About Sarah Tanner: Sarah Tanner is a Communications and Media Relations Specialist who owns her own public relations consulting business. She has had extensive experience in designing and implementing promotional and public relations campaigns, including working across diverse media forms. Prior to her current work, Ms. Tanner earned her Master of Arts in Communication Arts from the University of the Incarnate Word, where she also worked as a Public Relations and Content Creation Assistant for the Office of Communications and Brand Marketing, an Athletic Marketing Graduate Assistant, and a Department of Communication Arts Student Assistant. She also taught numerous undergraduate courses as a Teaching Assistant for the University of the Incarnate Word’s undergraduate Communication Arts program. Since graduating, Ms. Tanner has specialized in creating compelling multimedia content that tells a story and helps achieve organizational missions.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background? What motivated you to earn your Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Communication Arts at the University of the Incarnate Word, and how did these degrees combine to give you optimal professional preparation? Could you describe your position as a Public Relations and Content Creation Assistant and an Athletic Marketing Graduate Assistant for the University of the Incarnate Word? What type of role are you seeking currently?
[Ms. Tanner] I completed both my Bachelor and Master programs in Communication Arts at the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW). I am originally from a suburb outside of Boston, Massachusetts, and I decided to move to San Antonio to attend UIW to be a part of their synchronized swimming team. Synchronized swimming is a rare sport, and UIW has one of the top-ranked Division I programs in the United States. Having been a competitive synchronized swimmer for most of my life, my initial motivations for attending university were mostly athletically driven. However, after my first semester of classes in Communication Arts, my focus began to shift and I started to dive in deeper to my studies and to my passion of cultivating quality communication.
UIW gave me the opportunity to complete my degrees at an extremely accelerated pace. I finished my BA in Communication Arts in three years, and my MA in one year following. During my time as an undergraduate, I gained an extensive amount of knowledge in Communication Studies and had numerous outside-of-the classroom work experiences. My diverse undergraduate experiences inspired me to stay in San Antonio to pursue a Master’s degree. My mentor and faculty advisor, Dr. Trey Guinn, opened my eyes to the many opportunities and advantages to receiving a Masters at UIW. He paved the way for me to find assistantships that would help alleviate the financial burden of an additional university degree while also providing me with real work experience to prepare me for life after graduation.
My first assistantship was for the UIW Athletic Marketing department. I mostly worked at their athletic events, serving as in-crowd talent and ensuring that the entertainment pieces of the athletic events ran smoothly. Following that assistantship, I worked in the Office of Communications and Brand Marketing as a Public Relations and Content Creation assistant. My work here was mostly writing based, producing press releases, generating content for our school fundraising magazine, editing university messages, and researching potential communication strategies to help our university grow.
In addition to these jobs, I also was a Teaching Assistant for two undergraduate courses, Nonverbal Communication and Introduction to Mass Communication. Here, I gained an inside look into professorship and what really goes into course content. I also had the opportunity to work with students directly on their written and verbal communication skills.
After graduating in December 2019, I moved back to Boston and am currently seeking a full-time position in corporate communications as a Media Relations or Communications Specialist. I have a passion for cultivating messaging that produces results and tells a story. In addition to working in the corporate sector, I am also exploring opportunities to serve as an adjunct professor in Communication Studies. I really enjoyed my TA experiences and think that it could be an excellent way to enhance my craft and help other students’ grow their passions. Currently, I am working freelance as a Communications Consultant where I assist small businesses and non-profits with their external communication needs, helping them to navigate modern communication tools.
[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?
[Ms. Tanner] I decided to pursue my Master’s degree at the University of the Incarnate Word because I wanted to elevate my education and my work experience. When I finished with my undergraduate studies, I felt like I had many different potential career paths, and I was unsure in which direction to go. I knew that having a Master’s degree would set me apart from other job applicants, but I also knew that it was going to be a challenge to financially support myself with different entry-level jobs while in grad school. At UIW, there are many graduate assistantship jobs that are available to graduate students which can alleviate tuition costs while providing in-house work experience. To me, I felt that was exactly what I needed. I was able to explore multiple different types of jobs in the communications sphere while getting my school paid for and prioritizing my studies.
I knew that I wanted work in a corporate communications role, so during my time in graduate school I was really seeking to hone my writing and critical thinking skills. I wanted to be able to seamlessly blend my creative ideas into practical yet strong campaigns and messaging. In addition, UIW heavily emphasized learning fundamental communication theories and directly applying them to our work and studies. Having this higher level educational experience sharpened all of my communication skills and prepared me for the work I always aspired to do.
[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?
[Ms. Tanner] The UIW Communication Master’s program is comprised of 36 credit hours. There are four core courses to be taken in the first semesters of the program. Then, nearing the conclusion of your degree, you must take a mastery course dedicated to your thesis or capstone project. Besides those mandatory courses, it is up to the student to fill the remaining 21 hours with electives that best suit his or her goals.
