About Courtney Stockman: Courtney Stockman is a graduate of Oakland University’s (OU) Master of Arts in Communication program. While pursuing her degree, she served as a Graduate Assistant, first in the Department of Communication and Journalism, working as an Assistant Coach for the Oakland University Speech Team, and then for the school’s Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies program. Her master’s thesis, “Flint’s Neoliberal Water World: #FlintLivesMatter and the Fight for Identity,” examines the use of social media as a tool of resistance in the Flint Water Crisis.
Ms. Stockman earned a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations with a minor in Biology from Oakland University in 2015. She returned to OU that same year to pursue her master’s, graduating in 2018 from their MA in Communication program with a focus on Critical and Cultural Studies.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Courtney Stockman] I am a double alumna of Oakland University (which is in Michigan not California). I graduated in 2015 with my B.A. in International Relations with a Biology minor, and again in 2018 with my M.A. in Communication with a focus on Critical and Cultural Studies. My undergraduate major was intensely theoretical and research driven, which proved invaluable for my transition into graduate school. To graduate from the program, I had to produce original research in the form of a senior thesis. I presented my thesis, The Resource Curse: Oil and Gender Equality, at the 2015 Pi Sigma Alpha National Student Research Conference in Washington, D.C. I was an active member of OU’s chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha and served on the 2014-2015 editorial board for the Pi Sigma Alpha Undergraduate Journal of Politics. I also competed on, and was a student officer for, OU’s speech team for the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 seasons and qualified for nationals in multiple categories each season.
I went immediately into graduate school upon graduating from undergrad. My first two years in the program, I served as one of the Communication Department’s graduate assistants where I worked as an assistant coach with the Oakland University Speech Team. Although I was a full-time student, I took an extra third year to graduate and worked as the graduate assistant for the Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies (BALS) during that final year. As the graduate assistant with BALS, my role was mostly that of a social media coordinator.
The program at OU is five semesters long, requiring two full academic years and a summer semester. The year I was meant to take my summer course I ended up interning in Washington, D.C. as the communication intern at STEMconnector, which is a professional services firm interested in increasing the STEM workforce. Specifically, I worked with their Million Women Mentors (MWM) program which aimed to increase the number of women and girls in the STEM field through mentorship. Officially, my main role was as a social media coordinator, but I also helped design magazine spreads with the graphic design team, acted as an editor for the business development interns, and helped coordinate the 2016 Million Women Mentors Summit and Gala. In fact, after my internship ended I was hired on to work remotely from Michigan to finish my work with the gala which took place several months after I left D.C.
I presented work at a couple of different conferences during my time in the program, including the 2017 Feminism and Rhetorics conference and the 2017 Michigan Academy of Arts, Science, and Letters. I chose to complete a thesis for my exit option, where I researched the Flint Water Crisis, which my advisor has cited in her own work and is helping me turn into publishable journal articles.
Currently, I work as an assistant coach for a local high school’s speech team. I assist students in coming up with ideas for, the writing of, and the presentation of speeches for competition. I am also slotted to teach a public speaking course at Oakland University during the winter semester. These positions are both part time, however, and I am still in the process of looking for a full-time job. I would like to work either as a social media coordinator in the private sector or in a similar role for a University.
[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 Oakland University?
[Courtney Stockman] As an undergraduate in International Relations, I had planned on either going to graduate school for foreign policy or to law school. I have been interested in critical theory since high school when my AP Literature teacher introduced my class to Jacques Derrida. This interest is what pushed me into International Relations since the program at Oakland University is very theory heavy. As an undergraduate, however, I was a competitor on the Oakland University Speech Team and spent most of my time surrounded by communication scholars. Being around so many communication scholars helped me realize that there was a very clear intersection between my interests in international relations and communication via critical theory. I researched and interviewed some of the professors in the department after this realization and found they had similar interests as me, and one even has their B.A. in International Relations as well.
Ultimately, however, I went to Oakland University for the speech team. I joined the team as a junior with no prior experience with the activity and quickly fell in love with it. The team was new and still growing, and I knew that I wanted to continue to be a part of their growth even after I graduated. I started talking with our director and the graduate assistant at the time about what being the graduate assistant entailed. I decided I wanted to apply to the M.A. program in the hopes of being the graduate assistant for the team. Till this day I am still working with the team, although now as a volunteer coach and judge. The director of the program has become an important mentor for me, and the activity has provided important networking opportunities as well.
Upon entering the program, my initial career goals were to move to D.C. and work for a think tank upon graduation and eventually get my Ph.D. so that I could be a head researcher. During the program my goals have changed quite a bit. Today, I still plan on going back to get my Ph.D., however my new aim is to be the director of a university’s competitive speech team.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is Oakland’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?
[Courtney Stockman] Oakland University’s program is still relatively new and edits their program to better serve their students and prepare them for success as the program matures. I was the last incoming class that was required to pick a concentration in either Critical Cultural Studies, Media Studies, or Interpersonal Communication. Currently, OU no longer has concentrations and instead allows students to tailor their program to better suit their interests and career goals. Students can choose from several different exit options. They can complete a thesis, a creative project, or an additional elective plus a comprehensive exam.
