About Jessica McLain: Jessica McLain has worked for Wells Fargo since 2010. She is currently a member of their Root Cause and Investigation Team, where she conducts research, performs data analysis, and crafts presentations for top leaders in the company.

Ms. McLain earned a bachelor’s degree in English from South Dakota State University in 2012. She returned to the school to pursue her master’s degree, graduating from South Dakota State University’s Online Master of Mass Communication program in 2018.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?

[Jessica McLain] I graduated from South Dakota State University with my Bachelor of Arts and Sciences degree in English in December 2012 and then received my Master’s in Mass Communications Degree in May 2018. A lot of my elective courses during my undergraduate degree focused on writing, including business writing, technical writing, creative writing, research composition, and even screenwriting. I found that writing and editing were my favorite aspects of the entire degree program, so I wanted to focus on career paths that offered a writing aspect. Also, while pursuing that degree, I started working for Wells Fargo in 2010. Once I graduated, I searched for jobs within Wells Fargo that were writing intensive and quickly found a job in the Executive Office that entailed a lot of procedure and letter writing.

Currently, I work on the Root Cause and Investigation Team within Wells Fargo. I do a lot of data analysis, research, collaborating, and creating presentations for top leaders within the company. The research, collaborating, and presenting of information involves a lot of communication and writing skills, although it is a little unconventional compared to the traditional communication field.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the Online Master of Mass Communication (MMC) program at South Dakota State University?

[Jessica McLain] As I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree, I knew I wanted to eventually go for a master’s degree, but I wanted a break from school for a while. After working for Wells Fargo and making my way up the ranks with different promotions, I decided a master’s degree would help propel my career quicker and further. However, I wanted to get a degree in something that I could tailor more towards the business world, and I knew that English wouldn’t get me as much as I wanted towards that goal.

I started researching different master’s programs and considered an MBA through a local private college until I happened upon South Dakota State University’s online MMC program. I liked that it was online, incredibly affordable, focused on communications and writing skills, and could be about a two-year program. Being already acquainted with the school due to getting my undergraduate there a few years earlier, the decision to join this program was pretty easy. I had researched the program and reviewed the courses and descriptions and knew that, despite being designed for journalism-specific students, that I could easily gain communication skills and abilities that would help me in the business world in which I found myself building a career.

[MastersinCommunications.com] How is SDSU’s MMC 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?

[Jessica McLain] SDSU’s online MMC program is structured in a way where, if taking classes back-to-back, each semester consists of taking two courses that last eight weeks each. Since I chose to complete a professional product rather than completing an internship or additional coursework, I had to complete ten courses, two research credits, and then the final professional project.

The program’s courses focused on creating a base of knowledge of mass communications (and journalism). A couple of the courses, such as Media Law and International Media, were structured to provide as much content learning as possible, but most of the courses were also project-based. These involved using multiple forms of media to create a project, such as a health campaign, a multi-platform story, a business plan for business related to communications, and a syllabus and course plan for a communications course. Overall, the program thrived to develop and enhance skills in a variety of media platforms and expose students to important information about the industry.

I come from a background of mostly writing, so I had to learn the basics of graphic design and layout design. I learned some new techniques for photography and some photo editing concepts. I also gained a deeper knowledge of the First Amendment, its limitations, and its protections. All of these new skills were necessary for many of the courses mentioned above and the projects each course required, but they are also applicable to my future career development and aspirations.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience completing your capstone project? What communication issue or challenge did it address, and what were your primary deliverables (i.e. communications plan, tutorial, video, visual marketing materials, etc.)? What advice do you have for students in terms of successfully completing their project?

[Jessica McLain] In one of the earlier courses I took called Cross-Platform Storytelling, I was tasked with creating a project that utilized at least three media types. I chose to use text, graphics, and photography since I was comfortable with writing and capable of taking photographs and learning some basics of graphic design. My project evolved into a local magazine that I called State Parks, which I intended to be a theoretical business that would print short magazines regularly featuring different state parks. For the purpose of this class project, I featured South Dakota’s newest state park, Good Earth at Blood Run. The status of becoming a state park was brand new, and there were many plans to develop it into an amazing place to visit, making it a good topic to focus on.

