Program Overview

Master of Arts in Applied Communication

Communication knowledge and skills occupy an increasingly central place in the contemporary economy. National surveys of hiring executives consistently rank communication aptitudes such as oral communication, written communication, and group collaboration within the top five qualities expected of job candidates. Managers and leaders across industries and sectors increasingly find communication-related activities play a central role in their professional duties, including engaging collaborative work using online communication technologies.

The Master of Arts in Applied Communication is designed to meet the needs of working professionals seeking critical communication competencies and knowledge to advance within their career fields. Students come to the ACOM program with strong content knowledge in their chosen fields, looking to add to that expertise by developing critical competencies highly valued by employers such as leadership, group collaboration, and working with diverse audiences.

Rather than adapting a traditional MA program to meet the needs of professionally-oriented students, those needs drive every choice behind our dynamic, innovative program. What makes our program different? We are:

Problem Focused
Our curriculum is not designed around courses centrally anchored in the various sub-disciplines of communication studies, such as organizational communication, interpersonal communication, and rhetoric. Rather, our courses draw on research in each of these areas of focus to help students gain a better understanding of how to address communication issues and dynamics that are found in any professional context, such as persuasion, technology, leadership, and diversity. Our goal is to help students understand and translate academic research to help solve key problems and challenges in their professional lives. 

Project Based
We take the "applied" in the name of our program seriously. Students do not work on papers that never see the light of day. Instead, throughout the program, students work on real-world projects designed to make a difference. These projects are not tied to individual classes, but are shared across classes, allowing student work to be more efficient, more engaging, and more impactful.

Cohort Driven
Students work together in cohorts, taking the same classes in the same progression. This both enables students to build meaningful, collaborative relationships, and guarantees that students will be able to finish the program in two years. 

Because our program is entirely online, students are able to make their education work with their busy, professional lives. While our classes are not self-paced, they are all asynchronous. With rare exceptions, we do not ask students to be present online at any specific time (and even in those instances, we make recordings of live sessions available for those who cannot attend). 

Our Approach

Innovative, ProfessionalLY-Oriented Pedagogy

Our courses aim to maximize student opportunities to apply the advanced communication theories and/or skills that they learn in the course to real-world communication problems and challenges. Courses are designed around two primary instructional strategies: case studies and collaborative projects.

Collaborative Projects
In their first year of the program, students work on year-long collaborative projects shared across their courses in applied communication theory, applied communication research methods, consulting and training, and group communication. Working closely with professors in these courses, student groups work as consulting teams to help client organizations solve the communication challenges they face. In the second year of the program, students work in new teams with new clients on capstone projects, in lieu of the theses often required by more traditional programs. Capstone project teams work more independently, in consultation with the program director. Courses in leadership, technology, persuasion, and diversity all inform student work on capstone projects. 

Case Studies
Exploring real-world communication challenges plays a central role in every course students take. In the first year, students study cases where academic research has been applied to address communication problems and challenges. In the second year, students engage in their own translation work, drawing on communication theory and research to engage in analyses of communication issues, showcasing their work for public audiences. 

Shared Design

Our approach to our courses shares more than these applied instructional strategies. Professors work closely with one another to coordinate so that the courses students take in any given semester work together, informing one another and making student work more efficient. For instance, several weeks in COM 501: Applied Communication Theory and COM 502: Applied Communication Research Methods, which students take simultaneously in Fall of Year One, share assignments, encouraging students to explore questions of both theory and method in the same applied research articles in a common discussion board. Year Two courses often allow students to consider the same case from the vantage of each course (e.g., Steve Jobs can be considered both for his leadership approach and the manner in which his insights and innovations have shaped the manner in which we communicate). By working together with one another, we are able to create meaningful, engaging experiences for students that provide depth while maximizing efficiency. 



While students complete a variety of assignments in the coursework, including quizzes, journal entries, blog posts, and discussion boards, the majority of student work focuses on three large projects that unfold over the course of the program: collaborative first-year projects, collaborative capstone projects, and individual professional portfolios.

First-Year Projects

In the first year of the program, student teams work with clients to tackle a variety of communication problems and challenges. These projects are an integral part of year one coursework, serving as the most significant assignment students complete in each of their first four classes. In Fall, student teams prepare project proposals that serve as their final project for COM 501: Applied Communication Theory and COM 502: Applied Communication Research Methods. In these proposals, students explore communication literature to build their expertise and outline a plan for conducting their own research to assess client needs. In Winter, students implement and assess their projects as the central coursework for COM 510: Group Communication and Collaboration and COM 512: Communication Consulting and Training. 

