About Susan Stein, Ph.D.: Susan Stein is the Director of the Master of Science in Communication program at Drexel University, where she also teaches courses as an Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Communication. As Director, Dr. Stein manages the administrative aspects of the program, including recruitment, admissions, curriculum development and approval, and faculty support. She also serves as the co-advisor for students throughout their enrollment in the program, collaborating with the Program Coordinator to help students navigate their course selections within their program of study, their internships, and their final portfolio projects. Dr. Stein teaches courses in environmental communication, film and the environmental movement, and health and environmental campaigns. She has also completed numerous projects in the areas of health and environmental communication, including an EPA-funded environmental health and justice campaign and a USDA-funded health campaign for low-income consumers.
Dr. Stein earned her Bachelor of Arts in Zoology and Spanish from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1990, and her Master of Science in Natural Resource Management from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1995. She received her Ph.D. in Mass Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2004.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Drexel University’s Master of Science in Communication program, 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. Stein] I would say one of the greatest features of our program is its flexibility. And we’re flexible in a variety of ways in order to meet the needs of our students. Students can elect to be in our online program, or in our face-to-face program; they can go full-time, or they can go part-time, and they can start any term. Our program is comprised of 45 credits, 21 of which are program electives. And students can take these electives anywhere across campus as long as it is a graduate course. This allows students to take a minor if they want. For example, they could use their elective credits to get a minor in marketing or entrepreneurship. We see this as a strength of our program–how we incorporate interdisciplinary options into our curriculum so that students have the ability to craft their own direction. That said, we also know it is important for students to take an organized and focused approach to their graduate studies, so we also offer three formal concentrations:
The Public Communication concentration prepares students for careers in creating public-facing content and developing communication plans for different types of organizations. This concentration is suitable for students who wish to enter fields such as journalism, public relations, nonprofit and corporate marketing, and event planning and management. Courses in this concentration cover ethics for public communication, strategic social media communication, nonprofit communications, telecommunications, investigative journalism, and public relations planning and writing.
The Technical Communication concentration provides students with thorough training in technical communication concepts and principles, computer documentation, and instructional writing and editing, and the ethics of scientific and technical communication. Students take courses in document design and usability, writing and editing for technical and science publications, and digital publishing.
The Science and Health Communication concentration is ideal for students who are interested in science, medical, and pharmaceutical communication. It prepares students with a thorough foundation in the theories and practices of health communication and science writing and how to edit scientific, technical, and health publications. In their courses, students learn medical writing and journalism, the ethics of science, technical, and health communication, and how to develop patient education campaigns and instructional manuals.
Each of the concentration options above requires students to complete five courses, leaving 21 credits that they can devote to electives. All students, regardless of their chosen concentration, are required to complete the following courses–two in the first year of the program, and one during the last year of their enrollment:
Reading and Research in Communication: This course provides students with a foundation in graduate communication research, including how to read and interpret complex texts. It also provides students with an overview of the possible professions within the field of communication, and how communication research relates to roles both in industry and in academia.
Theories of Communication and Persuasion: This class draws from numerous disciplines in order to provide students with a strong understanding of the fundamental theories and models of persuasive communication, and how technology and technical communication have impacted the disciplines of rhetoric and rhetorical criticism.
Creating and Managing Communication Professional Identities: This course, which students take in their final year of the program, examines how communication professionals craft and maintain their professional identities using social media, professional portfolios, and other avenues. Students explore existing research on the subject and also work on a professional identity package that combines their academic work in our program and their own professional experiences.
Additionally, all students are required to complete an internship during their enrollment, though students who have already completed the equivalent of six months of professional experience may apply to the Graduate Director to waive the internship requirement.
Our emphasis on ethics also makes us distinctive. We give students a strong understanding of the ethical foundations, considerations, and situations that are relevant to their field. We want them to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to make sound decisions and lead teams in communication initiatives that educate stakeholders and the public. We are also highly professionally focused, and our courses prioritize skills that are relevant to advanced careers in communication, as well as new technologies, new communication platforms, etc. that are changing the way humans communicate across industries.
