Communications department must be clearer: communication between students and professors should improve

Communication Studies is a major often chosen by liberal arts students.  For those who don’t know what the major is about, it may seem cushy or just something to do if you don’t really like anything else.

I understand where people who think that are coming from: before I started taking the classes I, too, was one of the people who asked “what the hell are you going to do with a Communication Studies degree after you graduate?”  It turns out the major is more than just “communications,” and is actually dynamic and applicable to “real world life” after college.

I recently heard a few choice words being said about the department, and specifically the capstone seminars that are designed to culminate each student’s major as well as create emphases within the major. But here’s the thing: the Communication Studies classes are some of the most demanding and interesting classes that I’ve taken at Puget Sound.  With all of this work put into a major, you want it to get the recognition it deserves, right?  Right.

In the Communication Studies world there are two primary methodological structures through which one carefully and critically examines human communication: the humanistic and the social-scientific approach. The humanistic approach focuses more on film, television and cultural studies as well as criticism, rhetoric and argumentation.

Social-scientific approach emphasizes theory and qualitative and quantitative methodologies, as well as interpersonal, health and mediated and organizational communication.

One capstone is offered each semester—generally one from each approach during the year.  According to department chair Derek Buescher, these seminars are designed to effectively culminate the major.  Because of this, the department wants to keep the numbers in each seminar small, so they cap the number of students who can participate at 16 for each seminar.  With an average of 30 majors in each graduating class, this cap is designed to accommodate students needing the credits for their major.

Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world and some students this past year have been upset when they have not been able to get into their seminar of choice.

“I think that it’s unfair that the department asks students to plan so far ahead in order to get the seminar that matches your emphasis,” junior communications major Leanne Gan said.

Buescher disagrees, however, believing that the major provides a broad enough experience that there is no need to be confined to one or two specific capstones.

“The major prepares students to take any capstone class and every capstone seminar is designed and delivered to effectively complete any student’s experience in the major,” Buescher said.

Supporting his position is the consideration that Communication Studies students at Puget Sound are not graduate students.  While they may choose an area of focus, they are not going to be doing in-depth research or becoming an expert in a particular field while completing their major. This makes getting a seat in the seminar that falls in line with your emphasis desirable and maybe even ideal, but it is not essential and will not prevent a student from obtaining a high-quality educational experience.

If this is the case (and it is), why then is there a prevailing opinion among students that they need one or two specific seminars to create the education experience that “matches” their expectation?

In part, I think this is because they believe these one or two classes are necessary to complete their education. After talking with Buescher, I would argue that students lack understanding about the seminars, rather than a bump in the educational road being created by the lack of availability of a specific seminar.

In addition, I think that correcting this impression falls on both the Communication Studies Department and on students. The Communication Studies Department needs to be more clear about the objectives of senior seminars and the reasoning behind which ones are offered. Students—particularly ones specializing in communications—have to own the responsibility of seeking information about the system that designs curriculum and schedules classes, and ask questions until a mutual understanding is evident.

Communication is a back-and-forth process—someone has to give and someone has to receive. If you are invested in the Communication Studies department, then it is your job—whether you are a student or a faculty member—to seek information, give information and communicate with each other.