After the completion of my core credits, I geared my studies toward classes that I knew would help my career goals. Some of these courses were: Strategic Communication, Media Writing, Communication Studies, and Interpersonal Communication. In addition, I had the opportunity to take different courses, such as Race and Gender Communication Studies, which allowed me to learn more about different topics that I may not have had the opportunity to explore. I think that this freedom to pick the majority of your graduate courses really sets the UIW Masters of Communication program apart from others. Your time in the program is truly what you make of it and you have the support from the faculty to grow into whatever you want.
A major takeaway from my Master’s degree that I use often in my work is my mental approach to writing. In my first semester of grad school, I took one of our core courses, Writing and Research Techniques, which really taught me to take ownership and pride over what I write. Throughout my time as an undergrad, I found myself getting a bit lost in my writing. Having to write many papers for school and producing a lot of written pieces for work, I started to develop a hypercritical inefficient writing style.
In Writing and Research Techniques, my professor taught our class to write in a way that was meaningful for us. Instead of focusing on making our work perfect, he taught us to make our work our own. I learned to set myself up for success when I write, to eliminate my distractions and to draw connections from something I may find boring in order to make it more relatable. Writing and Research Techniques helped me to break these poor writing habits I had developed and enhanced my story telling approach that I use very often in my work today.
[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)?
[Ms. Tanner] My Capstone presentation was one of my proudest moments as a student. At UIW, there is a biyearly event called Meet the Masters, where graduates present their Thesis and Capstone projects to faculty, family and friends. It was a nerve-wracking experience, but to look out in a room full of people who have supported me since my first semester as an undergraduate freshman year was an incredibly special moment. It’s a feeling that I will never forget, and it’s something that I wish for all other Masters of Communication students to experience.
The title of my Capstone project was “PR with a Purpose- An innovative student-run public relations agency.” I created a public relations agency comprised of UIW students to assist in the external communications work for other student organizations, local small businesses, and non-profits. The students could gain work experience and connections in the community, while local organizations could gain free, quality communications work. PR with a Purpose ran very similarly to a PR agency and gave students tangible work to add to their portfolios. I chose Dr. Trey Guinn to be the faculty chair for my Capstone. He greatly supported me in my project journey and connected me to high-level PR executives in town who gave great insight that I needed to escalate my project. In addition to supporting the research side of my Capstone, Dr. Guinn aided me with the presentation and helped me to utilize my story telling skills to create a presentation that was informative yet captivating to the audience.
I would advise all Master of Communication students to find a capstone or thesis project that is something that you truly enjoy. If you dread working on it, odds are it’s probably not the best project for you. I really fell upon my project. I bounced around with many different ideas, but then, I realized that I had been doing PR with a Purpose all along. I had been working in Public Relations and talking to students about working in the field and guiding them toward work opportunities. It was the perfect collaboration of a project that has greatly assisted me in my next chapter. Today, PR with a Purpose inspired me to start my own Communications Consulting small business. Seeing that I could create an organization like that for a group of students motivated me to go out on my own and publicize my services to help community organizations.
[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?
[Ms. Tanner] I have learned many technical skills from my time in the UIW Communications Master’s program. From improving my verbal, written and critical thinking skills, to enhancing my video production abilities, to learning more about the latest social media and marketing software, to expanding my professional network, I have been exposed to a wide array of opportunities that have escalated my educational experience. Although there were many tangible skills that I have either improved or acquired, I think my greatest takeaway from the program is this sense of empowerment in myself and in my work. Having a Master’s degree is no easy feat, but it is an incredibly rewarding challenge that has empowered me to promote myself and fight for higher level job opportunities that truly excite me. I feel thoroughly prepared for the professional world after completing this secondary degree, and I am far more confident in my skills and talents.
[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?
[Ms. Tanner] There are a lot of factors to consider prior to starting a Master of Arts program in Communication. First and foremost, I would recommend finding your why. Why do you want a Master of Arts in Communication? In my first meeting with my faculty advisor, he asked me, “So why do you want to receive your MA in Communication Arts here at UIW?” After contemplating and eventually finding the answer to my why, I was able to discover a plan that fit my needs and goals and develop actions step to accomplish them. I think entering a Master’s program with specific goals in mind will help students to find focus and greater meaning in what they study.
When applying to programs, I would take the time to explore all that each school has to offer and see what connections the university may have to jobs in your field. I know that the entrance requirements differ between universities, so for prospective applicants, be sure to have all required materials prepared and completed well. In addition, during your undergraduate studies, take advantage of all opportunities that come along your way in the communications field. Being a part of extracurricular organizations or having internships that relate to the program of study will make your application stand out and universities want you in their classes.
If I had to give advice to students starting their Master’s program, I would say to live in the moment and find joy in what you’re studying. The first semester can be overwhelming and it will be a challenge, but if you take it day by day and remember your why, you will be successful. As did many of my fellow classmates, I had three jobs in addition to being a graduate student, so I understand the struggle of having a hectic schedule. I learned that if you stay regimented and committed to your studies, then you will achieve the results you want.
Completing my Masters of Arts in Communication at the University of the Incarnate Word was one of the best decisions I made. I highly recommend anyone interested in pursuing a Master’s degree to take a chance and go for it. You truly have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Thank you, Ms. Tanner, for your excellent insight into the University of the Incarnate Word’s Master of Arts in Communication Arts program!