About Richard Holberg, MA: Richard Holberg is an Adjunct Instructor in Southern New Hampshire University’s Online Master of Arts in Communication program. He is also a Team Lead for the online instructors in SNHU’s Graduate program. As Team Lead, he collaborates with SNHU’s Center for Online Teaching and Learning to mentor and evaluate instructors, and has also authored several courses for Southern New Hampshire University’s Online Master of Arts in Communication, including the course Integrated PR Campaigns and Measurement. In addition, he oversees curriculum development to ensure that program content aligns with industry needs and expectations. As an Instructor, Mr. Holberg teaches classes in public relations and strategic communication, new media, social media, and personal branding. He also teaches the Master of Arts in Communication’s capstone course.

In addition to his work in curriculum design, student mentorship, and instruction, Mr. Holberg is also the founder and President of holberg design inc., a full-service integrated marketing, branding, and advertising company that has served multiple companies and non-profit organizations in the Pennsylvania area. Mr. Holberg earned his Bachelor of Science in Art Education from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, and his Master of Arts in Communication Arts from Ellis University.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Southern New Hampshire University’s online Master of Arts in Communication program, and how it is structured? What are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?

[Richard Holberg] Southern New Hampshire University’s Master of Arts in Communication program is a 36-credit program that teaches students the broad and flexible skills in media strategy and management, marketing, branding, and public relations to succeed in a variety of communication-focused roles. Students take a set of core courses, the first being Communication, Media, and Society, which serves as their introduction to the whole field of communication, and how media and society work together. The next one is called the Vantage Point: Knowledge and New Media. This course focuses more on the new media components of communication that are being used in our modern world.

Students also take Law and Ethics, which outlines all of the legal and ethical ramifications of different types of communication, and the rules that professionals need to follow on a daily basis. Students then take a course called Second Self, Identity and Personal Brands, which focuses on the development of students’ identities as communication professionals, which requires that they build and represent their own personal brand and understand what their strengths are as communication specialists. The course Communication for Leadership teaches students the principles and methods of managing internal communications within organizations, and leading communication initiatives to accomplish certain goals. And then we have a course called More Than Words, Communication by Design, which is not a graphic design course per se, but which teaches students about the visual aspects of communication, such as how to use infographics or integrate images into your website or social media content. The last core course is called Strategic Communication in a New Age, which is an overview of how communication strategy is used in our modern world now.

Those are the seven core courses that every student will take. Then if they wish they can choose a concentration either in Public Relations or New Media and Marketing. Within each of those concentrations students take four additional courses. If they are in the Public Relations concentration, students take Reputation Management: Building a Brand, Spread the Word: Social Media Practices, Crisis Communication in a 24/7 World, and Integrated Public Relations Campaign & Measurement. For the New Media concentration, students take the classes Communication With Media Technology, Pen to Platform, Digital Tools and Teams, and New Media Campaign Design & Marketing.

I should note that students do not have to choose a formal concentration if they do not wish to. They can actually choose their electives from both the Public Relations and New Media Campaign tracks, in any ratio they see fit.

Finally, the very last course that students take is the Communication Capstone course, which gives students the opportunity to synthesize all they have learned by designing, developing, and implementing a comprehensive communication campaign on a topic of their choice. This is the course that I have been teaching for about two years, and my role in the course is serving as students’ mentor throughout the process.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What online technologies does Southern New Hampshire University’s online Master of Arts in Communication use to facilitate students’ interactions with course faculty and peers?

[Richard Holberg] Our program is mainly asynchronous in order to allow students to fit their coursework around their schedule, but within that structure we have activities and assignments that require students to discuss course concepts with one another. For example, each week students must participate in a discussion on a specific topic, which involves a writing assignment that they must post to the public forum. They are then required to respond to two of their peers’ discussion threads. Through this avenue, students have a full week to complete the work they need to get done, and to respond to their peers’ comments, but they can do it on their own time. I usually see the most student activity on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of each week. So they have the full seven days to complete the work that they need to get done, but it’s really done at their own schedule.

There is also a Career Services department that students have full access to, so they can work with that department at any time to get support in looking for jobs or to access resources such as interview prep and resume assistance. There is also an Online Writing Center that students can visit if they are struggling to articulate something in one of their assignments. The Writing Center has tutors that can work with students individually to help them refine their work. We have another resource called Smart Thinking, which is basically an online tutoring e-environment where students can receive additional support. So there are numerous avenues for students to receive help in both academic and career endeavors.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students must design and implement a real-world communication campaign. Could you elaborate on this requirement, and what it entails?

