About Gabrielle Lamplugh: Gabrielle Lamplugh works as an Assistant Program Director at the David Mathews Center for Civic Life in Montevallo, Alabama. Her organization aims to strengthen civic engagement across the state by helping Alabamians build effective skills for addressing community and public issues. In her current role, Ms. Lamplugh focuses on educational and youth programming, working with educators, students, and local governments to bolster community engagement and improve civic life for Alabama’s youth.
Ms. Lamplugh holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature with a minor in Community and Civic Engagement from Auburn University. She returned to Auburn to pursue her master’s degree, graduating from the university’s Master of Arts in Communication program in 2016.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Gabrielle Lamplugh] I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature, with a minor in Community and Civic Engagement from Auburn University in 2014. In 2016, I completed my Master of Arts at Auburn University in Communication. As a component of my graduate studies, I completed a professional internship in my field. I applied and was accepted into the internship program at The Carter Center, with a placement in Educational Programs.
After completing my degree program, I began a year of service as a Civic Fellow at the David Mathews Center for Civic Life in Montevallo, Alabama. Today, I still have the pleasure of being a part of the David Mathews Center staff, where I serve as an Assistant Program Director with a focus on educational and youth programming.
As an organization, we aim to enhance civic education, engagement, and innovation across the state by equipping Alabamians with the skills, habits, and capacities that allow them to participate fully and effectively in civic life. In my specific position, fulfilling this mission can take many forms. One day, I may be moderating deliberative forums about issues affecting local youth in a high school classroom. Another day, I may be partnering with a municipality to involve students in asset-based community development. At other times, I will be working on coordinating professional development opportunities for educators that help them bring engaging, innovative curriculum to their classroom that helps their students build civic skills. Other ongoing aspects of my job include writing, designing, and publishing curriculum and other resources for educators, as well as sharing the inspiring projects of schools and youth throughout the state on our blog and social media.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the Master of Arts in Communication program at Auburn University?
[Gabrielle Lamplugh] For me, a master’s degree in communication was a great opportunity to continue refining the writing and research skills I began building in my undergraduate program, while building new skills, such as survey design knowledge, social media strategy, and website design, that would be adaptable to many professional environments.
While I knew that I wanted to complete further study at the master’s level, I didn’t immediately consider studying communication. I knew following my undergraduate studies that I aspired to work in either the education or nonprofit field, in a capacity where I could impact community cohesion and citizen engagement. I especially was interested in working with young people. Perhaps surprisingly, studying communication, and especially communication theory, is a wonderful preparation for working in the nonprofit field generally, and in my niche of the nonprofit field specifically.
I chose Auburn University’s program for three major reasons. The first is that I had already attended the university as an undergraduate and was familiar and confident in the quality of education I was receiving. I was already familiar with the College of Liberal Arts and had taken many classes in the School of Communication and Journalism. I respected the faculty members I had studied under, felt like I had truly been challenged academically, and preferred the small class size.
Second, the program was immersive, but also offered a lot of variety. Some master’s programs in communication have very specific focuses or concentrations, such as sports journalism or digital media. Auburn’s program is a bit more generalist, which, as someone without an undergraduate in communication, was a great fit.
Finally, Auburn provided really generous funding compared to other programs. Our assistantships provided us the opportunity for a year’s mentorship under a communication instructor or professor before we began teaching three courses a semester ourselves. We also served as a research assistant to a faculty member. While the demands of an assistantship, especially one where you are teaching and researching, aren’t for everyone, I really enjoyed it. I wanted the experience regardless, and being able to graduate debt free from a high-quality program was an amazing feeling.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is Auburn’s program structured, and what concepts did the program emphasize? What skills and strategies did you learn in your classes, and how did you apply them to course assignments?
[Gabrielle Lamplugh] Auburn’s program is structured differently depending upon whether you have an undergraduate degree in Communication (or related field), or whether you did not. Because my undergraduate was not in Communication, I did 27 hours (12 classes) of elective coursework that I chose and nine hours (three classes) of methods and theory classes that were assigned. After you complete those components, you complete either a thesis or an internship.