Past First-Year Projects have included: 

  • Creating a toolkit for academic departments interested in pursuing strategic planning.
  • Facilitating dialogue surrounding the development of a community center.
  • Developing member outreach and promotional strategies for a local senior center.
  • Designing a campus outreach strategy for a mental health nonprofit.
  • Facilitating internal and external communication during a planned change in departmental identity.

In the second year of the program, students work in new teams with new clients on new projects. Students' teams begin developing their capstone projects with the completion of a proposal in COM 530: Capstone I, taken in Spring of their first year in the program. Teams then work independently over the course of the next year on their capstone project, with the program director as their capstone advisor, completing three credits of COM 630: Capstone II. Students will have space to work on their capstone projects in their second-year courses (COM 511, COM 620, COM 621, COM 622), using those courses to inform their projects. Projects are typically completed in Spring of the second year in the program. 

Past Capstone Projects have included:

  • Designing a knowledge management system tracking community contributions' municipal planning efforts.
  • Redesigning volunteer recruitment, retention, and management communication for a large child development nonprofit.
  • Creating and conducting social media audits to improve the communication practices of arts-based nonprofit organizations and university departments.
  • Facilitating strategic planning efforts for nonprofit organizations.
professional Portfolios

As a part of both COM 530: Capstone I and COM 630: Capstone II, students complete online professional portfolios. The purpose of these portfolios is to both store and highlight work that students complete as a part of the program, and to serve as a broader communication platform to help further students' professional goals and aspirations. Here are a few examples of the portfolios produced by recent graduates:



Course of Study

Because our program is cohort-based, students are able to complete this 30-credit hour program part-time in just over two years. Students take the same courses, at the same time, facilitating collaborative project work and ensuring that all courses are available when students need to take them. 

Year One

COM 501: Applied Communication Theory (3 credit hours)
Broad overview of the field of communication studies. Students explore the pragmatic application of humanistic and social scientific theories of communication to understand and address significant problems and challenges

COM 502: Applied Communication Research Methods (3 credit hours)
Examination of practical ways to consume and produce research that can be applied in a professional setting. Students learn to foresee problems and make informed decisions by designing and conducting surveys, focus groups, content analyses, and in-depth interviews. Includes basic data analysis techniques and strategies for writing effective reports.

COM 510: Group Communication and Collaboration (3 credit hours)
Examination of theoretical and practical dimensions of group collaboration in synchronous and asynchronous environments. Students gain an advanced understanding of group dynamics, and develop strategies for problem solving and decision making in face-to-face and virtual groups.

COM 512: Communication Consulting and Training (3 credit hours)
Exploration of the principles of applied organizational communication. Students develop a capacity to act as communication consultants for external and internal audiences, and explore advanced training and development strategies. 

COM 530: Capstone I (3 credit hours)
Initiation of year-long capstone projects. Students organize into project teams, develop contracts with partner organizations, conduct initial investigation of central communication issues related to projects, and outline plans for project completion.

Year two

COM 511: Leadership as a Communication Phenomenon (3 credit hours)
Examination of the role communication skills play in effective leadership in professional contexts. Students apply theories of leadership from a variety of fields to case studies drawn from real world contexts, focus on topics such as leadership styles, ethics, theories of management, and learn to understand cultural difference from a leadership perspective.

COM 620: Case Studies in Communication Technologies and Interfaces (3 credit hours)
Investigation of the constitutive role played by technologies and interfaces in shaping meaning, messages and audiences in communication contexts. Students apply theories of communication technology and society to specific case studies focusing on interactions between communication media and their roles in both constraining and enabling messages within given cultural contexts.

COM 621: Case Studies in Persuasion (3 credit hours)
Examination of the relationship between speakers, messages and audiences. Combines theories of persuasion, rhetoric and argumentation with analysis of target audiences to help students use communication skills to solve problems. Case studies explore themes including adapting messages to different audiences, ethics of deception and manipulation, and standards for effective argumentation.

COM 622: Case Studies in Communication, Culture, and Difference (3 credit hours)
Initiation of year-long capstone projects. Students organize into project teams, develop contracts with partner organizations, conduct initial investigation of central communication issues related to projects, and outline plans for project completion.

COM 630: Capstone II (1-3 credit hours*)
Completion of capstone projects. Students implement, assess as appropriate, and reflect on the result of year-long collaborative projects completed in conjunction with partner organizations.

*COM 630 is a variable credit hour course; students must register for their third credit hour in Spring of their second year)