About Scott Bredman: Scott Bredman is an Instructor at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) who teaches courses in the Department of Communication Studies. He previously worked as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the school while pursuing his master’s degree, as well as coached the UNI Speech Team. Before returning to UNI to take on his teaching position, Mr. Bredman was working towards a Ph.D. in Rhetoric at the University of Iowa.
Mr. Bredman earned his bachelor’s degree from UNI in 2014, majoring in English Language and Literature. He returned to UNI to pursue his master’s, graduating from their Master of Arts in Communication Studies program in 2016 with an emphasis in Communication Education.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Scott Bredman] My educational and professional background actually starts and ends at UNI. I started at the University of Northern Iowa in the Fall of 2010 as a Vocal Music Education major. Eventually, I found my way into the English Language and Literature program, earning my B.A. in English in 2014. I was still curious about my minor, communication studies, however, and immediately started graduate work, finishing an M.A. in Communication Studies with an emphasis in Communication Education in 2016, with my thesis, “Visualizing Belonging: Deliberation and Identification in the Vestavia Hills Mascot Controversy” receiving an Outstanding Master’s Thesis Award from the UNI Graduate College.
After my M.A., I started work on a Ph.D. in Rhetoric at the University of Iowa, where I studied and taught for a year and a half. After the Fall semester of 2017, I decided the program at the U of I was not the right fit and ultimately decided to leave the program. I recently accepted an instructor position at the University of Northern Iowa, where I am teaching in the same department from which I received my M.A.
[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 the University of Northern Iowa?
[Scott Bredman] During the four years of my undergraduate experience, I struggled to decide what exactly I wanted to do with my life. I knew I had loved choir, speech, and theater during my high school career, so I bounced around programs until I settled on becoming an English teacher. However, during my junior year, I joined the UNI Speech team, and was introduced to the world of communication studies through my work on the team.
Once I had found my love for communication studies, I picked up the area as my minor, switched my major from English teaching to just English, and decided to apply to graduate programs in Communication Studies. Ultimately, I chose the program at the University of Northern Iowa because there were great faculty that I had met but had not yet gotten the chance to learn from. The department at UNI is full of caring professors who are focused on their teaching, but also pump out research that truly impacts the field. I knew I wanted to learn about this area from them.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is UNI’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?
[Scott Bredman] The program has a few emphases: General Communication, Communication Education, Performance Studies, Mass Communication, Organizational Communication, Org Comm – Human Resources, and Public Relations. Students have a choice to take seminars in multiple areas, but are required to take an introduction to graduate studies course, a methods course, a theory course, and courses within their emphasis. To be considered “full-time,” students must take nine credit hours per semester, but the program is also open to part-time student-professionals who have full-time positions elsewhere while working towards their degrees. Students ultimately complete approximately 36 hours of credit before graduation.
The program emphasized theory and research methodology. Along with either a major research project or thesis project, graduate students must complete Theory and Method comprehensive exams during their time in the program in order to graduate. During classes, we were taught to apply theory and our desired methodologies (quantitative, qualitative, rhetorical and even creative/performance methodologies) into our projects, preparing us to apply the concepts we learned to both academic and non-academic/professional projects. One of the true strengths of the MA program in Communication Studies at UNI was the faculty’s dedication to preparing students for whatever path they chose upon graduation, be it entering the private sector or continuing in academia.
[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.)?
[Scott Bredman] My thesis was one of the most time-consuming, difficult, and rewarding things I have ever done. I knew I wanted to do a project using rhetorical research methods but was struggling to find the right topic. During the summer of 2015, public discourse about confederate imagery was abundant, and I started down a rabbit hole of research that ultimately led me to discover the mascot controversy in the school district in Vestavia Hills, Alabama. My advisor, Dr. Ryan McGeough, and I were fascinated by the public deliberation occurring within the community and decided that the deliberation of the community (mostly a special school board meeting that occurred) and these symbols themselves were worthy of rhetorical analysis.
