About Debbie Bracewell: Debbie Bracewell graduated from Troy State University in 1974 with a Bachelor’s Degree in English Education. A Master’s Degree in Secondary Administration was obtained in 1988 from Troy State Dothan, and a Master’s Degree in Strategic Communication was completed in 2014 from Troy University. From 1981-2004 Ms. Bracewell taught in the Enterprise City School System. She taught English on a variety of junior high to senior high school grade levels, finishing her final years teaching senior English and AP Literature.
Ms. Bracewell also coached cheerleading for 24 years which led to assisting with the organizing of a state cheerleading association, composing newsletters, and a variety of desktop publishing projects. After retiring in 2004, she took a position as executive director for the National Council for Spirit Safety (NCSSE). Designing safety coursework for cheer coaches, directing instructors, creating publicity, writing articles for trade magazines, and other tasks were a major part of her work. After retirement from NCSSE in 2014, Ms. Bracewell continued her work with local and district United Methodist Women and The Recovery Organization of Coffee County. This volunteer work includes many efforts in communications, organizing, and speaking. Teaching United Methodist Women mission studies, contributing to newsletters, and working with other groups takes up much of her time currently.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a Master’s in Communication and why did you ultimately choose Troy’s Master of Science in Strategic Communication program?
[Debbie Bracewell] I was not the typical student when I entered the master’s program at Troy. My husband had recently passed away, and, to be honest, I was looking for something to do. I had always enjoyed writing and speaking to groups. This degree had just launched, and I found the course descriptions thought-provoking. I was interested in polishing the skills I already had and wanted to learn about new technology and new methods of communication. As an older adult, I found the idea of an online course attractive and convenient. I could take the courses in the leisure of my home office! I wanted an intellectual challenge and an opportunity to learn more in this field.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is Troy University’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?
[Debbie Bracewell] Troy’s program has ten three-hour courses. Two of the courses are journalism courses with the others being communication courses. I learned so much that is useful for communications, but I also learned information that is important to be an informed consumer, parent, and citizen. To obtain the degree, all ten courses must be successfully completed. The last course is a capstone class that culminates in a written comprehensive exam. Coursework includes crisis communication, emerging media, communication and influence (very interesting material!), communication theory, and law and ethics.
Having no experience with online classes, I found this experience easy to begin, and I enjoyed the online interaction with students and instructors. Having access to the Troy Library online was such a help with research. I did buy textbooks as I found reading an online text less than helpful for me. Reading, writing, and critical thinking are very important to any online class. As I said before, two of the required classes are journalism classes. Having no background in journalism meant I had to ask more questions and look at classwork and readings with a different perspective.
Students were able to use their current interests in many of the papers and discussions. For example, my final paper was a discussion of the NFL’s mishandling of the concussion crisis. This fit in with my cheer coaching safety background which made the research much more meaningful to me. This was one of the benefits of the coursework as I saw other students find topics and discussions relevant to their current occupations.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from Troy’s Master of Arts in Strategic Communication have you found to be the most helpful post-graduation?
[Debbie Bracewell] I enjoyed the educational experience. I love to learn and research, so this course of work gave me multiple opportunities to do just that. The class discussions were most enlightening, and I learned much from the other students. Having to dig deeper into theory and statistics was a bit intimidating, but what I learned gave me a better perspective on effective ways to communicate during a crisis and ways to respond to criticism or disgruntled colleagues or participants. I pay attention to the ways companies respond to dissatisfied consumers and often mentally rephrase the response! When I write newsletter articles or speak in front of groups, I think more about how something is phrased and how it may be received. When participating in groups or one on one discussions, I try to be a better active listener.
In the coursework were multiple opportunities to learn about technological developments in the communications field. We reviewed the latest innovations (which included wearable technology and social media) and determined how we might use them in our fields of employment. Social media was studied as pertains to those who originate the messages and those who respond to the messages. We reviewed situations where inappropriate or insensitive responses caused damage to business reputations (corporate and individual) and business profits. I don’t believe Periscope or Marco Polo were software products available when I was involved in Troy’s Strategic Communication degree program, but as I had studied ways to engage consumers and others using software, I can clearly understand how useful these programs can be.
Twitter and Periscope (along with other programs) are useful in emergency management and disaster management. Having the ability to show immediate results of storm damage or show areas not yet identified is a huge plus of such communications software. If I were an event producer, I would utilize a program like Periscope to highlight behind the scenes action and to market events. Having engaged in this course of study, I readily see opportunities to use technology as a communication strategy in the public and private sectors.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to enroll in an online program such as Troy’s Master of Arts in Strategic Communication program, and what were the benefits and drawbacks of pursuing your master’s in communication online?
[Debbie Bracewell] Convenience is a major reason for my decision to enroll in an online class. Being able to work on the computer whenever it fit into my schedule was important. One drawback to me was not being able to speak directly to an instructor. They were always available through email or phone calls, but sometimes we need a face to face. I have never been a math person, so the statistics class was difficult for me. With help from Khan Academy and some clarification from the instructor, I was able to succeed. This difficulty also taught me about the abundance of resources online that are helpful for any topic. Another drawback is the inability to meet with classmates. Some of the students in my classes were either working at Troy University or lived in Troy. Those students seemed to have a bit of an advantage as they could meet with each other to discuss classwork. For me, the benefits certainly outweigh the drawbacks. The convenience and the opportunity to study at home is important.
Troy has several support systems for online students. My instructors were always available to answer emails or phone calls. The availability of reference materials in the school library was a great help when working on research papers. Troy also has a student assistance program that includes an Online Writing Center and Net Tutor. The Financial Aid Office and my advisor were very helpful with answering questions.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting Troy’s MA in Strategic 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 Troy or another university?
[Debbie Bracewell] I would advise students to sharpen their written communication skills. As a former English teacher, I was appalled to see some of the written communications on Blackboard. These are master level classes, so expect master level work. Heavy reading is required, and written work submitted must fully meet the expectations set by the instructor. If you are working full time, you will have to learn how to manage your time between work and school. Lack of time management skills will be a detriment to successfully completing the coursework.
Whether at Troy University or another university, this course of study will be challenging. It will give you an opportunity to think out of the box; it will push you to think differently about how we communicate personally and professionally. Whether you are designing an emergency evacuation plan for a corporation or responding to the next unsanitary food prep crisis, your skills as a communicator will be greatly tested. This course of study prepares you for communicating through a variety of situations and events.
Thank you Ms. Bracewell for your excellent insights on Troy University’s Online Master’s in Strategic Communication program!