Curriculum development is an ongoing and always active process for us. We run focus groups to seek feedback from students who are both part way through the program and also those who are about to graduate. We also gather a lot of data from our alums and from the industry in order to answer the questions, “What do students need to be successful in the field? What are they interested in learning, and what pedagogical methods and scholarly communities both on campus and online have proven most beneficial for them?” We are very responsive, and I think all graduate programs in communication have to be in order to truly give students what they need.
After we triangulate information and feedback from various sources, we come to the table to update classes, develop plans for new courses with the curriculum committee, consult the Department of Communication, and submit new course proposals for review to our Dean. It is a pretty involved process that requires discussion, review, and approval from our College, the Dean, and then our Provost’s Office. Overall, it takes about a year from conception to implementation of curricular changes, but it is a process that we feel is very important. For example, our concentration in Health and Science Communication used to be solely Science Communication, but we continued to add courses in health communication and medical communication according to student interest, and it built out to be such a focus of its own in our program that we decided to formalize it. Every year so far since I’ve been in this position, we have taken a closer look at some aspect of the program and made it better.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Students of this program are required to complete a six-month internship that helps them transition into a career post-graduation. Could you elaborate on this requirement, how students find internship sites and supervisors, and how their internship reinforces and complements the concepts they learn in class?
[Dr. Stein] When we developed the internship requirement for our program, we wanted to take into account the fact that we have a wide range of students–some of whom are coming just out of college, whereas others are returning to school from several years in the workforce. Still others have decided to pursue their degree while still working in the communication field. As mentioned previously, the internship requirement really is for students who are recently out of college. For students new to the field, we want to make sure that part of their graduate experience includes professional engagement in the industry. This is another area that is really flexible in our program. Students can do part-time relevant work all the way through their program to add up to six months’ equivalent fulltime. They can also take two terms off and do six months’ consecutive fulltime experience. We want them to do what is best for them, and we accommodate their schedules. Students do not have to take a class alongside their internship, but they are required to submit a report on their experience and to document the kinds of things that they did and how it is relevant to the theories, concepts, and skills they learn in our program.
To help our students identify internships, students can work with the Steinbright Career Development Center, which is a center on campus that mainly helps our undergraduates with their co-op experiences, but also provides substantial support to our graduate students. Furthermore, all the resources of the career development center are available to our students to help them with internships and job application preparation. We are also very well connected with our alumni and with other members of the industry. We regularly get information about internship opportunities, and we send that out to our students through the student listserv.
We occasionally have students who have a harder time finding an internship, and in those cases the program director and I do what we can to help them identify places to look for internships. We sometimes even directly connect them to somebody in the community who we know needs an intern. Ultimately, it is the student’s responsibility to find the internship, but we provide quite a bit of support in that process.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Drexel University’s Master of Science in Communication program also guides students through the process of developing a digital portfolio of work, as well as a networking plan. Could you elaborate on these two requirements and how Drexel University faculty support students in creating a strong portfolio for employers post-graduation?
[Dr. Stein] Students are made aware of our portfolio requirement when they enter the program, and we always recommend that they keep an electronic folder of things that they might ultimately put into their portfolio. Having students think very deliberately about the type of portfolio they’d like to create from the beginning of the program helps them choose courses and assignments that align with their goals for their portfolio and their career post-graduation.
To support students further in their building and refining of their portfolio, we also require them to take the three-credit course mentioned earlier, Creating and Managing Communication Professional Identities, which in addition to teaching students the theoretical and practical foundations of crafting a professional identity, also provides them with structured opportunities to hone their portfolio. I have taught the online and the face-to-face section, and I have been really pleased at how this course has benefited students, and how much value they see in it.
In the course, students choose five work samples. Three must come from their coursework in the Master of Science program, and the other two can come from coursework or it can come from their professional experience. These samples can be anything from a podcast or a video to a grant proposal, a research paper, or a brochure. It can be any form of communication that is relevant to their skills and career goals.
And with these five samples, students assemble an online portfolio using either WordPress or another online platform. They write an introduction to each work sample that tells the reader what it was for, what the goals were, what skills it highlights, and what they think they did well. And they package it with an overall introductory narrative that has some personal branding and an overview of their educational and professional background and goals. Typically their website also includes an updated version of their resume. Students connect their portfolio to social media, such as LinkedIn (and we also have them update their LinkedIn profile).
