New programs connect to communication changes

Students have a myriad of social media choices, and this fall at GCU they'll also have a variety of new bachelor's degree programs in Social Media, Professional Writing and Communications.

By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau

Communication continues to evolve as technology has changed − not just in mainstream media but how information is disseminated in many fields.

“It’s not the same as it was,” said Grand Canyon University Provost Dr. Hank Radda. “What do you do with social media? How do you create short videos to tell stories? How do you tell stories in different mediums? These programs are all touching on those questions in various ways.”

GCU has added several new academic programs to prepare students for those changes, starting in the fall semester:

  • Bachelor’s degree in Social Media in the College of Fine Arts and Production
  • Bachelor’s in Professional Writing for New Media in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Three new emphases in Communications in CHSS – Broadcasting and New Media, Interpersonal Communications and Human Relationships, and Political Campaigns

Social Media

Sheila Schumacher

“Content creation” is often used to describe the work in this field, said Sheila Schumacher, who will oversee the Social Media degree in her role as Director of Digital Design Programs.

Students with a foundation in graphic design will learn tools to create content via artwork, animation and copy, how to use social media data analytics, and which social media channels to utilize, including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, TikTok and “whatever will come next,” Schumacher said.

“It’s a skillset based around time – social media is fast. Students are going to be nimble, innovative and problem solving because oftentimes they are a kind of a one-man band.”

Social media was once an add-on job to other duties, but no more. It’s now so important in many industries that it takes a dedicated full-time employee or entire department.

“All of our industries that employ our students are utilizing social media now to grow their businesses,” she said.

It was a perfect fit for Emma Schertz of Omaha, Nebraska, who is enrolled to start at GCU in the fall.

“It’s almost like the new business major,” she said. “In this day and age, everyone needs a social media team.”

Emma Schertz

The high school senior is on the yearbook staff and wants to broaden her interest in design and marketing.

“Growing up in the generation I did obviously gives me a push in that direction,” she said. “People my age are used to change and figuring out ways to maneuver the internet and social media.”

Social media’s influence during the political and cultural strife and public health crisis of the past year led to much discussion of disinformation and ethics. Schumacher said she wants to prepare GCU students to be level-headed, empathetic and ethical in the field.

“It is important that students understand the dynamics of disinformation and the difference between content protected by the First Amendment and content that is protected by the Federal Trade Commission,” she said.

The classes that will explore the dynamics of communication are conducted in a Christian institution where students can talk freely about truth from a spiritual standpoint, said Schumacher, who wants GCU students to be the voice of reason at the table.

“How do you behave as a person of honesty and a person of truth, which is our goal,” she said. “The person we are trying to influence who believes in honesty is going to be beneficial in a divisive world of anger.”

The adjustments in the industry will continue, especially after a society-altering event such as a pandemic, and students will be ready.

“This degree offers a new energy to the design department, and it’s very much in sync with where technology is now, so it should be a lot of fun,” Schumacher said.

Professional Writing for New Media

Kimbel Westerson

The bachelor’s degree has expanded the offerings in professional writing that were previously an English degree emphasis.

CHSS leaders consulted with industry professionals to understand what students need to be competitive in the field once they graduate. They found that excellent proofreading, editing and software skills were prized, said Kimbel Westerson, a CHSS instructor.

So there are crossovers to design department courses to learn such areas as creating in Adobe Creative Cloud software, which many employers are asking for today.

Graduates will be prepared for jobs that range from corporate communications and public relations to grant writing and journalism.

“This has been building over the last few years, just recognizing and needing people out there to tell powerful stories,” Westerson said. “That’s what writers are is storytellers.

“I think there is a need out there for stories that are not only true but positive. That is something that GCU students are unique in what they seek out.”

She said GCU students often volunteer at food banks and neighborhood housing projects “and they want to tell those stories.”


Dr. Matt Nolen

The three new emphases have common focus: How media engages in the culture and how to be creative to get your message out there, said Dr. Matt Nolen, a Communications instructor in CHSS.

Each emphasis is interdisciplinary, drawing from expertise in fields outside communications.

For example, Political Campaigns students will learn about political theory.

“Our students and culture struggle with articulating ideas in the political realm,” Nolen said. “Communication majors are naturally very active people, so let’s capitalize on that. Let’s equip them with the skills on how to engage in that sphere and with healthy public discourse.”

In the Interpersonal Communications emphasis, students will pick up material from sociology on healthy communication or building workplace collaboration. They will dive deep into speech communication and using effective communication to build business leadership skills.

In Broadcasting and New Media, students will cross into COFAP for a course on digital video production.

The emphasis for those interested in mass communications and media will analyze mainstream and social media and also give students practical skills for the job market, among them how to create effective press releases and podcasts or pitch a news story.

“We see that media is changing, and students are interested in that change,” Nolen said.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.


Related content:

GCU Today: GCU initiative aims to make campus discourse civil

GCU Today: Faculty Focus: Kimbel Westerson

GCU Today: Faculty Focus: Sheila Schumacher


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