School of Communication to debut new minors in fall 2019

The School of Communication will debut two minors in fall 2019—one in pre-law and one in public diplomacy—and a new minor in polling is under review, according to a college official.  

Student Government Association Communication Studies Commissioner Annie Noel said the minors can benefit students who want to make their major more unique.

“It’s great to have options—especially for communication studies students—to narrow down their focus,” Noel said. “The more minors, the better.”

The curriculum committee—a group that reviews new courses for the college—is reviewing a new polling minor for the second time after the committee raised questions about courses offered during its first review in December 2018. FiveThirtyEight ranked the college’s Polling Society as the second-most accurate college pollster to trust in the nation in 2018.

Department of Communication Studies Chair Gregory Payne said the college is known for its polls—he remembers sitting on an airplane and hearing someone quote an Emerson poll.

“It was crazy. I was on [an] airplane and heard, ‘Well, Emerson College said this…,’” Payne said. “Polling is arguably Emerson’s brightest light at the moment. You turn on Fox or MSNBC, you will see the Emerson Polling group.”

Communication Studies Assistant Professor Spencer Kimball said polling already attracts many students to the college.

“We do our polls on Saturday mornings—any given Saturday morning we have 15 to 18 students [in the Walker building] doing analysis,” Kimball said in an interview. “They are genuinely interested, they are self motivated.”

Kimball said the proposal for the minor will most likely include courses in political polling, statistics, government and politics classes, and presidential politics.

“Polling is slightly different than survey research,” Payne said. “Polling is specifically for politics, more specifically electoral politics—so if a student is to get a minor in polling, they have to understand the political system.”

The polling minor would require math classes, and Payne said students are interested in math despite the college’s anti-math stereotype.

“When I first came to Emerson, the joke was that you come to Emerson if you don’t like to do math,” Payne said. “I think we have proven that people come to Emerson and want to do math very well.”

Payne said growing student interest in different political fields led the college to establish a public diplomacy minor.

“We found a lot of students who are turned off to the political system and want to effect change in their own way,” Payne said. “Emerson has a long history of public diplomacy—we probably have eight to ten diplomats working at embassies around the world.”

Payne said the public diplomacy program could distinguish itself from other college programs because of the school’s niche in communications since 1880.

“Our focus is not on crunching data, our focus is on communicating that data,” Payne said. “Do we use social media, radio, or corporate leaders? We focus on the aspect of storytelling and getting the message out.”

Noel said she also sees a relationship between communication and public diplomacy at the college.

“I think diplomacy is an important skill,” Noel said. “It’s another option for students to apply their communication skills in a more direct way. They can feel like they come out of Emerson with something unique, something more than a communication studies degree.”

The department also approved the new pre-law minor to address the trend of college alumni going into law fields after they graduate, Payne said.

“What we found was that more and more of our students were getting into pre-law, so that [minor] will begin in the fall,” Payne said. “They say, ‘Forget politics—I’ll go into law.’”

Freshman Grace Koh said her mom recently suggested she should attend law school after graduation.

“[My mom] said that since I’m a journalism major and don’t know what will happen [with the industry], I should have a backup plan and go to law school,” Koh said. “I thought, ‘I haven’t done any pre-law, so how will I get into law school?’ But if the college has a pre-law minor, that might be possible.”

In addition to the two new minors, the School of Communication will rename and restructure the radio minor for fall 2019. It will now act as a podcasting, radio, and streaming media minor.

“There is growing interest in podcasting and streaming, so we redid the radio minor,” Payne said. “It is of interest to sports communication, Esports, and public diplomacy students because many countries just use radio. I think it will eventually evolve into a major.”

Kimball said he would be interested in collaborating with other departments like Marketing or Journalism to expand the kinds of classes students can take. There are prerequisites to take data visualization classes in the Journalism Department, but Kimball hopes to create a subsection of that course so students in other majors could enroll.

“It is not going to be for everyone at the college, but there are students interested in political marketing, business marketing, and market research,” Payne said. “Even journalism students can better understand how political polls work because they will be reporting on them. To me, this is all very valuable, not just for the practitioner, but also the journalist or consumer. ”

Payne said he predicts the polling minor could potentially become a major at the college.

He also said data from a recent study shows the department should expand its faculty.

“Our self-study shows that we have to hire new professors,” Payne said. “We have had an increase in numbers [since 2013]. We are adding affiliated faculty. We like to have people connected to the industry.”

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