About Megan Diaz: Megan Diaz is an Outreach Specialist for the Ascender program at Austin Community College (ACC), which is a mentorship and academic support program for first-year students at ACC. As an Outreach Specialist, she oversees campaigns to promote the Ascender program, including web content, social media, and events and multimedia presentations. She also handles communications with individual students enrolled or interested in the Ascender program, and advocates for the core Ascender mission of cultivating student confidence and supporting underprivileged students across racial, gender, and cultural lines. Ms. Diaz earned both her Bachelor of Arts and her Master of Arts in Communication Arts from the University of the Incarnate Word.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background? Where did you earn your bachelor’s degree, and what motivated you to return to school for your Master of Arts in Communication Arts? May we have more information about your past and current work history and how it fit alongside your work on your MA degree?
[Megan Diaz] I attended University of the Incarnate Word from 2012-2017, where I graduated with both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Communication Arts. Luckily enough, when I enrolled in this area of study, I quickly learned that the department was offering an Accelerated Bachelor’s to Master’s (ABM) program, where a student could take graduate classes near the end of their undergraduate curriculum, and expedite their graduation by earning two degrees at once. This was too good of an opportunity to pass up–an opportunity I initially had no plan on completing–so I decided to move forward and enroll in the program.
After graduation, it took me five long months to find my first professional job, which was with the University of Texas at Austin in the Latino Studies department. I received a position as the Administrative Associate, which really didn’t align with my degrees, but it was a job and I was ready to get my foot in the door! Soon after, I realized it was neither my passion nor the career for me, so I started looking (again) for another position soon after. Finally, I found my current position with Austin Community College, where I serve as an Outreach Specialist for a program called Ascender. And with this position, I’m using my education, more than ever! My whole capstone was centered on non-profit organizations (NPOs), and the program I currently work for is an NPO.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue your Master of Arts in Communication Arts at the University of the Incarnate Word? What were your professional goals, and how did you see the Master of Arts program at UIW meeting them optimally?
[Megan Diaz] I decided to pursue my MA in Communication Arts mostly because it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I figured, “I’m already in school, I’m already devoted to the time and work, so why not?” I also loved learning and wasn’t quite ready to end my educational journey. I wanted to challenge myself to attain as much as possible. My professional goal during college was to work for a non-profit organization (NPO), where I could use my degree for either event coordinating, social media/marketing campaigning, public relations, etc. I wasn’t entirely sure at the time what it was that I wanted to do for an NPO, but I knew I wanted to help and give back to a charitable mission. I’ve always been fascinated with communication, and it’s something I had thought was always one of my strengths, so I wanted to develop that skill I had.
Initially, I was a Biology/Pre-Pharmacy major when I first started at UIW, but near the end of my freshman year I realized that was not for me, by any means! I had a friend who was a sophomore and was majoring in Communication Arts, and after she had told me about the program and introduced me to some of the faculty, I was sold! I knew that would be the major for me, no doubt. Immediately, I became happier and “more at home” with changing my degree plan.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is the University of the Incarnate Word’s Master of Arts in Communication Arts 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?
[Megan Diaz] UIW’s Communication Arts graduate program had a wonderful structure–they first included an “orientation” class where students could meet all of the Communication Arts faculty, they focused on explaining and differentiating a thesis versus a capstone, and then students would gradually start selecting electives and completing core classes. Then in the final year, we would start solely focusing on our capstone or thesis. As an undergrad, I was able to complete approximately 4 graduate classes, so I had a nice, gradual introduction to the graduate portion, where it didn’t overwhelm or stress me.