Throughout the portfolio development course, we provide students with support. We break the portfolio development process into specific steps, and we do a lot of peer review. Each week they turn in a piece, and they are put in a peer-review group. So they get to see other’s work and provide critiques while getting feedback from their classmates. They also get feedback from me, and they go through multiple rounds of revisions. We also have guest speakers who come in from our career development center to talk about things like networking, LinkedIn, and résumé editing.
At the end of the course, students present their professional identity package in an oral presentation, and for the online program students do what is called a VoiceThread presentation, which is a virtual presentation. In previous years, I had students submit their electronic portfolios for review by a professional in the field. But this term I actually have one of our alums who is currently working in the industry as a teaching assistant in my class. So he is giving them feedback as we go, so that has been really a wonderful opportunity for them to get detailed input from somebody in the industry commenting on their work.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Drexel University’s Master of Science 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. Stein] One of the standout aspects of Drexel’s program is the investment our faculty members have in our students. Students have ample opportunities in both the online and face-to-face environments to connect with instructors in and outside of the classroom. In addition, we have an active alumni network that students often connect with while they are in the program.
Outside of the mentorship relationships that students form with instructors during their classes, the program coordinator and I serve as the two advisors for students. We support them in navigating their program of study, choosing courses, and connecting with internship sites and supervisors if necessary. We reach out to students before they get here, and have an online open house and orientation so that students know the resources that are available to them. We work with them throughout their enrollment, connecting with them regularly by email, phone, and face-to-face meetings.
For the online program, mentorship does look a little different, but there is that same sense of accountability to our students. We have worked to help students develop a sense of a program cohort, an online community, and a regular connection with advisors and faculty. For example, for my online class, I have virtual office hours every week, and I encourage students to sign up. And we can Zoom or Skype which provides a one-on-one connection. Occasionally, we try to do some webinars to really connect and guide our online students.
Regardless of whether they attend the campus or online program, we do our best to connect students to professional associations, and work really closely with our local chapters of organizations such as the Society for Technical Communication, as well as public relations associations. I as the Graduate Program Coordinator make sure that we maintain very close contact with our students, and we are very responsive. We want our students to know that it is important for us to be hands-on and that we are here to guide and support them whenever they need it.
This support does not end once students graduate either. We connect with our alum to get feedback on our program, and they are welcome to reach out to us as well when they need support. We recently created a LinkedIn group for our Master of Science in Communication program, and are connecting our current students to alumni through that channel as well. The group is also a place for alumni to connect with us and with one another.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for Drexel University’s Master of Science in Communication program?
[Dr. Stein] One of the primary things we look for is strong writing skills. We’re not looking for a literary work in the personal statement, but we are definitely looking for, “Does this person have strong communication skills? Can they handle the coursework in our program and do they have a clear idea of what they want to do with their degree? Are they conveying their goals cogently?”
We look in the personal statement to see that applicants are able to clearly articulate career goals, and that they understand what our program has to offer and how our program will help them accomplish their career goals. It is a very pragmatic process. We typically hold a 3.0 GPA minimum requirement, though we do make exceptions for extenuating circumstances. If a student has an overall undergraduate GPA that is lower than 3.0, we recommend that they take the GRE to demonstrate academic aptitude, or to take a communication-related class as a special student and do well in it to demonstrate that they can succeed in our program.
We look for letters of recommendation from either a professor or a professional supervisor, someone who can speak from a supervisory perspective and provide details on a student’s work ethic and writing skills.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Drexel University’s Master of Science in Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Stein] In addition to the flexibility of our program and our focus on ethics and relevant skills, we continually seek to be on the cutting edge of the industry in terms of our course offerings, so that students not only have a strong foundation in communication theories and principles, but also fresh skills that are directly applicable to today’s jobs. We strike a great balance between faculty members who are academics with PhDs, and those who are practitioners working in the industry. As our program is a professionally focused program, the majority of our instructors are industry practitioners, which helps us stay abreast of the latest developments in the field. Our instructors really have a broad range of expertise, from health communication to social media and digital media development.
Thank you, Dr. Stein, for your excellent insight into Drexel University’s Master of Science in Communication Program!