About Dr. Stevie Munz, Ph.D.: Stevie Munz is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at Utah Valley University. Her research program focuses on exploring the cultural experiences of identity, power, politics, and gender. In particular, Dr. Munz is concerned with how human beings understand and communicate these relational, political, and social experiences. She pursues her scholarly interests along two different, but related, lines of research, examining identity in the contexts of both classrooms and small town communities. To accomplish her research endeavors, Dr. Munz draws on intercultural, interpersonal, and instructional communication literature, as well as utilizes narrative, ethnographic, and oral history interviewing practices.
Dr. Munz earned a double bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois University, majoring in German Business and Translation and Communication. She is a graduate of the Master’s Degree in Communication program at Illinois State University (ISU), and also holds a Ph.D. in Communication Studies from Ohio University.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Dr. Stevie Munz] I earned a double Bachelor’s degree in German Business and Translation and Communication from Northern Illinois University, a Master’s degree from Illinois State University in Communication, and a Ph.D. from Ohio University in Communication Studies with emphases in culture, identity, and interpersonal studies.
Currently, I am an Assistant Professor at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah and teach courses in ethnography and storytelling, communication education, and research methods. I am also the Basic Course Director for our Principles of Public Speaking course.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the Master’s in Communication program at Illinois State University?
[Dr. Stevie Munz] Once I arrived on Illinois State’s campus and toured the School of Communication (SoC), I knew the program and faculty were the right fit for me. There were opportunities to develop professional skills for industry work, research and present at academic conferences, and pursue pedagogical training. Further, I chose ISU because the faculty were published scholars and the program had a national reputation for training teachers. I felt support and passion from each faculty member and graduate student in the program–I knew I wanted to be a Redbird too!
While I entered the program unsure of where my future would take me, I knew the SoC would provide me the skills, knowledge, and opportunities to be successful. Opportunities to teach my own classes and serve as a mentor in the public speaking lab were instrumental to my professional development. During my first year in the program, I realized I had a passion for teaching and research and I was motivated to continue my education in a Ph.D. program. The rigorous courses, collaborative cohort model, and supportive faculty all contributed to my passion and commitment to furthering my education.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is ISU’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?
[Dr. Stevie Munz] The program is structured as a general master’s degree in communication, so there are opportunities to take courses in a wide array of topics including: intercultural, rhetorical theory, interpersonal, media, small-group, training and development, instructional, among others. Students are required to take one course in social scientific theory and quantitative methods as well as an additional methods course. Once the core requirements are completed, students have the opportunity to select courses that best match their interests.
The professors structure the courses to include original research projects, often requiring original data collection and analysis, and encouraging students to implement a theoretical framework from the course content. Professors in the SoC also support all methodologies, so there are numerous opportunities for students to practice and learn in a supportive environment. Frequently, students will submit their class projects to both regional and national conferences and receive favorable reviews. Some students even publish their projects, which speaks to the quality of the research conducted.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience completing your thesis? What was your primary research inquiry, and how did you decide upon it? Could you describe the process you undertook to research your topic and form your final conclusions? What advice do you have for students in terms of completing their thesis (i.e. determining a research topic of appropriate scope, conducting thorough research and analysis, and crafting a strong presentation, etc.)?
[Dr. Stevie Munz] Under the guidance of Dr. John Baldwin, I completed a mixed methods qualitative-quantitative thesis comparing American and German students’ perceptions of subtle forms of intolerance. With the support of my advisor, I read thoroughly, constructed original survey items, and analyzed the qualitative data to extend compelling claims. While my advisor assisted in the conceptual portion and throughout the analytical process of my thesis, Dr. Baldwin also pushed me to think more carefully about taken for granted assumptions. Dr. Kevin Meyer also served on my committee, and he mentored and assisted with the quantitative data analysis, which speaks to the support and collaborative nature of the faculty on a thesis committee in the SoC.
All thesis projects are defended orally, which serves as an opportunity for students to demonstrate knowledge and competency in soliciting questions from their committee. The oral defense also provides the student with an opportunity to translate their thesis into a presentation. Because the department is supportive and collaborative, the oral defense is often an event attended by other faculty and graduate students–the department celebrates you on this day. I found the oral defense important preparation for doctoral-level thinking and academic conversations. The experience continues to be influential and permeate my research and teaching today.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from Illinois State’s Master’s in Communication program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Dr. Stevie Munz] The most difficult, but also the most formative in my learning, were the research methods and theory courses. Within the first term of my Ph.D. course work, I realized how well ISU had equipped me for rigorous courses, intensive writing, and academic professional development. Not only did I have a solid training in methods and theory, I was also prepared to teach courses across a variety of topics. I consider my coursework and academic training from ISU as the foundation of my professional career as a teacher-scholar.
While I consider the academic coursework as instrumental to my development as a scholar, the pedagogical training I received provided the foundation to my identity as a teacher. As a student in the SoC, I attended a teacher training program and participated in pedagogy seminars. Additionally, all first-year students are part of a cohort and assigned a teaching mentor. These resources supported me through my first year of teaching as well as instilled confidence in me to be an effective teacher. All in all, the pedagogical training and experiences from the SoC became instrumental in my development as an instructor and continue to inform my teaching philosophy today.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting ISU’s Master’s Degree 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 Illinois State or another university?
[Dr. Stevie Munz] To prospective students, I recommend taking advantage of opportunities to develop your research skills through conducting original projects. At ISU there is a significant amount of encouragement and support by faculty to conduct original research projects. Students are also provided funding to attend regional and national conferences, which affords students opportunities to develop a professional network and showcase original research. ISU’s program also allows you to personalize an area of study based on your interests because of the diversity in course offerings.
My overall advice to students considering a master’s degree in communication is choose a program that best meets your professional and personal needs. And should you join a program, keep an open mind, work hard, and celebrate all of the successes. Earning a master’s degree will be challenging, but it is also rewarding. Finally, should a student choose ISU s/he will join an impressive Redbird network of alumni!
Thank you, Dr. Munz, for your excellent insights on Illinois State University’s Master’s Degree in Communication program!