I spent hours studying the images and the discussions and arguments surrounding the images. The process was mostly asking questions about why there were disagreements about what these images mean, both between the community and the rest of the world, and within the community itself. As questions developed, I looked into existing research for answers. I started with recommendations on books to start with, and then scoured the citations of those books for further reference. Then, as I found some answers, I always came up with more questions. Rinse and repeat. Ultimately, I came upon some answers that I thought were worth sharing, and those became the central arguments of the chapters of my thesis. My committee, and Dr. McGeough in particular, were essential in guiding me to existing research, and helping me talk through my questions and arguments until things felt right.
Once the chapters were written and edited and approved, I had to orally defend my thesis in front of my committee. The meeting went on for a few hours, and there were holes poked into my arguments, but ones that I could answer. It was nerve-wracking, but I have never felt as smart as I did when I defended my thesis. The committee decided I passed my defense, with the condition that I fill the holes in my arguments in the manuscript. Dr. McGeough and I went through a few more rounds of edits, and then finally it was complete. There are few feelings that match the joy and pure self-satisfaction that come with turning a thesis manuscript in.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from UNI’s MA in Communication Studies program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Scott Bredman] I think the most obvious experiences from UNI’s MA in Communication Studies program that has been helpful in my career has been the ones related to teaching. Between my employment as a teaching assistant, my communication education courses, and the opportunities given in non-communication education courses that asked students to create a lesson plan and consider how we might teach concepts to students, those are skills I use every day as an instructor. In my brief stint outside of academia, I found those were the most applicable skills to apply to life in the private sector as well.
Besides the teaching experiences, however, the most helpful skills were the skills related to being a good student and researcher. Critical thinking, time management, and good organization were essential for being successful in UNI’s MA program but are also important for all aspects of life. Through critical thought, you begin to make connections between ideas, which helps me find ways to incorporate the latest research into lessons I’ve taught several times before. Time-management and good organizational skills are two of the top skills any major corporation is looking for in their best employees. Though I could explain how theory and method impact my everyday research and teaching, I think those skills are particularly important and applicable no matter which direction my career might take.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the Master of Arts in Communication Studies program at the University of Northern Iowa? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at UNI or another university?
[Scott Bredman] For students starting their MA journey in Communication Studies at UNI, I have a few specific pieces of advice. First, be sure to take advantage of the phenomenal faculty, and not just by taking their classes. The most important learning I did during my time in the program were in faculty offices, where I would work with professors to get to the real questions I had. Second, I would suggest that students try at least one activity or course offered by the performance studies faculty. Not only is UNI a rarity in the field by having a performance studies program and an Interpreters Theatre, but the classes and shows done in the theatre are great for helping you make connections – both cognitively and interpersonally. Finally, I would encourage students to be prepared to start thinking about their projects and comprehensive exams week one, day one. The more you think about all the things you learn in each class as a big puzzle where all the pieces fit together, the more prepared you will be for those big hurdles.
More broadly, if someone is considering starting a master’s in communication program, I would suggest doing a lot more research than you might anticipate to find the right program. I was lucky to find such an amazing fit at UNI, a place I already had spent four years, but I know that my case is not necessarily the norm. Explore the faculty and their interests. Consider a program that not only has your desired emphasis, but one or two others that may be interesting to you or may help with some of the questions you hope to research while in school. I emphasized in communication education, but having a performance studies program turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened to me during my studies.
The final advice I would give potential graduate students is to not take the path of least resistance. Might you have an easier semester taking a class that is “fun” but unrelated to your studies? Sure, but if you take a second or third methods class, you become very marketable, and can have conversations across areas within the discipline. While taking the easy way makes grad school minimally less difficult, putting yourself through a bit more struggle can have huge implications in your professional life for years to come. Just something to think about.
Thank you, Mr. Bredman, for your excellent insights on the University of Northern Iowa’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program!