional Communication,” “Integrated Communication,” and “Social Advocacy.”
The courses in “Interactional Communication” include Interpersonal Communication, Health Communication, Communication Pedagogy, and Risk Communication. The courses in “Integrated Communication” include Integrated Marketing Communication Campaign, Computer Mediated Communication, Public Relations & P.R. Management, Health Communication Campaign, various Special Topics courses in Mass Media, and so on. The courses in “Social Advocacy” are Persuasive Movement, Communication and Multi-Culturalism, Conflict Management, International Communication, and International Service Learning, among others.
On top of taking three elective courses (out from each of three areas), our students are required to take additional 9-credit hours of elective courses of their choice in COMM, and this will be their “unofficial concentration.”
For example, a student may take all 9 elective hours from courses in P.R. and Crisis Management if that is his/her area of focus. Some of these elective courses are offered as on-line courses, but the majority of courses are offered as face-to-face courses.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students can choose between completing a master’s thesis or a practicum, an additional elective, and a comprehensive examination. Could you please elaborate on these two options, and what they entail?
[Dr. Sohn] Those who opt for the thesis option will need to complete a thesis, which is a total of 6-credit hours worth of coursework in two semesters, under the direction of a thesis committee made of one major advisor from the Department of Communication, a second advisor also in the Department, and a third advisor from outside of the Department. Upon completing the thesis, students have to defend their thesis orally in front of their committee and other attendees (faculty members and students in the department and outside of the department who are interested in attending the oral defense).
Those who opt for the non-thesis option will need to complete two items: a practicum, which is a 3-credit course, and a comprehensive examination. The practicum’s aim is to complete a practical project that utilizes communication study for an organization outside of the Department. Students, under the guidance of their practicum advisor who is a graduate faculty in the department, will need to contact an organization of their interest, and propose to them a communication-oriented project that will be beneficial to the organization.
Once they obtain an approval from the organization, students will complete their project in a semester. Students can choose an organization they already have connections with (e.g. current employer, from internship experience, etc.).
Along with the practicum, students under the non-thesis option are required to take a comprehensive exam. This exam is a two-day process, with students devoting four hours to the exam on each day. Students will be tested on the knowledge in four areas: Quantitative methodology, Qualitative methodology, Applied communication, and Communication ethics.
Whether students choose the thesis or non-thesis option, they will have faculty members who will provide support in a form of a committee (in case of thesis option) or academic advising (in case of non-thesis option).
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in the University of Louisville’s Master of Arts in Communication 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. Sohn] As a department, we have an open-door policy. Any student can walk into any of our faculty members’ offices if their office door is open instead of waiting for particular office hours. It’s because we the faculty members consider faculty mentorship as one of the most important responsibilities of the job. We encourage students to engage in free, open communication with our faculty members.
We’ve had quite a few students who found their career path/directions as a result of such open communication and mentorship. For example, there was an MA student who came to our program without having a clear idea about what she wanted to do after her MA degree. When she came and spoke with a professor in the department about her paper proposal as an in-class assignment, the professor encouraged her to develop her idea into a thesis. While working on her thesis, she began to be more interested in pursuing a career in academia and eventually applied and was accepted into a Ph.D. program in the New England area. Fast-forwarding now, she is a faculty member in Communication at a university in the Boston area.
Another example involves a student who came into our program with an interest in public relations. But after taking courses in Social Media from a professor and building a mentoring relationship with the professor, who constantly encouraged her and helped her, she began to have more specific interests and career goals in the area of social media management. She is now managing brand communication through social media for one of the major sporting brands in the country.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for the University of Louisville’s Master of Arts in Communication program?
[Dr. Sohn] Please pay particular attention to the personal statement, as it is your opportunity to communicate to the members of the graduate committee about who you are outside of what they can see from your application such as your GPA, GRE scores, etc.
You need to clearly communicate 1) why you are trying to obtain a Master’s degree in Communication 2) what is your goal during the MA program and after the MA program 3) why you are applying to our MA program when there are hundreds of other programs out there, and 4) why we should consider you for our program, especially if your GPA or GRE scores are low–you need to defend your weaknesses and offer us explanations so we can more correctly evaluate your academic potential.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the University of Louisville’s Master of Arts in Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Sohn] We take a balanced approach between academic focus and practical focus so we can serve students with various academic goals. Some are in our program because they are planning on entering a Doctoral program after their Master’s degree. We have been very successful in that, sending students to Doctoral programs such as the ones at the University of Texas in Austin, University of Connecticut, Purdue University, University of Alabama, Louisiana State University, etc.
At the same time, we have had many students who either advanced their career in their current path after earning their Master’s degree, or found a great career in various non-profit or for-profit organizations/corporations, as well as in local or state government offices. We have students who form their goals while attending a Master’s program, as well as students who are very focused in what they want to achieve in their graduate education.
I believe our program’s strength and uniqueness lies in its flexibility and adaptability to students of varying situations and goals. There are other programs in the Louisville area, but some are very practical/application-oriented communication graduate programs and others may focus very heavily on the academic aspects of communication in their graduate program to prepare their MA students for Doctoral programs. Our curriculum is structured in a way to help students in different situations, whether they have a specific goal or are more open to exploring different areas of communication and potential career paths.
Thank you, Dr. Sohn, for your insight into the University of Louisville’s Master of Arts in Communication program!