About Valeria Fabj, Ph.D.: Valeria Fabj is a Professor of Communication at Lynn University, where she also serves as the Program Coordinator for the Master of Science in Communication and Media program within the College of Communication and Design. As Academic Program Coordinator, Dr. Fabj advises all students in the Master of Science program, helps manage curriculum developments, and supports faculty. She teaches classes and conducts research in the areas of communication and social change, gender communication, persuasion, and rhetorical theory and criticism. She is also the former editor of the journal “Women’s Studies in Communication.” Dr. Fabj received her Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts, and Ph.D. in Communication from Northwestern University.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Lynn University’s Master of Science in Communication and Media 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?
The Master of Science in Communication and Media is designed for people who plan careers as media and visual design scholars and/or practitioners. The program combines theory and practice in communication, media and visual design. Students in the MS in Communication and Media select one of the following specializations: Media Studies and Practice, Digital Media, or Design Strategies for Web Development.
All students must complete 12 foundation and specialization courses (36 credits). The academic year is divided into six eight-week terms, allowing students to complete the degree in as few as 12 months.
The program is comprised of six foundation courses that all students must take, regardless of their specialization: History of Communication and Media, Communication and Media Technologies, Media Law and Regulation, International Media, Media and Culture, and Professional Media Presentation. These courses provide students with a strong foundation in the theories and methods necessary to specialize further in their concentration coursework.
Through the foundation courses, students analyze the history and impact of technology in communication and media. Understanding how law and communication interact is important across a variety of professional practices so we teach students about the ethics and regulations of media law. Media and Culture and International Media provide a focus on international communication. Finally, the Professional Media Presentation course focuses specifically on how to develop cohesive and effective presentations for a variety of situations. For example—how to oversee a press conference and address a problem. Let’s say your company is having an issue, some sort of crisis, how do you deal with that?
In addition to the foundation courses, students choose one of three specializations—Media Studies and Practice, Digital Media, and Design Strategies for Web Development.
The Media Studies and Practice specialization prepares students for becoming media scholars and practitioners. Three of the required courses in this specialization develop critical and analytical skills: Theories in Communication and Media, Research Methods for Communication and Media, and Media, Publics and Social Change. The theories course goes in-depth into advanced theories of communication and media, while the research methods course focuses on the processes and principles of conducting graduate-level communication research. Media, Publics and Social Change explores the use of media in bringing about social change and in mounting public campaigns.
The other three courses are more practical: Visual Communication Practice, and Topics in Communication and Media I and II. Visual Communication Practice is a hands-on course that allows students to create visual messages used in promotional materials, advertising and social media contexts. The topics courses in this track cover both longstanding and contemporary issues in media and communication with a focus on practical training. Students in this specialization have the option to replace the topics courses with a thesis or creative project. The thesis option is suitable for students interested in pursuing a doctoral course of study after graduating, while the creative project is a good option for students who want to enter the industry as it allows them to create a deliverable that they can show as part of their professional portfolio.
The Digital Media specialization focuses on multimedia communication and digital storytelling. Students take the courses Aesthetics of Digital Photography, Digital Storytelling, Animation and Motion Graphics, Imagemaking as Expression, Drawing and Design Theory and Practice, and Aesthetics and Practice of 3D Animation. Students master a variety of artistic skills applied to digital media technologies, from drawing and design, to photography, graphic design, film, and animation. As you can see, this specialization is quite different from the Media Studies and Practice specialization, in that it focuses on multimedia skills and industry-specific topics. While students explore visual and design theories, the focus is primarily on industry skills.
The Design Strategies for Web Development specialization is the result of a collaboration with Wyncode Academy, a coding organization. Students who choose this specialization take three courses from the Digital Media specialization (Aesthetics of Digital Photography, Imagemaking as Expression and Digital Storytelling) and attend a three-month intensive coding program at Wyncode that covers both back-end and front-end design.
Students of the Digital Media and Design Strategies for Web Development specializations must build and submit a portfolio comprised of deliverables from several of their courses. Students of the Media Studies and Practice specialization do not need to fulfill this requirement.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Lynn University’s M.S. in Communication and Media program offers both campus-based and online courses. Could we have more details on how Lynn University incorporates online coursework into its program, and the types of format options students can choose from?
