About Madeline Pyle: Madeline Pyle is the Associate Director of Communications for Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas. Along with writing and managing the college’s website content, social media accounts, and press releases, she is responsible for ensuring that all school-related communications align with Lyon’s overall brand and objectives. Ms. Pyle’s previous experience includes positions as Legal Assistant at Blair & Stroud, and Social Media Specialist for Timex Group.
Ms. Pyle attended Lyon for her undergrad from 2011 to 2015, earning a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in Journalism. She completed her master’s in 2018, through the Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies (MA-ACS) program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Madeline Pyle] I graduated with my B.A. in English with a journalism concentration from Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas in 2015. I felt confident I could communicate clearly in my writing, but I wanted to learn more about communication in general, so I started my M.A. in Applied Communication at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in May 2016. I graduated with my M.A. in May 2018.
I recently started a position at my alma mater, Lyon College, as the Associate Director of Communications. My responsibilities include writing content for social media, the website, and press, but a major part of my position is editing and approving the College’s communications with prospective students, students, and alumni, be it through the website, the College app, or even mass emails. I want to ensure our messages are clear and consistent with the College’s brand.
[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 (MA-ACS) program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock?
[Madeline Pyle] In undergrad, I noticed conflicts among my peers that resulted from miscommunication. I realized that if both parties had clearly communicated what they wanted, major conflict could have been avoided. I also noticed my own reluctance for conflict and how that affected my communication with others. My observations about mine and others’ communication continued after graduation. In my first job after graduating, I found myself frustrated with my coworkers because they were not direct in their communication. Instead of stating what they wanted or needed, they used passive aggressiveness or avoided addressing their needs altogether. Once again, I thought about how if my coworkers and I had clearly communicated, we probably would have accomplished our goals more easily.
Ultimately, I decided to pursue a master’s in applied communication because I wanted to learn more about how to effectively communicate. I felt confident in my communication as a writer, but I did not have this confidence in my interactions with coworkers, friends, and even family. When I applied for the program, I hoped that it would not only help me with my communication skills but also provide me with organizational and management skills. I wanted my degree to prepare me for a career in non-profits, mass communications, or public relations.
Originally, I looked at the applied communication program at UA Little Rock because it was conveniently available. I lived and worked in Little Rock, and most, if not all, of the program’s classes were at convenient times for students who worked full-time. However, what sold me on the program was the faculty. Faculty were willing to meet with me about the program before I applied, and I could tell they truly cared about their students and wanted them to succeed. I was used to small class sizes and a small student-to-faculty ratio from my time in undergrad, and I had assumed this would not be available at a large university in a metropolitan area, but I was pleasantly surprised.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is UA-Little Rock’s MA-ACS 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?
[Madeline Pyle] My program focused on six communication theories, or six “pillars.” We eventually used one or more of these pillars for our final project. The six pillars were: Positive Communication, Organizational Culture, Diffusion, Crisis & Renewal Communication, Experiential Learning, and Conflict Communication. Our program required us to take courses that covered these pillars. The pillars that I feel I learned the most about were Positive Communication, Conflict Communication, and Experiential Learning. The first class I took was on organizational training, and this class provided several strategies and concepts I would use and learn more about throughout the program. One of the first concepts I remember learning about was macrostructure for presentations—this is what it sounds like—it’s a structure for a presentation. All of our courses required some presentation, and we were expected to use macrostructure, which consisted of an introduction, a hook for the audience, establishing credibility with the audience, transitioning through several points of the presentation, and a closing.
Another concept I learned early in the program that I used in my courses (and continue to use) is sandwich feedback. We were also required to participate in many group projects and provide feedback on our partners’ work, which is where sandwich feedback often came into play. We learned the importance of giving helpful feedback, which meant not just saying someone’s work was “good.” We actually needed to give constructive criticism, and a way to effectively do this was through sandwich feedback, where you state what someone has done well, state something they could improve, and then close with another positive comment.
[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?
[Madeline Pyle] For my final paper and project for the program, I explored autoethnography and David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory through developing and facilitating professional development trainings for Immerse Arkansas. Immerse Arkansas is an organization that helps youth transition out of foster care and into adulthood by providing guidance, housing, and life skills training. My two main research questions were “How is Experiential Learning Theory reflected in the training decisions in a co-designer partnership?” and “How does autoethnography of peak experiences facilitate experiential learning?”
Throughout my project, I journaled about my interactions and learning process with Immerse co-trainers and the Immerse youth, and after completing the trainings, I reflected on my experiences and journaling in order to develop an autoethnography. In my autoethnography, I discuss peak experiences from the trainings that I felt impacted the training and my learning. I discovered several learning takeaways from the experience, and I tie them back to Kolb’s Experiential Learning theory, which claims we learn through reflecting on our experiences. After the autoethnography, I share a few implications and recommendations, including encouraging trainers to use autoethnography in the future to reflect and learn from their experiences.
For my project, I first wrote a project proposal and presented it to my committee, which included my faculty advisor and two other faculty from my department. Once I had their approval and feedback, I was able to move forward with the training facilitation and autoethnography. My training was broken down into three sessions, and after each session, I journaled about my experiences and discussed with my advisor. After completing my facilitation, I started going over my journaling and began writing my autoethnography. I had check-ins with my advisor throughout this process. Once my autoethnography and project paper were complete, I shared and revised several drafts with my advisor. When my paper was finally ready, I shared it with my committee and defended about two weeks later.
Advice I would give to those finishing their master’s projects is that breaking down the project and/or paper is key to completion. When I worked to finish small tasks that were part of the project, I found I was more productive than trying to view completing the project as a whole.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from UA-Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Madeline Pyle] One of the first things I learned in my classes for the program is that it’s impossible to not communicate. Just because you’re not speaking, doesn’t mean you are not communicating. Communication is more than just words. It’s verbal and nonverbal communication. This has been important for me personally and professionally.
Another communication skill I carry with me in my career now is positive communication. In my positive communication course, we learned how to better foster positive communication through simple acts like greeting and complimenting. I make sure in all my emails and interactions with coworkers that I greet them because making the time to greet someone can foster not only a more positive relationship but better communication as well. Another thing I learned in my positive communication course is to enter interactions with others with the assumption that the other communicator has positive intent. If we start a conversation making negative assumptions about each other, the conversation will not go well. By assuming positive intent with my coworkers, my communication and relationships with them benefit.
Another concept from my program that I use in my career today is understanding organizational communication. This goes hand in hand with positive communication. If an organization has poor communication, then it also probably has poor morale. I learned to put myself in other coworkers’ shoes and be considerate of their opinions when communicating with them. I also learned how to observe organizational communication. You can learn a lot about how an organization works by observing how it passes along messages to the rest of the staff. Is there a lot of gossip? Is there transparency from the organization’s leaders? I look for these when working with other organizations in my job because it gives me an idea of how to best communicate with them.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the MA-ACS program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at UA-Little Rock or another university?
[Madeline Pyle] Research your program before making a commitment. I felt confident about my choice in graduate programs because I met with the graduate coordinator and professors of the program. Because they were willing to meet with me, I felt comfortable with them and my choice. The best way to know if your program will work for you is to visit it and meet some of the people you will be working with.
Be aware of imposter syndrome. It’s common to start something new and feel like you’re out of place, like you don’t belong—this is imposter syndrome, and you will work through it. You deserve to be in your program. You are in the right place.
Thank you, Ms. Pyle, for your excellent insights on the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies program!