Students are required to take three core courses: Introduction to Graduate Studies, Philosophy of Communication Scholarship, and either Qualitative or Quantitative Methods. Of these classes, Introduction to Graduate Studies was the most helpful in my overall success. In the class we had to write a comprehensive literature review on a topic we felt could become the basis for a future thesis. Many students in my cohort tailored all their future projects to revolve around that topic and, while I did not tailor my projects as such, my thesis ultimately evolved from that literature review.
[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.)?
[Courtney Stockman] My thesis, Flint’s Neoliberal Water World: #FlintLivesMatter and the Fight for Identity, looked at citizenship and social media, specifically Twitter, as a mode of resistance to state violence in the context of the Flint Water Crisis. It emerged out of a class I took on communication and cultural citizenship. Initially, I had wanted to do a rhetorical analysis on a selection of speeches I had been interested in, but I ultimately decided on the Flint Water Crisis as it was an issue of local importance (Oakland University is merely 45 minutes south of Flint). I used the paper I wrote for that course, in combination with the comprehensive literature review I had written for my Introduction to Graduate Studies course, as the building blocks for my thesis.
I used thematic analysis to code nearly 500 tweets with the hashtag #FlintLivesMatter from April 2016 and April 2017. I didn’t use a computer program to assist me, I entered each tweet manually into a spreadsheet and then I came up with codes for each tweet, and from those codes generated five themes. It was a more tedious way of accomplishing the initial data gathering, but I felt it made me more acquainted with the data overall. It was super stressful at the time, but now I look back and laugh at myself. I would sit on the floor of my living room surrounded by notecards I had written the initial code groupings onto trying to piece together how they were related and how they could combine into themes. If the research process taught me anything, it is that research is a lot less glamorous than it might seem.
My advisor, Dr. Kellie Hay, was very helpful but took an overall hands-off approach. She would read my drafts and tell me what direction I should go in but not necessarily how to get there. She was also like a personal cheerleader for me. I definitely suffered from imposter syndrome and always thought all my work was absolute garbage. Dr. Hay was always reassuring me that I was doing good work and sometimes you really need to hear that to keep going. Writing a thesis can be kind of isolating because not many people in your personal circle will be able to relate, understand, or help at all, so finding people who are able to genuinely tell you that you are doing okay is important. The members of my committee were very helpful as well and provided me with various books that helped add more complexity to my analysis. They helped provide me with different perspectives that often get left out when you work so closely with only one other person.
Our program does not have any requirements about how the defense needs to be carried out, so while I defended my thesis orally it was in a very relaxed environment. Perhaps more stressful than the defense was working with the office of Graduate Study and Lifelong Learning. At OU, all theses and dissertations must be printed in a bound copy according to Oakland University’s standards and given to Kresge Library for the school’s archives. The advisor you work with literally takes a ruler to your margins before giving you the okay to have your thesis bound, and you aren’t officially done until then. Although, having a hard cover copy of thesis to hold is very rewarding.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from OU’s Master of Arts in Communication program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Courtney Stockman] Overall, the program taught me to think in a particular way which has proven more valuable than any hard skill. I know this might sound stereotypical, but the ability to think strategically and logically is something you do not realize you did not possess until you are put through the intellectual wringer. I coach competitive public speaking, meaning I often have to guide students through creating logical arguments or helping them see the fallacies within their arguments, so this skill is particularly important.
The connections I made with the faculty have been helpful not only to succeed in the program, but to do well outside of it as well. The program is small, and you come to know the professors more as friends and colleagues than as your instructors. During the program, I was constantly encouraged to submit to conferences and get my work out there. Since I have graduated, the faculty has encouraged me to teach at OU as a lecturer and have reached out to me with job opportunities they came across that they thought I would do well in.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting Oakland University’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 OU or another university?
[Courtney Stockman] The best piece of advice I could give is to think about what you want to do with your degree before picking a program, and what you are willing to do to accomplish that. OU’s program is more geared towards preparing students for a Ph.D. program, however students can still make it work for them if that is not their desired goal if they are willing to put in the extra work and time. To that end, I would suggest picking an area of interest that either interests you on an academic level, especially if you plan on moving on to a Ph.D. program, or something related to your current career path. Finding an area of research that you are passionate about will not only help you stay focused on your thesis during the writing process, but it will give you an area to focus all your class projects on and ensure you become an expert by the end of you program.
It is also important that new students make sure to befriend their cohort. Graduate school is stressful, whether you are a full-time or part-time student, and no one will understand that stress better than those suffering through it with you. The bonds you create in grad school are of a special sort that will last a lifetime. But such friendships do not form on accident, so it is important to try and interact with your fellow classmates in and out of school. The people in my cohort were like family: we spent hours in the library together, had a group chat that was always active, vented to one another, and celebrated the end of each semester together. They were so ingrained in my experience of graduate school that when they all graduated before I did the program seemed almost alien to me. One of the happiest moments of commencement was seeing that someone from my original cohort was walking a semester late and that we could walk together. Find people like that in your program and your life will be much better for it.
Thank you, Ms. Stockman, for your excellent insights on Oakland University’s Master of Arts in Communication program!