Both the Media Studies and Practice and the Digital Media specializations can be taken either fully on campus or fully online. The Wyncode’s 3-month coding bootcamp must be taken on the ground, but the rest of the coursework is flexible and can be completed either in person or online.
Students also have flexibility in terms of how many classes they take per term. They can take two courses at a time for full-time, or one at a time and spread the completion of their degree over two years. Some of our students take one course online and one in-person and that works really well for them—they only have to commute once a week and the online class lets them work the coursework around their schedule.
Some of our students are very remote—we have students across the nation, as well as internationally, from regions as far as Saudi Arabia and Australia. Our online classes are therefore asynchronous so that there’s never an issue of having to meet at the same time when for some of our students a lecture might be at midnight their time. While the format of the online classes is asynchronous, we facilitate engagement between course peers through discussion boards. Students are also required to present to each other and to view each other’s presentations (just not in real-time).
Lynn University is a little unique in that we provide every one of our students—even our students abroad—with an iPad, since much of their work is done on the iPad. This also allows students who may not have an updated computer that is compatible with our learning technologies to engage fully with our online offerings. Furthermore, all course materials can be accessed online.
We use Canvas as our learning management system, and we also encourage students to use the built-in applications on the iPad, such as Keynote and Explain Everything, for their presentations. Canvas is a platform that allows for collaborative work. Let’s say somebody posts a presentation; students can respond in a traditional discussion board format, or they can add comments onto the presentation itself, either in written or audio form. We selected Canvas for its interactive features. One of the things we also encourage is not just for students to respond but also for authors to respond to their peers’ feedback. So it is not the same as an in-person class discussion, but it gets pretty close and provides the benefit of flexibility.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please elaborate on the Digital Portfolio requirement for students of the Digital Media, and Design Strategies for Web Development specializations, and the Creative Project/Thesis requirement for the Media Studies and Practice specialization? What are the deliverables for each, and what steps must students take to complete this requirement?
The thesis/creative project option is not required, but about a third of our students in the Media Studies and Practice specialization select it. For the thesis, students complete a scholarly research work that contributes to the field of communication and media. They work with a primary faculty member and have to defend their thesis to a faculty committee. The project is much more hands-on and is more flexible—in the past, students have written a script for a film, and created a set of videos documenting what it’s like to be in a particular career. Students have designed materials for a hypothetical company, and designed a communication or marketing campaign.
For the portfolio requirement, students in the Digital Media, and Design Strategies for Web Development specializations gather their best work from five to six of their classes, make any modifications or improvements, and present their portfolio in front of faculty members. The portfolio prepares students to present their work to potential employers. Students look back at what they have produced, optimize their previous work, identify their strengths and their voice as a digital artist, and ask themselves, “What do I want to present as my own contribution to this field?” The portfolio’s defense is not graded, but provides an opportunity for faculty members to mentor students in a public forum.
After their presentation we tell them, “Okay, these are the areas that really look like your strengths. Here is what you might want to highlight to future employers.” Because when you’ve just finished a program of study, and you’ve spent months immersed in the coursework, you don’t always see what your strengths are. The presentation is an opportunity for students to zoom out and take a look at their career in the program — what their style is, what their strengths are — and to be able to explain all of that to an employer in a cohesive and compelling narrative. It develops their public speaking skills as well, which are instrumental in the workplace, and which are skills they perfected in the Professional Media Presentation course. Some students take their presentation a step further and develop a digital portfolio online as a website, and while that is not a requirement, we definitely encourage it and support students in their work on it.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Lynn University’s Master of Science in Communication and Media 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?
We are a very small school and the program itself is small, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 17:1—some classes are as small as 10 students, so each student gets individualized attention. Since many of our students work full time, we structure our program to accommodate these students, offering our courses in the evenings and holding faculty office hours an hour or so before classes so commuting students can meet up with professors without disrupting their work schedule. We also hold office hours online.
