What is a communication degree, and what can you do with it?”

I recall my father asking me this very question when I was an undergraduate in 2001. I am currently in my fourth year here at Missouri Southern State as an assistant professor in the Department of Communication, and many questions about what you can do in the field of communication still remain!

While our department does teach the oral communication course as a core requirement, communication is more than learning principles in public speaking and oral presentations. One area of focus in our communication department is public relations. Misunderstandings about public relations often include a perception that the field is concerned with “spin” and even deception, but this is contrary to the foundational principles of PR.

For example, my research focus is in public relations and strategic communication, which often involves multi-stakeholder engagement around contentious issues. When faced with a heated issue, dialogic communication and PR strategies emphasize the need to understand the varying perspectives of those involved prior to coming to conclusions concerning the particular issue.

A relationship-centered dialogic approach to communication also stresses the need for a supportive climate, concern for one another, reciprocity, equality and a mutually beneficial relationship for those involved. A dialogical approach aids in understanding the key people or groups that impact an organization, both internal and external to the organization. These principles of stakeholder relations go beyond a public relations campaign strategy and can be applied in everyday problem solving and critical thinking.

I have utilized this approach to inform our curriculum in courses such as the communication course for the Yours to Lose pre-med students here at MSSU. This course weaves together nonverbal, strategic, health and oral communication concepts to provide students with a better understanding of how to create better dialogue with patients in their future medical careers.

The communication field provides an array of exciting career opportunities for our students. With my communication bachelor’s degree, I went on to work in media advertising sales, new business development at an advertising agency, the nonprofit sector, and marketing before returning to graduate school to earn a master’s in organizational communication and a Ph.D. in public relations/strategic communication.

Apart from the job titles, in the field of communication, students learn creative strategies and tactics to manage complex issues that are not easily solved. Difficult issues should begin with conversations that model mutual respect, understanding and a goal of relationship-building, before the problem “spins” out of control!