Starting last semester, communication studies students at the University of Rhode Island have the option to choose a focus area to help add structure and coherence to an increasingly diverse curriculum.

Prior to last semester, the communications major had a wide variety of classes with no particular focus areas. Communications students have over 75 classes to choose from with topics such as Great American Speeches, Health Communications and the Rhetoric of Sports in Film.

Former communication studies Department Chair, Dr. Kevin Mcclure, led the focus area, or tracks, idea for the major.

“Tracks provide the students and advisers with areas of emphasis that allow students to make important course work decisions and tailor the major according to their professional goals,” said Mcclure. “We had a vast array of electives and the focus areas brings some order to the chaos.”

According to the current Department Chair, Dr. Norbert Mundorf, there are approximately 650 majors in communication studies alone.

“Communication has many different aspects, catering to student interests, civic engagement and professional options,” Mundorf said. “These tracks will give students guidance which sequence of courses might be advantageous given their interests, goals and backgrounds.”  

Communication majors are able to choose from the following focus areas: public communication and persuasion; media studies and production; intercultural and interpersonal communication; organizational and professional communication; and science, environmental and health communication.

Mundorf explained that students do not have to follow a specific track if they prefer to go a different route. “Communication studies and the Harrington School of Communication and Media allow for a wide range of coursework and internships, and we hope to give every student the ability to realize their own potential.”

To fulfill a focus, students may select three courses within each area, not including the core courses that all communication majors have to take.

“Communication students typically tend to follow a track anyways,” said Mcclure. “These focus areas help students better articulate what they want to do.”

Mcclure says that because the program is so new, there has yet to be a most popular focus area. It will most likely gain traction within a few years as incoming freshmen know what they want to do.

Focus areas allow the department to market the program by providing prospective students with a better understanding with what the major has to offer.

“It helps to define what communication studies is for students, when so many do not really know what we study and teach,” said Mcclure.

The communication major in general prepares students with knowledge, abilities and experiences needed to succeed in virtually any field. Unlike other fields, the class sizes are generally small with fewer than 30 students. Regardless of what communication studies students decide to do, advisors, professors and staff are available to advise and support them.