I did an immense about of research on the park’s history, poured over the city’s development plans for the park, interviewed an archeologist about the park’s Native American History, and took many photographs of the construction, the trails, and the river that runs through the park. Then, I created an infographic with quick facts about the park to cover the graphic design portion of the project.

I enjoyed this project so much that about a year later, when developing the plan for my professional project, I decided to create a full-scale magazine. I changed a lot of details of the magazine to make it work; I changed the title to History Today and changed the concept to instead feature all types of historical areas in and around Sioux Falls. I focused on the history of the area and what the area is used for today. I did similar work (research, photographs, interviews) for different parks, buildings, and sites that I originally did for the smaller course project and then put them into a magazine layout.

While I was finishing the final stages of my magazine, I was also taking a course called Media Administration and Management, which required a project of a business plan. I decided to focus my business plan on my magazine, treating it as a real local startup company. In the end, I included this business plan as part of my final project, although I did not intend to implement the magazine business into a real business.

Conveniently, my advisor was also my professor for both the Cross-Platform Storytelling course and the Business Administration and Management course, and was on the panel where I defended my final project, so he was very much involved with the conception and creation and defense of the project. After the defense, I had some minor tweaks to make, but overall, it was well received.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from SDSU’s Master of Mass Communication program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?

[Jessica McLain] The program was entirely online, so I was not expecting to connect with many of the professors or students. There were a few other students who started and finished at the same time I did and who also were in most of the same courses along the way. Also, the department isn’t vast, so many professors teach multiple courses. Relationships are definitely possible with them as well. Working and connecting with these other students and professors over the course of two years in the online class format was an unexpected takeaway for me, but one I enjoyed. I’ve connected with many of them via social media and plan to stay in contact with them, and it was a lot of fun meeting most of them in person this past May for the commencement.

Regarding experiences and takeaways in my learning, I found that I have become a better at communicating my thoughts and ideas in writing because of needing to do so every week as part of discussion posts. This is incredibly useful and important since I work for a company that uses email, online programs, and instant messaging for the majority of its communications. Face to face just isn’t as common anymore outside of my direct peers. Having to exclusively communicate with my fellow students online really challenged and fostered written communication skills.

I also took away more self-confidence. I entered the program nervous about how I would do since my undergraduate is in English instead of Mass Communications, and there were a lot of students entering who were far more qualified professionally since they were in journalism careers. But I adapted well, and despite facing challenges with needing to use skills I didn’t think I had, there was never a project or class I was unable to do.

Many of the skills, at the time of taking each course, seemed targeted towards just the concept in the specific course. For example, Media Law was content heavy and very directed towards journalism. However, the information I learned in that class transcends into both my work and my personal life. The same can be said for Cross-Platform Campaigns and Health Campaigns. Although those classes were directed towards a specific topic, the marketing and PR information I learned in that class is applicable to any business and industry.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the online MMC program at South Dakota State University? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at SDSU or another university?

[Jessica McLain] Before starting, I did a lot of research on different schools and different master’s programs. I also evaluated my personal life and current work to make sure I would have the time necessary to dedicate to school. Once I did start, the first class was a HUGE adjustment. My free time disappeared. I had to adjust to being responsible for homework and coursework every week. But, it does get easier to make lifestyle adjustments and to prioritize time to ensure a healthy work/personal/school life is possible.

To anyone interested, I recommend starting by looking at the program on SDSU’s website (and/or any other school). SDSU’s site is very informative and forthcoming about the degree program, requirements, and course listings. They also make it very easy to apply. As with any school program, the MMC program is certainly one where you get out what you put in, so if it’s something you’re willing to dedicate your time and energy to, I think it’s a great option.

Thank you, Ms. McLain, for your excellent insights on South Dakota State University’s Online Master of Mass Communication program!