About Zach McGeehon: Zach McGeehon is currently an Adjunct Professor of Speech at Kaskaskia College in Centralia, Illinois. Prior to this role, he served as the Lead Teaching Assistant in the Department of Applied Communication Studies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and a guest lecturer in a variety of theater programs. In his spare time, Mr. McGeehon enjoys FX makeup, movie memorabilia, and assisting with Toys-For-Tots.
Mr. McGeehon holds two associate degrees from Kaskaskia College, and a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE). He returned to SIUE to pursue his master’s, graduating from their Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies program in 2018 with a specialization in Interpersonal Communication.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Zach McGeehon] I attended Kaskaskia College for my two associate degrees, where I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a 4.0 GPA. Then I transferred to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville for undergrad, where I graduated Summa Cum Laude again with my Bachelor of Science in Applied Communication Studies – Pubic Relations. I decided to continue my education there, so I also completed my Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies – Interpersonal Communication at SIUE as well.
During my graduate degree, I was a teaching assistant in the Department of Applied Communication studies. I taught numerous sections of ACS 101: Basic Public Speaking and ACS 103: Interpersonal Communication. Eventually, I would become the Lead Teaching Assistant, where I would teach a few sections of ACS 315: Technology Design in Public Relations and assist the other TA’s in their own instruction and development.
My eventual goal is to become a professor of speech communication at a community college, or to hold a position where I can become a resource for college students, such as in academic advising. Additionally, I never want to stop learning. Many people think you finish your degree and that’s it; however, I want to always expand my understanding of communication topics!
[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 Applied Communication Studies program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE)?
[Zach McGeehon] My first speech professor, David Quinn at Kaskaskia College, played a huge role in my desire to become a speech professor myself. Through him, I quickly realized my calling in life and I decided to pursue a career as such. Additionally, I also found topics in communication to be quite interesting, and very rewarding in life. There aren’t many programs you can take classes in where almost every single topic is applicable to your personal life, such as communication in family relationships, communication in emotion, or computer-mediated communication.
Specifically, I chose the Department of Applied Communication Studies program at SIUE because of three major things: the affordability of the program, the availability of a teaching assistantship, and the location of the school, which is close to both St. Louis as well as my hometown. It was also nice because I had completed my bachelor’s there, so I was already familiar with the faculty.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is SIUE’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?
[Zach McGeehon] SIUE’s program requires students to complete 33 credit hours of coursework, and you have the option to choose a specialization which narrows your focus within the communication field. I chose to follow the Interpersonal Communication path, though there are also the Public Relations, Corporate and Organization Communication, and Health Communication options. You must also choose your exit option for the program, which can either be a thesis, a project, or a comprehensive exam.
The major skills that I learned were mainly focused on research methods, such as data collection, synthesis of that data, and the subsequent write-ups. Most courses included some type of research project, so those skills were vital when it came to the successful completion of the major assignments throughout the program.
[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.)?
[Zach McGeehon] My experience was quite enjoyable in completing my thesis at SIUE. In ACS 501: Communication Research Methods and Tools, I decided to investigate one of my hobbies a bit more. I have over 10 years’ experience in FX makeup and costumes, so I started researching levels of narcissism in cosplayers (people who dress in costumes from various media) for that research project. That topic eventually led me to a larger question, “what motivates people to cosplay in the first place?” which ended up being the focus of my thesis.
I utilized two different qualitative methods during my thesis, where I distributed an online questionnaire and held semi-structured interviews with cosplayers. After a lot of transcription and coding, I was able to exhaustively identify 14 different motivations that cosplayers communicated during the study. Some of those results were a bit surprising, but it was an awesome feeling knowing that I finally got the answer to my query.
After the completion of my thesis, I was required to orally defend it in front of my committee, which included Dr. Nastasia (thesis chair), Dr. DeGroot-Brown, and Dr. Wrobbel. Though, as expected, I was nervous about facing some difficult questions, I was able to thoroughly prepare for my defense, and I successfully passed on my first attempt. Thankfully, I was able to work with a group of people that supported me throughout the entire endeavor. If I needed assistance, the committee was always there for me. They were never afraid to push me to do my best work or question my thought process and give me some constructive criticism.
One major factor of choosing to do a thesis for my exit option was finding a good (and willing) committee, and I was very happy to go through this experience with these specific people. Additionally, finding an interesting topic which I was personally interested in was a major aspect as well. Since I was highly familiar with the hobby of cosplay, I actually WANTED to find the answer to my research question. I would recommend figuring out a topic that interests the student personally. You don’t want to get unmotivated in your research or tired of a topic mid-way through a thesis, so pick something relevant to your interests!
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from SIUE’s Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Zach McGeehon] There are three major experiences that I had during this program which have positively impacted my career and life. The first is that I was able to become a teaching assistant for the department and take a course on teaching communication studies. Having those two years of experience as a TA played a huge role in jumpstarting my abilities as a speech instructor. Likewise, taking ACS: 560 Seminar in Speech Education assisted with my instructional and classroom management skills. Through those experiences, I was able to graduate and immediately begin teaching.
The second major factor is the experience and skills I learned in data collection and data analysis. Many potential employers I have talked with not only require skill in verbal communication, but they also want their employees to understand statistical analysis or other topics associated with research. Thankfully, most of the graduate classes I took had projects associated with data collection and data synthesis.
Finally, through many of the interpersonal communication classes that I took, I was able to develop valuable life skills. I don’t think many people would imagine going to grad school and discovering themselves, but I can honestly say I learned a huge amount about myself in classes like family communication and communication in emotions. Dr. Alexander facilitated those classes beautifully, and I found they were personally beneficial to me.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s MA in Applied Communication Studies 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 SIUE or another university?
[Zach McGeehon] I would recommend that they layout short- and long-term goals for themselves. Keep a check list for every single week, and make sure every short-term goal leads up to the larger semester goals. They should of course be mindful of assignments, papers, and projects, but they should never forget to schedule some personal time for themselves as well. I know first-hand that it is easy to get lost in the work (and there is a lot of it), but you deserve a reward every now and then!
Overall, for anyone in a master’s program, my advice is quite simple: Don’t be too hard on yourself. I found myself taking criticism way too personally or beating myself up over minor things. It’s just not worth it. Someone might not like what topic you research and others might not support you. Don’t think it discredits you or your work. Be happy that you’re in school and working towards a master’s. The two years will fly by, and in no time, you’ll be done. Savor it.
Thank you, Mr. McGeehon, for your excellent insights on Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies program!