More individuals are seeking to obtain their degree online from the comfort of their home. At South Dakota State University, the Master of Mass Communication (MMC) program has been the solution for those wanting to advance their degree with flexibility for their job and personal life.
The MMC is a completely online degree designed for working professionals and those who are searching to enhance their mass communication skills. The accredited program is offered in 8-week sessions in a virtual classroom format, allowing for participation from anywhere.
Along with being a four-time winner of SDSU’s Outstanding Online Program Award, the MMC program has received top rankings from OnlineMastersDegrees.org, College Values Online and BestMastersDegrees.com.
The top ranking program has also had top ranking graduates. Two of those graduates, Luci Harrell M.A. ’20 and Thalissa Grant-McClure M.A. ’21, shared their experiences during the program and the skills they gained to accomplish their career goals.
Thalissa Grant-McClure is a 2021 MMC graduate. She received her Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in modern languages from the University of Guyana and her post graduate diploma in education from the University of the West Indies St. Augustine Campus.
Grant-McClure is the public relations officer for the Guyana Post Office Corporations (GPOC). GPOC is a “semi-autonomous agency solely responsible for the movement of letter mail around the country.” In her current position, Grant-McClure is responsible for communicating to internal and external stakeholders, along with informing the public on matters that affect them in doing business with the post-office. Previously, she worked as a high school teacher and media practitioner interchangeably for more than 10 years.
With experience in media, including owning and managing a video production company, Grant-McClure wanted to learn new skills and tools that would help her in her career. She began searching for programs and found the MMC program at SDSU. “I was thrilled to find out that the program was offered virtually, and I did not need to relocate. This was my primary motivation,” stated Grant-McClure. “The fact that the program was ranked very high across universities globally was also an encouraging factor.”
As a mother to three girls, Grant-McClure said the program allowed her to balance family life and working full time. “The flexibility allowed me to be present for my family and contribute not just physically, but emotionally when necessary,” explained Grant-McClure. “I especially loved the fact that it is task oriented and allowed us to work within our schedules to the best of our ability.”
Grant-McClure achieved her goal of gaining the skills and tools needed to get her job done effectively. During the program, she created a strategic communication plan for GPOC, which the Board of Directors accepted immediately. She also utilizes and leverages earned media, a skill she developed in the MMC program, daily.
“I believe that it is an excellent program, it prepares us to dive right into the field and get to work. The information is relevant, and I would recommend anyone interested to join the program,” said Grant-McClure.
Luci Harrell is a 2020 MMC graduate. She received her B.A. in journalism from Georgia State University in 2003 and an advanced graduate certificate in community advocacy from SUNY Empire State College in 2021. She is currently attending Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School and will graduate in 2024.
For the past year, Harrell has been the legal intern at the Policing Alternative & Diversion Initiative in Atlanta (PAD), an initiative focused on harm reduction that is “decriminalizing poverty by providing those who are experiencing quality of life issues with resources – food, shelter, clothing, legal support, mental healthcare, access to needed medications, support groups and recovery services – rather than incarceration.” She also is the program development fellow at Mourning Our Losses, an organization highlighting the moral cost of mass incarceration while honoring the lives of all who die while living or working behind bars, which she helped co-found in 2020.
Her motivation to attend law school came from her own carceral experience and what she learned through years of jailhouse lawyering. Harrell is believed to be the first individual to attend law school while incarcerated in the state of Georgia. “I completely believe in the power of our people to work for, organize and demand change for ourselves,” said Harrell. “…and everything we achieve while incarcerated, like earning degrees, is in spite of being there, not because we are there.”
Harrell flexed her creative writing muscles – and the skill of just knowing how to write – as a jailhouse lawyer. Though she didn’t know she would go to law school at the time she was searching for graduate school opportunities, Harrell knew she wanted to hone her writing skills and brush up on what she had missed in the communications field. “What I needed was to focus on being concise, precise and fact-specific,” explained Harrell. “I need to be able to do quick analyses and deliver short, rich nuggets of information.”
This led her to searching for a program that would help further develop those communication skills. She landed upon SDSU’s MMC program, which is offered completely online. “I found the MMC program after doing tons of research of online master’s programs over several years,” Harrell said. “I narrowed down by curriculum offerings and costs, then really gauged how responsive the folks in these departments were when I reached out … first impressions remain!”
“I wanted it [the program] to be as rich as possible, as close as possible to being in a tight-knit cohort,” Harrell continued. “And it was. It offered tons of flexibility and allowed me to keep a weekly schedule that kept me in a flow.”
The flexibility of faculty and the online program were both beneficial for Harrell. She explained that the physical and emotional stressors of life while incarcerated often interrupted class and study time. She also recalls how attentive and available faculty were. “I remember talking to Dr. Hendricks several times when she was out of state at conferences or on vacation,” said Harrell. “That level of support and professionalism stays with you.”
Harrell said she is glad to be an alumna of the MMC program and SDSU. “I felt that the MMC program challenged me and elicited some of my very best efforts.” Those efforts are being recognized today as an extended version of a piece Harrell wrote for her health journalism course is soon to be published in a major magazine.
Harrell’s final research project in the program, which she has continued for the past two and a half years, focuses on post-incarceration syndrome (PICS), something she understands from experience. “I have just always felt that the key toward abolition is getting people to recognize that prison negatively affects everyone – no matter your educational background, race, gender, socioeconomic status, age, etc.,” said Harrell. “It affects us all, in different ways, but in some specific ‘buckets’ of ways such as sleep problems, exacerbating or bringing about addiction or mental illness, causing antisocial reactions in us that didn’t exist before incarceration and on and on.”
Harrell continued, “That was the hypothesis I set out to prove. But, being tied to my community of other folks who are or have been incarcerated, the one thing I knew for sure was that peer support could mitigate those effects, especially during reentry, and that it’s a no-brainer that those of us with that experience should be the ones driving reentry solutions.”
There are several organizations Harrell remains involved in to continue advocacy efforts for those who are incarcerated. Those include Mourning Our Losses, the Georgia Coalition for Higher Education in Prison (GACHEP), Igniting Hope Georgia, Georgia Freedom Letters, All of Us or None, the National Justice Impact Bar Association (NJIBA), Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People & Families Movement (FICPFM), and Formerly Incarcerated College Graduates Network (FICGN).
Harrell hopes her story and experiences will inspire others. “It held my eyes open wide to injustice I needed to live and experience to believe, and now I can never un-know that, which is why I switched career paths.”
The stories of Harrell and Grant-McClure are some of the many examples of the MMC alumni who have utilized the program to further their careers. “The flexibility of our Master of Mass Communication program provides access and opportunity to a large spectrum of students. Thalissa, Luci and many others have thrived in our online program and are now making an extraordinary difference within their respective professions,” said Joshua Westwick, director of the School of Communication and Journalism.
Applications for the 2022 fall semester are still being accepted. To receive more information on the MMC program, please reach out to the program coordinator, Marina Hendricks.