About Christopher Wernecke: Christopher Wernecke is a Ph.D. student and Graduate Instructor at Georgia State University, currently studying rhetoric and politics in the Department of Communication. In addition to his research, Mr. Wernecke teaches undergraduate courses in topics such as human communication, public speaking, and media literacy. He previously served as an Adjunct Professor of Public Speaking at Harper College in Chicago, and a Graduate Lecturer and Basic Course Administrator at Texas State University.
Mr. Wernecke earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from DePaul University in 2014. In 2016, he completed the Master of Arts in Communication and Media Studies program at Texas State University.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Christopher Wernecke] My journey to Communication Studies was, well, winding. My interest in the intersection of politics, history, culture, and persuasion led me to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. It was there that I discovered that my scholarly interests were bettered housed in Communication – so I decided to obtain a minor in Media and Communication to compliment my focus on American Politics and the Presidency. At Texas State University, I obtained a Master’s Degree in Communication Studies where I primarily focused on public address, political communication, and began to immerse myself in the study and history of rhetoric.
Currently, I am a Ph.D. student at Georgia State University in the Department of Communication studying Rhetoric and Politics. I primarily center my research at the intersection of myth, memory, and presidential museums, but I have recently started to look into cancer rhetoric in America as a way to further shed light on my discursive experience with the disease and to also, hopefully, help others better frame and communicate about their experience with cancer with others.
Both at Texas State University and at Georgia State University, as well as a brief time at Harper College, a community college in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, I have had the honor of serving as an instructor in courses introducing undergraduate students to the fundamentals of human communication, public speaking, and media literacy. At Texas State University, I also served as the Basic Course Administrator, where I assisted Dr. Michael Burns, then the Basic Course Director, in training incoming graduate instructors in instructional efficacy, and also helped manage the day-to-day and behind-the-scenes activities that kept the Department of Communication’s award-winning basic course running smoothly.
[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 Studies program at Texas State University?
[Christopher Wernecke] To be honest, had it not been for a professor that saw my writing and academic potential, I may have never pursued a Master’s Degree in Communication! After reading my term paper in the winter of 2013, Dr. Sean Horan reached out and made it his mission to make sure I attended graduate school. As an alum of the program at Texas State himself, he strongly suggested that I apply – and I did. A couple months later, I was packing up the car and making the drive from Chicago to San Marcos. Simply put, the program and the university changed my life.
Before beginning the program, I hoped to obtain skills that would further my eventual entrance into Democratic Party politics. I wanted to work as a speechwriter, or a communication specialist, or serve as Press Secretary for a candidate or elected official. Right away, I knew that the program would help me master (pun intended) those skills – writing, researching, developing an argument, crafting an audience-centered message, speaking in public – but, I think thankfully, the academic bug bit me and I slowly began to realize that my true calling was in academia.
I think a little part of me always knew I wanted to pursue a career in academia, and Texas State helped bring that little part of me to the fore. That being said, while the program produces Ph.D. program acceptance rates of upwards of 100%, the focus of the program is what you want to make it. Most of my cohort went on to pursue a career in the corporate sphere – and each one of them will tell you that graduating with a Master’s Degree in Communication Studies has paid serious dividends.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is Texas State’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?
[Christopher Wernecke] Texas State’s program really emphasized what I call a “Renaissance Woman/Man” approach to Communication Studies. In other words, the amazing lineup of world-renowned professors that the department boasts truly sought to make sure that we were immersed in multiple facets of the field that ranged from the empirically based social scientific courses like Organizational Communication and Relational Communication to more mixed methods, qualitative based courses like Nonverbal and Health Communication, all the while emphasizing the importance of the humanities through courses in Rhetorical Criticism, Public Address, and Media Criticism.
Of the many skills and strategies that I learned in these classes, I found critical thinking and critical reading to be the most important – and perhaps even the most applicable skill and strategy set. Understanding every reading, completing every assignment, delivering every presentation, and even asking every question in class, I contend, stems from being able to deconstruct a text or a concept and apply it outside of its original context. This skill set is not something that is mastered overnight – it is practiced and practiced, and then practiced again, and my coursework at Texas State University thoroughly emphasized this.
