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Political Communication MA Offers Best of Both Worlds

Pollster Geoff Garin speaks with Political Communication students after guest lecturing on using polling in strategic campaign planning.

After years of students criss-crossing the American University quad to take advantage of classes in both School of Communication and the School of Public Affairs, last August the two launched a new MA program in Political Communication. The program hit a milestone earlier this month by graduating its first student. Merging the strengths of the two schools, communication and politics, the new program is designed for students who want to pursue the field of political communication in depth.

MA student Annie Gawkowski says that “the best thing about the Political Communication program is that the skills that I am learning in the classroom are a practice for what I will someday be doing in the workplace. Whether it's putting together a campaign plan, writing about political campaigns or thinking strategically about messaging, all of the work that I do is a prequel for when I begin my career in politics. My political beliefs and my ability to express them are constantly challenged.”

The 36 credit program includes 12 credits in Government (including the popular Campaign Management Institute), 12 credits in Communication (including Theory, Research and Strategic Principles), 9 credits in electives from either school and a capstone which encourages students to drill down into a topic which really intrigues them.

The first semester included a Proseminar with top professors from both schools discussing the ongoing 2010 midterm elections through the prism of their own disciplines. It introduced students to the key concepts of the field and acquainted them with each other as a cohort.

The sessions began with an overview of issues in Political Polls with SOC Executive-in-Residence Dotty Lynch, and the impact of the Citizens United case on campaign funding of the 2010 midterms with CCPS James Thurber. SOC’s Lenny Steinhorn deconstructed political advertising and Jennifer Lawless, head of the Women and Politics Institute, used her new book on women and ambition, “It Still Takes a Candidate" as a springboard to discuss women running for office. SPA’s Candy Nelson offered her article on “The Myth of the Independent Voter” a topic which became key when analyzing the election results. The seminar ended the week following the election with speechwriter Bob Lehrman examining political rhetoric.

Students are also taking classes in speechwriting and voting behavior and have heard from many communication experts outside of AU including media consultant Mandy Grunwald, CBS News White House producer Rob Hendin, Census Bureau Communication Director Steve Jost and Porter Novelli managing director Kiki McLean.

One of the strong points of the program is allowing students to choose from a variety of electives in both schools. According to Carmen Drummond, the weekend workshops at the Women and Politics Institute gave her "the knowledge and willpower to believe in my abilities to succeed in running for office someday. It is a truly enriching experience incorporating academic and practical.”

For those who want careers as communication directors, political pollsters, media consultants, public affairs specialists or who want to run for office themselves the program offers the theoretical underpinnings and the cutting edge tools to hit the ground running. All courses demonstrate how new technologies are integrated into the political process and there are a specific electives on social media and visual strategies. In 2012 a new course will be offered in Political Advertising, an area in which 3 billion was spent in the 2010 election. Prospective students may apply through either the School of Communication or the School of Public Affairs at American University.