About Dr. Sunny Stalter-Pace, Ph.D.: Sunny Stalter-Pace is the Director of Graduate Studies for Auburn University’s English Department. As Director, she oversees the Department’s graduate programs, advises students throughout their enrollment, manages recruitment efforts, and collaborates with faculty to develop and approve changes to curricula.

She mentors Master of Arts students focusing on literature, rhetoric and composition, or creative writing; PhD students focusing on literature or rhetoric and composition, among other areas; and students of the Master of Technical and Professional Communication. Though their course requirements can vary, Dr. Stalter-Pace helps them with registration, fulfilling requirements, finding committee members, learning how to teach as TAs, and finding an academic community in Auburn.

As an Associate Professor, Dr. Stalter-Pace teaches early twentieth-century American literature, and recently has focused more on contemporary literature in this area. She loves teaching drama, film, and critical theory as well. She earned her bachelor of arts from Loyola University Chicago, and her MA and PhD at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the Master of Technical and Professional Communication program at Auburn University, 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. Stalter-Pace] One of the required courses, 7010, is an introduction to the field as a whole: what it entails, key terms and theories, and other fundamentals. The other required coursework covers editing, web development, and document design. For the most part, these courses are project-based, hands-on introductions to these practices. For students interested in working with non-profits, I know the Grant-writing course is really popular. And we have a lot of electives that deal with social justice and the environment. I think one of the major focuses that our Master of Technical and Professional Communication program considers is ethics. All of our faculty in the field think about the ethical components of information design and communication, and they ask our students to do so as well.

The electives can be tailored to the interests of the student. They can focus on other facets of our English department – maybe taking creative writing classes or ones in literature or rhetoric. Sometimes the students take these electives in English with a particular career goal in mind such as editing a literary journal or working in publishing. The coordinated minor in another field can do the same thing, giving students the sense of what it might be like to apply their skills as a technical communicator in another content area.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of Auburn University’s Master of Technical and Professional Communication program are required to develop a portfolio of relevant work that they submit to their advisory committee. They must also take and pass an oral exam. Could you elaborate on these requirements, and what they entail?

[Dr. Stalter-Pace] The portfolio requirements are as follows: a portfolio website of the student’s own design, and which follows best practices for coding, writing, editing, and professional communication ethics; a 2000-word memo that elaborates on the major technical and professional communication issues that the student has discerned based off of his or her coursework, and which makes suggestions as to how to address these issues; five exemplary pieces of print or online content that the student has completed during his or her tenure in the program, accompanied by a 500-word analysis for each of these pieces of content; and an edited resume or curriculum vitae. Students are required to present and defend their portfolio before a committee after submitting their portfolio materials. More detailed information about the portfolio, presentation, and oral defense can be found at our website at: http://cla.auburn.edu/english/graduate-studies/mtpc/

I would say the major point of the portfolio is to think back on your work over two years and bring together theory and practice. You want to be able to show how you’ve applied design concepts, ideas of usability, and ethical communication practices in the documents, infographics, and websites you’ve produced. Faculty give you feedback along the way, and then at the defense they will ask you to talk through your choices and present your experiences. It’s a fun day, because it’s when you really get a sense of everything you’ve learned and how far you’ve come.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Auburn University’s Master of Technical and Professional 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. Stalter-Pace] In your first year, you work closely with faculty members. You’ll take a two-hour teaching practicum, work as a teaching assistant, and serve as a program assistant. All students take two practicum courses on teaching, work as TAs in large-format classes, and then teach their own classes in the second year. The program assistantship is a great introduction to some of the resources of the MTPC program, like our usability lab (LUCIA) and our service-learning project database. Our faculty regularly take their graduate students to the ATTW (Association of Teachers of Technical Writing) conference and the CCCC (Conference on College Composition and Communication). Students regularly publish book reviews and articles in the field. And we have great networks for internships and jobs, especially with our strong connection to the Society for Technical Communication chapters in Birmingham and Atlanta.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for Auburn University’s Master of Technical and Professional Communication program?

[Dr. Stalter-Pace] Think about presenting an application that’s as relevant as possible to the kind of work you’ll be doing in the program. Sometimes students don’t have a writing sample that deals with the theory of technical communication, and that’s ok. But make sure your statement of purpose shows that you know what the program entails and what you want to do with the knowledge you’ll gain here. When you’re requesting letters of recommendation, talk to undergraduate professors who are familiar with your research and writing skills and can talk about them in detail. Letters from supervisors at jobs or volunteer positions can be good, as long as you ask them to focus on skills relevant to the program. Have you worked on a grant proposal, redesigned a website, edited a pamphlet? Ask them to describe projects you’ve worked on and the skills you’ve shown. Soft skills like being hardworking and dependable are good too, but make sure the letter addresses writing, editing, or design in some capacity if at all possible.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Auburn University’s Master of Technical and Professional Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Dr. Stalter-Pace] I think our strength comes from the combination of focus and breadth. Everyone in the MTPC cohort shares some core skills, but then they can create their own context for applying them. And there are great opportunities for thinking about concepts across disciplinary boundaries. Professors in literature think about editing through the history of the book, and professors in rhetoric and composition think about usability and information design from a pedagogical standpoint. It’s a great program for people who want to learn practical skills and learn how to think across boundaries too.

Thank you, Dr. Stalter-Pace, for your excellent insight into Auburn University’s Master of Technical and Professional Communication program!