I learned such great skills and strategies in my graduate classes that will forever be beneficial to me; one of the first skills I acquired through the program, though it may seem very simple and basic, is the Communication Model, that demonstrates how a sender needs to deliver their message, and the ways in which the receiver both interprets and responds to that message. I realized then, and even still recognize it now, that it was vital for me to learn this fundamental rule because this would help me determine how to create my message and avoid any sort of “noise” or interruptions. It taught me how to build the “right” message for particular target audiences and what to avoid including in those messages. Additionally, learning the practices of public speaking was by far one of the best takeaways from the program (thanks to the great Dr. Guinn!), as this is something I do quite often in my career. I’m constantly creating presentations and delivering them to an array of audiences, so mastering how to develop these presentations and successfully producing my message in an effective and efficient way has brought me far. My public speaking skill is combined with knowing how to captivate my audience, which ties into the communication model aforementioned.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience completing your final capstone project? What communication issue or challenge did you explore, and what was the structure of your capstone project? What advice would you give current and future students of UIW’s Master of Arts in Communication Arts regarding the successful completion of their capstone project (or thesis)?
[Megan Diaz] When I was working on completing my capstone, it was both a rewarding and tiring experience! I decided to intern with a non-profit organization that focused on child abuse and neglect, by working on all of their digital media resources, such as their website, social media, and publications (brochures and flyers). I did research on the various ways having a website and social media could boost their numbers of volunteers, donors, collaborators, and even patients. I revamped their entire website and Facebook, as well as added an Instagram account for the organization. Furthermore, I recreated their brochure and flyers (their marketing materials) to give it a more “up to date” look.
I faced a few challenges throughout this capstone; in particular, learning how to build and design a website, since that was my first time really delving into something like this. Moreover, it was also a challenge to convince my internship supervisor to allow me to redesign the website, because they were comfortable with what had already existed. But after consistent communication and examples (and patience!), I was able to then convince them to alter the website.
So, while working on all of their media, I would take progress photos as each improvement was made (for the website, social media, and the publications), write about my experiences and progression, and include different theories (such as Jurgen Habermas’ theory) that solidified and further substantiated why these changes were essential. I then presented my work to the faculty committee and to other graduate student candidates, and demonstrated the beginning and ending products, which ultimately the NPO was very pleased with. My capstone was/is extremely applicable to my line of work today, as it has helped show me that the relevance of media is vital to the survival of an NPO (the program I work under is considered an NPO, as well).
My best advice to any graduate student would be just that: try as much as possible to align their thesis/capstone to their ideal career, and make sure it’s intertwined with what they are passionate about. If you don’t love what you do or are going to do, there’s a chance it may not work out as great as you hoped. Because of my capstone, I was able to achieve that “real-life experience” and it really gave me an idea of what I wanted to do, and what I was good at doing.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from UIW’s Master of Arts in Communication Arts program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Megan Diaz] One of the class electives I enrolled in for UIW’s Master of Arts in Communication Arts program was a Latino Studies class, which most certainly prepared me for my career path today! Though I’m a Hispanic woman, that class provided me with such plentiful knowledge that I’m able to use today, where 90% of the students I work with are Latinx students. So, unbeknownst to me, that helped me immensely with how to understand, respect, and communicate with that demographic.
In addition, my study abroad semester was one of the most impactful experiences I had with this program, easily! Not only because it was a fun and memorable time, but also because being in a whole different country/countries provided me with a new reality to witness–the reality that other people and cultures are different, including their communicative elements, from words and sentence structure to intonation and gestures/body language. I had to learn to adapt to other people, and even how to communicate like them (as much as possible). It goes back to the communication model of how words and expressions should be delivered and received, and the program threw me out there to live that; I was able to witness how cultures communicate, how body language differs, etc.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the Master of Arts in Communication Arts at the University of the Incarnate Word? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at UIW or another university?
[Megan Diaz] A piece of advice to students starting a master’s program would be to enroll in a class that is out of your comfort zone. Although you may not know what to expect, you might be pleasantly surprised with what you learn and can take more away from that class. For instance, I registered for an International Film class; aside from the obvious title, I didn’t know what it would entail, but it sounded like something different and neat. However, that is still one of the most fun and interesting classes I have ever taken! It broadened my horizons, and I believe that is something that every student should do, because that is what “learning” is: opening yourself up to something that you have no clue about.
Thank you, Megan Diaz, for your excellent insight into the University of the Incarnate Word’s Master of Arts in Communication Arts program!