There are also two examinations involved in the program. After you complete your methods and theory classes (and finish nine classes total) you take qualifying exams. These are three comprehensive, essay-based exams that you complete in one day that test your understanding of what you have learned in the methods and theory classes. If you pass qualifying exams, you then complete the rest of your coursework.
Then, if you take the internship route before you graduate from the program, you complete a brief research paper (based upon your internship experience), and complete three comprehensive exams with an oral component. You have the opportunity to select the courses that you take the exams on. The faculty members who taught the courses, which you select, all are present for the oral portion directly following the written exams.
The courses in my master’s program had many, many research and writing assignments. If you can’t imagine writing multiple twenty-plus page research papers per semester, and instead desire more project-based learning, it may be worth considering different programs.
Because of the emphasis on research, the writing requirements, and the plethora of scholarly work we explored, the courses I took refined my critical thinking and argument skills immensely. Reading and discussing the research of modern and foundational scholars, as well as classical works, really does make you a better writer and researcher yourself.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience completing your internship? What kind of role did you take on, and with what organization? What were some of the key learning outcomes? Did you have to complete a paper or other project-based deliverable as part of your internship experience?
[Gabrielle Lamplugh] My internship search was pretty abbreviated because I already had a strong preference as to the internship program that I was interested in. As someone with an interest in education and nonprofits, and particularly nonprofits that engage students and youth in impactful, community-focused work, the internship in Educational Programs at The Carter Center always was my top choice.
The internship application process for The Carter Center is a bit more time intensive than many other internship applications. However, my department was certainly supportive of helping me complete the application, which required a number of recommendation letters and references from faculty members.
The internship experience itself was really unique because I was the only intern in my particular program area, so I received a lot of one-on-one time with my supervisor and helpful feedback. I was fortunate to be able to have a hand in many of the events and programs that interns participated in over the summer. Some of my weekly responsibilities included putting together a newsletter for interns that highlighted local events, helping to coordinate an educational lecture series, and promoting the internship program on university and college websites.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from Auburn’s Master of Arts in Communication program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Gabrielle Lamplugh] When it comes to the field of civic engagement, so many of the challenges we face can be better understood by looking at things through the lens of communication theory. Rhetorical theory can help us understand the effects of dialogue and persuasion on civic life. Semiotics can help us understand that sometimes a community disagreement about a bypass, or a monument, or a public program isn’t about the specific “issue” at all, but about what it represents. My classes in critical theory helped me better understand the issues of social stratification, race, economic inequality, crime, and so on that affect communities everywhere. Studying communication not only gave me many practical skills that serve me well in the day to day at my job, it also taught me how to think more critically, and exposed me to many fields of thought that prepared me to be and work in communities with diverse experiences and concerns.
Auburn’s program, specifically, offered a lot of opportunities to build skills and a portfolio. For example, our social media and web design classes worked with local nonprofits to build sites and create social media campaigns. My teaching assistantship also provided me insight into the higher education teaching experience that I still find useful in my job, even though I work mostly with K-12 schools. It has helped me craft better curriculum and learning experiences by giving me more knowledge of what students need to know to be prepared for the workforce and higher education.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting Auburn’s MA in Communication program? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at Auburn or another university?
[Gabrielle Lamplugh] Being a student in a master’s program in any field is a time commitment. When deciding which program is best for you, consider how you can go about allocating the time you need to get the most out of your degree.
Auburn’s program was wonderful for me because I wanted a traditional master’s program. The assistantship opportunity was also the best choice because it provided funding for my studies while allowing me to cultivate teaching skills. However, for some prospective students, other considerations should take precedent. I would recommend thoughtfully considering where you are professionally and personally, what you hope to get out of your program, and how you can make that happen financially and otherwise before making your final choice. There are so many options for on-campus and online programs, funding opportunities, and fields of study that you will find the right fit eventually.
Thank you, Ms. Lamplugh, for your excellent insights on Auburn University’s Master’s of Arts in Communication program!