We tend to have very close relationships with our students in that we see them regularly for the entire year, mentor them through their coursework, theses, projects, and portfolios, and are available for them to talk to outside of classes. Many of our faculty have connections in the media industry. Students who are interested in PR, marketing and advertising, video design, journalism, and other industries, take advantage of these connections and are paired with professionals who can mentor them in their professional development.
In terms of formal advising regarding a student’s curricular path, such as what specialization to choose and whether or not to complete a thesis or project, I serve as the student’s primary advisor. The only time students have an additional individual advisor is when they are working on a thesis, creative project, or portfolio—in this case, students select a primary advisor and two additional readers or committee members.
We encourage collaborative work between faculty and students, some of which has led to presentations at regional and national conferences. Sometimes faculty and students write papers together, while other times they organize a convention panel to cover a particular topic. Our faculty also give individualized career advice and support—for example, one of the faculty members for the Digital Media specialization encouraged students to hold an art show that showcased some of their better designs, and we have had several students actually win prizes for their work locally through the exhibits they put on. That kind of mentoring is a little bit different from the kind of advising students of our Media Studies and Practice specialization receive, all of which is to say that we really meet the students where they are at and develop them in the areas that interest them the most.
For extracurricular academic and career support, we have a writing lab, as well as a the Hannifan Center for Career Connections that helps students prepare for the workforce. For students who are online, we offer remote tutoring and career counseling sessions. This is great for our international students who cannot easily come to campus.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for the Master of Science in Communication and Media program?
Our application process is fairly straightforward, comprised of an essay that explains what the student would like to do with his or her communication degree, two letters of recommendation, and a minimum of 3.0 for their undergraduate GPA. We do not require the GRE, and only require the TOEFL for international students who did not complete their undergraduate degree in the United States, as fluency in English is important in handling the rigor and pace of our courses.
We look very closely at the personal essay, and ask ourselves, “Does the student have a sense of what they want to do in communication and media? Does the student have a sense of whether they would want to pursue a more hands-on, industry-focused course of study, or a more theoretical path? Do they know what we at Lynn University offer, and how they can contribute to the student community?” I am always available to talk with prospective students, and welcome students to call or email me to ask me about our specializations and their own personal interests. And I encourage students to do so before they write their essay, as talking with me will often give them a clearer focus in terms of what they want to highlight or discuss about their background, their passions, and their intention for graduate school.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Lynn University’s Master of Science in Communication and Media program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
The specializations we offer and the combination of theory and practice are two things that definitely make us unique. Many graduate programs are focused either on theory or on industry practice, and the fact that we offer specializations that cover media studies, visual design, web content management, and even full-stack web development is distinctive. Our six foundation courses are also unique in that they cover so much depth and breadth—from the history of communication and the relationship between media and culture, to concrete skills in public speaking, presentation, and media technologies. This gives students an excellent and adaptable understanding of communication as a field of study and as a practice, which serves as a springboard into their subsequent specialization.
We actively support and mentor students who wish to become scholars of communication, leaders in media organizations, participants in the online marketing space, web developers or designers, graphic designers, journalists, and artists. We have had several students who wish to take two specializations, and we work with them to make that happen. Our faculty are also incredible—we have a combination of traditional academics and professionals who have worked in the media industry and who know the latest technologies and developments in online and visual communication. Our faculty’s expertise is reflected in our curriculum; for example, the Media Law and Regulation course is taught by a lawyer who works for a local TV station—so when he talks about laws that are specific to media, he gives real life examples that do not simply come from a textbook.
And the last thing I would say is that as an advisor, I am very hands-on, but I am not the only one. As a team, faculty are highly responsive and always available to talk to students. Our efforts help create a very cohesive community amongst each cohort of students. The support that students give one another in the program also operates as a form of mentorship. Students tend to work with the same peers for the whole year, which really allows for the creation of significant bonds. These friendships serve students well beyond their graduation date, and are as valuable as the concrete skills and theoretical knowledge they gain from their courses.
Thank you, Dr. Fabj, for your excellent insight into Lynn University’s Master of Science in Communication and Media program!