About Claire Shannon: Claire Shannon works as a Student Success Advisor for Guild Education in Denver, Colorado. Her role entails helping adult learners who are pursuing higher education through their employer’s education benefits, many for the first time. Ms. Shannon also has extensive volunteer and teaching experience in both adult and juvenile correctional facilities, including over two years in the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility as Lead Facilitator for a Democratic Communication Workshop.

Ms. Shannon holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies from California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) San Luis Obispo. She completed her master’s degree in 2018, graduating from the University of Colorado Denver’s Master of Arts in Communication program.

Interview Questions

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

[Claire Shannon] I completed my undergraduate education at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in Communication Studies. After graduating, I transitioned into a full-time position in PR and Marketing for the university. Throughout my time in San Luis Obispo, I did extensive volunteer work, teaching, and curriculum planning in correctional facilities (adults and juveniles).

I moved to Denver to pursue my MA in Communication at the University of Colorado Denver. While pursuing my degree, I taught several classes for the Communication Department and a communication class in the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. My graduate research focused on adult education and pedagogy in correctional facilities.

I am currently a Student Success Advisor at Guild Education, where I work closely with adult learners all over the country who are pursuing higher education through their employer’s education benefits. Most of my students have been out of school for 20+ years and are pursuing higher education for the first time.

[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 program at University of Colorado Denver?

[Claire Shannon] I started my master’s degree with the intention of continuing onto a PhD program to do academic research and teach within the communication discipline. I chose the program at the University of Colorado Denver mostly due to the teaching and research opportunities that would be available to me in the program and the outstanding faculty that I would have the chance to work with. I eventually decided to change gears and not immediately pursue a PhD, but I was fortunate enough to find a job where I could use the academic work I did surrounding education for underserved populations and continue working directly with students.

[MastersinCommunications.com] How is CU Denver’s MA in Communication 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?

[Claire Shannon] CU Denver’s MA in Communication offers a variety of graduate seminars, independent studies, and internships that fit for students who are seeking to research, publish, and further the academic discipline, as well as students who are seeking to advance their career and gain more professional knowledge. I had peers who were working full time, in school full time, and at various points in their careers.

Many of the courses offered in the Communication department are related to media, health communication, and mediation, as those are some of the main areas of focus from the department faculty. Looking back, the most valuable skills I learned revolved how to conduct academic research and translate that research into formats (op-eds, infographics, short articles) that are more easily distributed to audiences outside of academia.

[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?

[Claire Shannon] In lieu of a traditional thesis, CU Denver also offers a capstone project option where students write shorter academic papers that are intended for publication. The benefit of this is that an MA thesis is typically too long to be published in a major journal as-is. I wrote a paper on transformational pedagogical practices in prison classrooms, using my own personal narratives from teaching in prisons for 4+ years and a wealth of interdisciplinary literature on the subject. My paper argued that prison teachers should follow a transformational pedagogical model in their teaching, and for the benefits of incorporating more academic opportunities for incarcerated people.

I was supported by my primary advisor throughout my research and writing process, and presented and defended my paper in front of a committee made up of my advisor and two other faculty members. I felt very supported throughout the process—the resources to succeed were available, and utilizing those resources, developing relationships, and asking questions ahead of time helped me feel confident going into my defense.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from CU Denver’s graduate communication program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?

[Claire Shannon] Making personal connections and developing relationships with faculty gave me plenty of opportunities to participate in department initiatives and events, including an opportunity to teach for the department after I had graduated.

As mentioned, I started out in the program focused on pursuing a PhD, conducting academic research, and teaching. As I got further along in the program, I started to reconsider that path and began incorporating classes that are more “career-oriented.” I got some experience working on a communication plan for a local non-profit and learned more about project management. Both my academic research on prison education and my professional experience from certain graduate seminars helped land me a job in advising working adults from mostly underserved communities who are pursuing higher education for the first time. The variety of options I had available to me at CU Denver set me up to succeed.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the Master of Arts in Communication program at the University of Colorado Denver? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at CU Denver or another university?

[Claire Shannon] Make all the connections you can. Talk to your professors, ask if they know anyone who might be good for you to connect with, and take advantage of the opportunities that are available to you. Remember that finding those opportunities often requires you to advocate for yourself—the CU Denver Communication Department is incredibly supportive of students in the MA program!

If you have the ability to look at several different schools, keep your options open. Ask to talk to current students in order to get a better idea of what the student experience is like. Talking to current students was the most valuable part of my decision-making process when deciding between a couple of different programs.

Thank you, Ms. Shannon, for your excellent insights on the University of Colorado Denver’s Master of Arts in Communication program!