By Rachel Stengel
Three students will be the first to receive their master of arts in business communication from Rider this December, a little more than a year after the program began last September.
Rider’s program is unusual because it combines both communication and business courses, which not many colleges do, according to Dr. AJ Moore, associate professor of journalism and one of the professors who teaches in the master’s program.
“There are other programs, which use euphemisms,” Moore said. “They’ll call themselves professional communication or corporate communication, but in reality those are just communication classes. We’re really what we say we are — business communication, where you’re learning communication, but you’re also learning important business skills.”
Another distinct feature of the program is the “four-plus-one” aspect. It allows current Rider undergraduate seniors with high GPAs to begin taking one graduate class in their last semester in order to receive their degree in one year.
“We’ve planned ahead so that a student who is graduating from Rider, say this May, can finish this program in one year if they take a full load, which is typically nine credits a semester and the summer sessions,” said Dr. Pamela Brown, chair of the Department of Communication and Journalism, which houses the master’s program.
According to Brown, the idea for a master’s of business communication program had been in the works for many years.
A faculty committee under the leadership of Brown developed the current version of the program over the past two to three years. Members include: Moore; Dr. Sheena Howard, assistant professor of communication; Dr. David Dewberry, assistant professor of communication; Dr. Yun Xia, associate professor of communication; and Dr. Bosah Ebo, professor of communication. Dr. Nancy Wiencek and Dr. Allison Weidhaas have recently joined as professors within the program.
To build the curriculum, Brown and the committee contacted both alumni who had been working for a while, and executives in major corporations, to get information about “what was being sought in the marketplace.” They wanted to focus on the areas of communication that were most important in an organizational setting, Brown said.
“In every case it was the sort of thing we anticipated,” Brown said. “It was about writing, speaking, being able to communicate effectively in small group settings and meetings in particular. One of their big complaints is that they’re getting young employees who want to do all their communicating electronically. Decisions aren’t made that way. They’re made in meetings.”
Moore agreed with Brown, stating that communication is essential in any job.
“All businesses — I don’t care what kind they are — want people who can communicate better,” Moore said.
The curriculum has five main areas of focus: professional development, global insights, leadership and teamwork, business foundation and a capstone course. The courses include Business Presentation Strategies, Strategic Business Writing, Effective Group Communication, Economic Analysis and Project Management, among others. These classes were developed so that the department could create a program that would “be the most directly transferrable to lots of different business settings,” according to Brown.
“It’s a very practical degree in the sense that it’s connected to enhancing one’s value in the job marketplace,” Brown said. “It also has a strong theoretical component. Pretty much all the courses have a mix of theory, application and assessment of the transfer of information to practical settings.”
Stacy Schlags,’09, works full time as a meeting coordinator for The Electrochemical Society, an international nonprofit organization. She feels that the courses are beneficial because they cover a variety of topics. She also enjoys the seminar-sized classes.
“We talk about research, visual aids, press releases and speeches,” she said. “I like the classes on the graduate level because they’re much more discussion-based. It isn’t just homework assignments here and there. I can relate to the topics very easily because of my job. When the professor asks us to participate, I can fill in with examples because I work and can relate it to my own life.”
Kim Cameron, assistant to the director for the Center for International Education, is set to graduate in spring 2015. She found many of the classes relevant to her work experience as well.
“I really enjoyed the multicultural workplaces class because I work in a multicultural environment,” Cameron said. “I also enjoyed the business presentations class because I do a lot of presentations to students, faculty, and parents, so that helped improve my skills.”
Moore described the students currently enrolled in the program as motivated. He said that while some undergraduates may feel like their schooling is a requirement and they are pushed into college, graduate students understand the gravity of their education.
“They want to learn, and it’s a changing marketplace,” Moore said. “The graduate students say, ‘OK, now I understand why I’m doing the work. It’s to better me and my career chances.’”
Brown said students who pursue this degree should be strong communicators.
“You have to be a person who already has some skill at speaking, at writing and some understanding of the types of topics we cover in a bachelor’s degree in communication; that’s a foundation,” Brown said. “This is polishing, enhancing, strengthening, introducing new kinds of concerns that will challenge those skills, and finding ways to meet those challenges.”
Schlags fits Brown’s description, as she received her bachelor’s in public relations. She believes that the program will help her excel in her current job.
“I’ve never taken business classes before, so I thought this would be a perfect mixture of business and communication,” Schlags said. “It wasn’t too intimidating, like an MBA program would be, since all my undergraduate classes were communication. I think, nowadays, everyone has a bachelor’s, so it’ll really stick out on my résumé.”
Brown’s overall goal for the program is to establish a reputation that includes high standards. She wants to keep the program no larger than 50 students in order to keep small class sizes and only choose the best students.
“If you have a master of arts in business communication from Rider, it means something, which is why we’re being very particular about whom we accept,” Brown said. “We’re much more interested in reputation than in numbers.”
Applications are currently being considered for spring, and as the program continues, Moore hopes to see certain students pursue the program.
“I hope we have a combination of the undergrads taking advantage of the four-plus-one option and what it has to offer, as well as recent grads, who didn’t think graduate school was something that they wanted,” he said. “They’ve worked for a few years and understand how valuable it will be, and come back to our program.”
Brown hopes that those who receive their master’s from the program, especially the first group of graduates, Qiaoling Guan, Di Zhang and Qingfen Zhou, exude the skills that they’ve acquired during their time at Rider.
“I think, for me, the main thing is that anyone who leaves this program with our master’s is a top employee when they are hired and they reflect the kinds of skills and areas of knowledge that we’ve emphasized,” she said.