Additionally, I learned how what I refer to as “graduate seminar discourse” should and should not sound like. Graduate seminars should absolutely never resemble Kanye cutting off Taylor Swift on national television – “I’mma let you finish, but…” – and should always include building off a peer’s contributions, asking tough questions of the material and of a peer’s statements, and should always be centered on the reading and material for the day. My professors at Texas State University always did an excellent job at facilitating good graduate seminar discourse, and were quick to point out when the conversation devolved into rambling “well, I think…” statements.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience preparing for and taking your comprehensive capstone examination? What were the components of the exam, and were they tailored to your individual course of study? What advice do you have for students in terms of preparing for their comprehensive exams?
[Christopher Wernecke] My experience preparing for and taking my comprehensive exams? An IV of coffee and hair loss. Nah, I’m just kidding. My professors in the Department of Communication did an incredible job preparing us for this exam so that while I was nervous, I was also confident. From the beginning, my professors stressed that these exams, “comps” as we referred to them as, were designed to be a “conversation” where we moved from student to colleague in the discipline. Our comps were mostly tailored to our individual course of study – but even if we individually identified with a more humanities/rhetorical approach to communication studies, we were still asked about social scientific approaches to the discipline, again emphasizing the “Renaissance Woman/Man” focus of the program.
We were able to select the faculty members to facilitate the conversation, and I prepared for the exams by first tracing the “big” questions and discussions my area of communication explored and what these questions and discussions meant for Communication Studies writ large. Rereading significant journal articles, going over notes from class, and sometimes going down the “reference list rabbit hole” really helped me trace the “so what?” question that academia demands while also walking me through the scholarly development of key ideas.
My advice to students preparing for their comprehensive exams is to, first, breathe. Remember that you are smart, capable, and determined – you are here for a reason. Second, don’t compare yourself to other people. For example, I met my wife in the Communication Studies program at Texas State and I watched her go through comps a year before me. Her area of focus, method and style of studying, and comps questions were vastly different than mine were – it was neither useful nor healthy to constantly compare myself to her. While she is leaps and bounds smarter than me, my race was mine to run – and I did just fine. Finally, and to carry on with the racing metaphor, don’t think of preparing for comps as a race. Rather, think of it as a marathon – pace yourself, remember your mental and physical wellbeing are more important, and keep your end goal in mind.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from Texas State’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Christopher Wernecke] I use what I learned and experienced at Texas State on daily basis. As an instructor, I draw upon my experience from the Teaching and Learning Academy, both as a trainee and a trainer, my two years as a graduate instructor, and the courses I took all help me in the classroom. I don’t mean to brag, but my student evaluations are consistently some of the best and students walk away from my courses feeling like they actually learned useful concepts that will apply to their future careers – and I owe that all to my experience at Texas State.
As a Ph.D. student, Texas State thoroughly prepared me for the continued rigors of graduate school – from writing a journal quality essay to presenting at a conference, and from concepts integral to the study of rhetoric to an in-depth understanding of how humans communicate – all of these things were instilled in me at Texas State.
Finally, the connections I made at Texas State go above and beyond any connotation of term you may have. While the professors demanded my best and pushed me harder and harder – they became a sort of family that I can turn to at any time. I can’t think of a better illustration than Dr. Maureen Keeley, then the Graduate Director, who, after hearing that I had been diagnosed with cancer in my second semester in the program, went out of her way to make sure I was confortable, in the right mental state, and generally okay on a daily basis. Dr. Keeley even sat with my parents and my now wife as I was undergoing surgery to finally become cancer free…that’s something that would not happen in any other Master’s program.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the MA in Communication Studies program at Texas 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 Texas State or another university?
[Christopher Wernecke] My advice is to first find out what the program has to offer in the realm of potential areas of study. While Texas State’s program is truly multifaceted, offering a litany of communication topics and disciplines, other programs may focus more on one area and not the other. Research the professors that will be offering courses in the program – what is their area of focus, where did they get their Ph.D., and, I think this is something lost on a lot of people, actually read their research! The professors at Texas State are titans in their field and if their research areas line up with yours – then what are you waiting for! Second, I would make sure any program that you may apply to has an assistantship opportunity where you will gain experience in the classroom as an instructor. Even those MA students that do not go on to the Ph.D. level at Texas State have found the experience of teaching to be invaluable.
Overall, I hope you found my answers to be helpful! I would be happy to chat about Texas State University, Communication Studies, or graduate school in general with anyone, and you are welcome to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com!
Thank you, Mr. Wernecke, for your excellent insights on Texas State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program!