[Richard Holberg] For the final graduation requirement, students have a choice of almost any client and almost any type of communication campaign that they want to develop. The first week of the course is when students identify what they want that client and campaign to be. As facilitator of the course, it is my job to make sure that their campaign meets the parameters for the program and has a scope that is manageable within the span of the capstone course.

We also structure in three milestones that students must meet during their time in the course. First students must identify the client and the type of campaign they want to do, and I review all of their proposals. The second milestone requires them to identify what the focus of their campaign is. What’s the communication need or problem that they are trying to solve? And once again they submit that work and then I give them individual feedback. Quite often what will happen is students will tend to look at the project similarly to a master’s in business administration project. They might be saying, “I want to develop a new business model for a client.” And I say, “Well, that’s not really the focus. The focus is communicating about that new business model.” So we try to make sure that our students are focused on what the communication aspects are for the campaign that they’re trying to do.

And then after they get the go-ahead on that, then they have three weeks to submit the third milestone, which is a situation analysis, or a deep dive into the complete situation involving the client and the situation that they’re trying to address. For example, I have a student this term who has chosen to do her project on Under Armour because Under Armour has been experiencing a drop in sales. So she had to identify Under Armour, what their products and services are, what their need is, and where they position themselves in the marketplace, as well as analyses of their competitors. As part of her research, she studied past campaigns that Under Armour had undertaken, and started to develop messaging that they could use in their campaign and the challenges that they feel the industry is causing for them.

The situation analysis is a huge undertaking that ends up being the first half of their final project. Once they submit this in week five, I review their work and give them a complete written review of everything, including areas they have done well and areas that need more detail or clarification.

Three weeks later, they have to submit their final project campaign report. Now that they have completed the situation analysis, the second half of the project is a description of the strategies they are suggesting to address the organization’s challenges, and how they plan on implementing their campaign. So this part of the project contains all of their messaging and campaign strategies, utilizing everything they’ve learned in their prior 11 courses and pulling it all together in one cohesive project.

We offer structures to guide students’ work on their campaign report. For example, there is a process that they undergo to complete this document, which mirrors the process that brand strategists, marketing specialists, and other media professionals follow in industry.

As an example, for the campaign report, my student working on the Under Armour campaign might ask questions such as, “If you were actually pitching this report to Under Armour, how should it look in a physical form? If you were going to put a proposal in their hands for this project, what would that proposal look like?”

Students complete the campaign report in week eight, and then in week nine they take that same campaign report and distill it down into a digital presentation, which can be in multiple forms—Powerpoint, a video presentation, or another media form. In the last part of the course, in week ten, students write a reflection paper that assesses what they learned during this full campaign process, what they learned about themselves and their working methodologies that they can carry into their future career. So that’s basically the core of the capstone course.

When selecting their client for their project, students have the option to choose a real life client—oftentimes the company they are working for already. I had one student who, a couple of terms ago, did a full rebranding campaign for the company that she worked for. Her company’s leadership had been contemplating a rebranding, and she built the whole campaign for them as her capstone project. And since she was working for them she had direct access to all the research and all the people she needed to talk to. So that was a very cohesive, comprehensive project that she submitted.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Southern New Hampshire University’s online Master of Arts in Communication program? Independent of faculty instruction and support, what career development resources and academic services are available to students, and how can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while in the program?

[Richard Holberg] Mentorship is a strong element of our program. Our students quite often look at all of the instructors as mentors or guides, and our role as mentors extends beyond their enrollment. I often have students who will follow up with me about their career pursuits after they’ve finished the program. I have students who are in the program whom I’ve taught earlier in the program and they’ll reach out to me with questions or concerns. It’s a core tenet being an instructor at SNHU that we are highly available, as we are a very student-centered university.

Faculty are asked to post online office hours – for example, mine are 10:00 to 4:00 Monday through Friday. But I also tell my students that if they need to reach out to me beyond that, they can certainly do so. In addition, all faculty are required to list one other communication method other than email, such as a phone number or Skype ID so that students can meet and speak with them one-on-one. Some faculty even set up group chat sessions to have group conversations about course concepts or assignments. We don’t make these meetings mandatory as students reside in different time zones which makes it difficult to sync up, but these extracurricular synchronous opportunities are available for students who want more one-on-one interaction.

Our Career Office hosts career tours and virtual visits, as well as spotlight events that highlight particular careers. Students have access to all of the Career Office’s resources including counseling, resume workshopping, and more. The Online Master of Arts in Communication program works with SNHU Career to offer onsite tours of different workplaces, virtual visits, and Career Spotlight segments, which are synchronous sessions that students can attend.

