Subject Areas

Our graduate program is a generalist program. This means that students don’t specialize in any one area but instead take courses across five different interest areas: health communication, organizational communication, public relations, media studies, and rhetorical/cultural studies. 

Generally, we offer one elective course in each area per academic year, and we encourage students to take a variety of classes. Our program is designed to provide students with a well-rounded and robust understanding of Communication Studies as a field; the program is not designed for students to take classes in only one subject area. It is fine to take more classes in one specific subject area than another, but it is not advisable (or possible) to take classes exclusively in one subject area. By the end of their time in the program, students are often drawn to two or three subject areas, and they may focus their capstone project (thesis, directed project, or comprehensive exams) on that area. Below, you will find more information about each subject area.

Health communication examines the role of communication in understanding, promoting and maintaining health. Communication is an essential tool that healthcare professionals use in preventing, diagnosing, managing, and treating illness. It is also through communication that individuals learn what constitutes health and “healthy” behaviors. Students choosing to conduct research in this area may study patient-provider communication, healthcare campaigns, communication in healthcare organizations, interpersonal and family communication about health, mental health, gender, spirituality, disability, and aging. The health communication faculty are Dr. Christine Davis, Dr. Margaret Quinlan, and Dr. Erin Basinger.

Organizational communication focuses on the communication processes and practices of working in an increasingly collaborative, dispersed and culturally complex environment. Courses address a variety of topics including organizational culture, information communication technologies, virtual organization, organizational socialization, non-standard work relationships, and globalized organizations. Through course work in organizational communication, students can achieve mastery in qualitative as well as quantitative approaches. The organizational communication faculty are Dr. Cliff Scott, Dr. Loril Gossett, and Dr. Stephanie Norander.

Public relations is the active attempt to restore and maintain a sense of community by organizations (corporations, CSOs/NGOs, and governments) to encourage and facilitate social harmony for and among the organization’s stakeholders, with the greatest stakeholder being society itself. The public relations faculty are Dr. Dean Kruckeberg, Dr. Alan Freitag, and Dr. Tiffany Gallicano.

The rhetorical/cultural studies area focuses on how texts shape experience, thought, and social relations in cultural contexts. Our faculty take up issues of historical and contemporary concern typically associated with rhetorical and critical-cultural studies, including influence, power, identity, and social change. Example topics in the rhetorical/cultural studies area include African American oratory, rhetorical criticism, sports communication, and rhetoric of social change. The rhetorical/cultural studies faculty are Dr. Jason Black, Dr. Dan Grano, Dr. Richard Leeman, and Dr. Ashli Stokes. 

Media studies focuses on the development and critical analysis of the media as a cultural force. The media studies faculty are Dr. Jon Crane, Dr. Min Jiang, Dr. Bibi Reisdorf, and Dr. Justin Grandinetti.