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Mastering the Art of Professional Communication

A new online master's program helps communication professionals advance their careers

​​​​​Versatile, effective communication skills are must-haves in today’s workplace, and keeping current with communication trends is particularly important for communication professionals. However, many workers who would like to continue their education for career advancement and personal fulfillment simply don’t have the time. For that reason, the College of Communication has launched a master’s degree program that is accessible to just about everyone.  
Associate Professor Matt Ragas is founding director of the Master’s in Professional Communication degree program, a new, one-year course of study taught largely online.  “We have a curriculum at the intersection of strategic communication and organizational communication,” Ragas explains. “We have classes focused on internal communication and employee engagement. We also have classes focused on fundamentals that we hear are so important—writing and content creation. We also are really proud that we’re one of the first graduate communication programs out there to have a dedicated class on diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.” 
Associate Professor Michaela Winchatz, associate dean of faculty and academic affairs whose job includes curriculum development, recalls the process of developing the fully online MA degree. “We wanted an interdisciplinary curriculum, so we had faculty from communication studies, organizational communication, journalism, public relations and advertising, and media and cinema studies coming together to figure out what this new degree would look like.”  
The group also conducted focus groups with industry professionals, many of whom were in Fortune 500 companies, to understand what competencies they wanted their employees to have. “They talked to us not only about the skills they wanted, but some of the things that we were already doing very well that they wanted to see us (continue) or emphasize in this new program,” she adds. 
The master’s program also addresses the needs of chief communication officers, giving students on a rising career path a better idea of the challenges and opportunities they will face in this role. Students also will complete a final project that addresses a real-world communication challenge. The inaugural corporate partners for this final phase are Zeno Group, for advertising and public relations, and Shure, for podcasting and other electronic media. The nonprofit partner is Future Founders, which works to empower youth entrepreneurs, especially women and people of color. 
Students have a chance to meet and network with their classmates, professors, alumni and industry leaders from numerous Chicago-based organizations during optional, weekend residencies in Chicago at the beginning and end of the program. 
Ragas and Winchatz agree that the content of this new master’s program is on the leading edge of where professional communication is moving as a field. As Ragas puts it, “The development and launch of this program really shows our college and the university at its finest.”  
To learn more about the program, click here. 
Originally published in Conversations (Winter 2022).