The SNHU Shapiro Library (online) is also a critical resource for research that is available to students. Students can work independently or with an online librarian to help them find the content they need. Furthermore, there is 24/7 IT support for any student (and instructor) who has technology concerns. We really try to provide comprehensive and proactive support for everyone in our program, in order to optimize learning outcomes and students’ experience in the program.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Students interested in Southern New Hampshire University’s online Master of Arts in Communication program must submit a personal statement, what advice do you have students in terms of completing their personal statement?

[Richard Holberg] What I think students need to think about is who they are today as a communication professional, and who they want to become. We look for applicants who can articulate how they expect to grow, and what they hope to learn in our program, and what skills, experiences, and insights they will bring to the student community. We want students to also show their personality on the page, and to not shy away from their individual writing voice, as that is what makes them unique. In fact, during the capstone course that I run, as an introduction at the beginning of the course I ask all of my students to post their personal statement within the confines of a 256-character tweet. It’s a challenging exercise, but it’s a useful one in terms of understanding your professional identity, and therefore your professional brand. We have classes devoted to helping students distill and optimally represent their personal brand, so students who already demonstrate an awareness of this through careful shaping of their personal statement stand out to us.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Southern New Hampshire University’s online Master of Arts in Communication unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Richard Holberg] One of the things that I find unique and particularly beneficial about our program is that we take a very holistic and comprehensive approach to student learning. As the learning outcomes discussed previously illustrate, we guide students through every facet of the strategic communication process, and also support them in crafting and honing their professional identities. I teach one of the first courses in the program, and also lead the capstone, and between that first class and their final capstone I see students grow tremendously in not only the skill sets that they have, but also who they are and how they present themselves. Our program has several key learning outcomes, and empowers students to do the following:

  • Apply reasoning to make ethically sound and socially responsible choices that are consistent with their own personal framework and values. One of the ideas that we drive home is students’ need to fully understand their audience and be able to articulate their message specifically to that audience depending on who they are both morally, ethically, and culturally.
  • Utilize multiple appropriate strategic approaches in making decisions, formulating solutions, and solving problems that reflect creativity and versatility of thought. The practice of creative problem solving is one of the most important takeaways from our program. By training them to consider and leverage multiple skills and perspectives in their work, we aim to give students a flexible set of tools that they can apply to a variety of projects and encourage them to push their boundaries in terms of finding creative solutions to communication challenges.
  • Engage diverse audiences effectively through an open-minded, empathetic treatment of different cultural perspectives and an awareness of self and one’s impact in a global, interdependent age. As interconnected as our world is, you could be communicating with people in Chile one day and Russia the next day. We help our students to understand all of these different cultural perspectives and how they play into the communication that they are trying to craft. Many of our classes in strategic communication also cover communication in the global arena, such as how to develop ethical and effective global campaigns.
  • Integrate multiple communication technologies and collaborate in communities of practice to carefully curate shared messages while generating new meaning. Once students have identified the problem, how are they going to address that problem by implementing a strategic plan? What are the communication technologies they will use? What is the messaging they’ll use to reach, engage, and motivate their audiences to act?
  • Create, manage, and grow an authentic personal brand with purpose and savvy, using innovative communication strategies, professional networks, and relevant tools and technologies. For this outcome, we now focus on them as a communications professional: how they’ve built their personal brand, how they react to and work with different communication groups and professional networks, and the tools and technologies they use.

I think the beauty of our program at SNHU is that we hire real-world industry experts to teach our classes. In essence, we’ve been there, done that. In doing so, we are able to share real-world experiences with our students. Students love to learn from our stories and actual workplace experiences. Our faculty are industry experts, who design projects that are directly applicable to the work students are doing in their current jobs or the work they want to do once they graduate. Many of our assignments allow students to select a topic that is relevant to their workplace or a topic of interest. This ensures that students are learning about the areas that can impact their future in a strong way. In addition, I think our instructors help students to make a connection between what they are learning and how it can/will impact their future careers. In COM 500, students create a path for future career success. In essence, in their very first class, they begin to chart out their future.

Students create everything from tweets to comprehensive communication portfolios, including social media outreach efforts. These are threaded throughout our courses. They create infographics, blogs, and websites. They create long-form and short-form online content. In addition, ethics are a huge component in our communication program at SNHU. We are developing professionals who consider ethically and morally sound solutions to global communications needs. We thread these essential skillsets through all of our courses as well.

We provide a great deal of support to our faculty as they develop their classes, which I think is a great model and ensures that our classes are high quality, current, and engaging. As Team Lead, I view teaching as a form of learning as well, and am invested in always helping our instructors develop as teachers of their craft. As a faculty team we are highly invested in making sure students learn the strategies that will help them be successful immediately upon graduating, as well as years down the line.

Thank you, Richard Holberg, for your excellent insight into Southern New Hampshire University’s Master of Arts in Communication program!