By Alissa Rosen
The School of Journalism and Mass Communication is poised to become the state’s leader in the advancement of professional communication via distance education. On Oct. 25, the Iowa Board of Regents approved SJMC’s new degree: Master of Arts in Strategic Communication.
The program, which will be headquartered in the UI's John and Mary Pappajohn Education Center in Des Moines, combines online and in-class instruction for traditional and non-traditional students. Students will be required to complete 30 credit hours, and registration will open later this fall. All classes will be available online.
“We have as many as 10,000 alumni, and they’re all over the world,” said SJMC director David D. Perlmutter. “We had to figure out a way to serve Iowa and to serve professionals better, to reach them with the best curriculum, but also to go where they are.”
The MA-SC project has been in the works for two years. It will allow professionals from all walks of life, as well as traditional graduate students at the University of Iowa, to take courses in the diverse field of strategic communication, from event planning to crisis communication.
“An important point is, even if some course is having a classroom session, the sessions won’t be restricted to those who are geographically able to make it to the classroom,” said Don McLeese, associate director of online programs and distance education at SJMC.
“I teach classroom sessions in Des Moines, but I have students online accessing those classes from Sioux City, Iowa City and other places,” McLeese said, referring to online graduate-level courses in strategic communication he has been teaching since 2011.
The hybrid program combines instruction in a traditional classroom setting with online teaching. Many courses will be offered online only in a virtual classroom with a professor leading and facilitating the activities. Others will be self-paced, so enrolled students will be able to access material at their convenience.
SJMC already offers a handful of pilot strategic communication courses, and they will become part of the new program, McLeese said. SJMC faculty have been creating other portions of the curriculum from scratch.
Although enrollment isn’t yet open, the buzz about MA-SC is growing. Mike Gerrish, vice president, corporate and marketing communications at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, said several Wellmark employees have taken strategic communication classes through SJMC.
“There are many changes in the health insurance industry that affect peoples’ lives,” Gerrish said. “The ability to deliver clear messages using the right channels is key to our success in a very changing and fluid environment.”
The launch of the MA-SC program was the next logical step for SJMC, said Charles Munro, SJMC associate director of undergraduate studies.
“For this school to have this kind of program, it’s just the next step in what inevitably is going to be the way we educate in college,” Munro said.
“Now we’ve got to the point where the technology offers a classroom-style experience: team projects, breakout groups, opportunities to discuss feedback from the professor, group presentations, and even the ability to bring in guest speakers. It’s all possible now.”
The program was designed by SJMC faculty, staff, alumni and consultants. “From day one we all agreed we want this to be of the highest quality,” explained Perlmutter. “Students in advanced professional MA programs from top universities want the most out of the curriculum and the instructor. They are often paying for classes themselves or using a subsidy from their employer. They maintain very busy work and family lives. You have to give them the best. We think we are.”
SJMC graduate student Natalia Mielczarek contributed to this report.