As an associate professor of strategic communication, I often receive these two questions from students. The first: “Do you offer extra credit?” And the second: “What can I do with a degree in communication?”
The first question has an easy answer: No. But the second question is difficult because a degree in communication prepares you to work for any organization. An organization needs to communicate its value to people who are searching to solve their problems large and small. But not just any communication will do. Powerful communication is needed, and at the risk of sounding like a lecturing professor, I will explain what powerful communication is.
Sender. Message. Receiver. That’s all communication is. If we’re getting fancy, we can discuss strategic communication, which has three objectives: informational objectives such as raising awareness; motivational objectives that relate to changing or reinforcing attitudes; and behavioral objectives or bringing about the desired action.
I can’t think of a better real-world example than what Volodymyr Zelenskyy does on a daily basis.
He holds modern-day fireside chats online every night to inform and raise awareness about the conditions in Ukraine.
He meets with the U.S. Congress, Britain’s Parliament, and Japan’s Diet — to name just a few — to persuade these governing bodies to send more support.
And he did his research to strengthen his persuasive appeals. Pearl Harbor and 9/11 were referenced in the speech to Congress. Shakespeare and Churchill were alluded to in the speech to Parliament. And he empathized with the Diet when he spoke about the dangerous conditions in the Chernobyl nuclear facility.
With heightened awareness and the right people persuaded, desired action in the form of strong sanctions, lifesaving aid and heavy weapons are delivered every day.
So far, I’ve focused on strategic communication. The Communication Department at Central Connecticut State University also offers a major in media studies. And, of course, Zelenskyy was an actor by trade. When he was elected, he was seen as a pushover or somebody with soft skills capable of only posing for photographs or delivering speeches.
The keyword in that last sentence? “Was.” The last few months have demonstrated that “soft skills” is a poor way to describe our strategic communication and media studies majors.
There’s nothing “soft” about what our students are learning to do. What’s soft about raising awareness for social justice issues? What’s soft about persuading people to vote for a candidate who can change their lives for the better? What’s soft about bringing about the desired action of getting heavy weapons delivered to the front lines?
There’s nothing soft about any of that. And mark my words, the fighting will end with the stroke of a pen. (I promise that’s the only “Pen is mightier” reference in this op-ed.)
I hope none of our students ever have to use their skills in a setting with stakes as high as what Zelenskyy has to deal with. But our students majoring in media studies or strategic communication have powerful skills — not soft ones — to make the world a better place.
They can shoot video that tells a beautiful story. They can write and deliver a powerful speech that motivates an audience. They can create likable digital content that educates and entertains.
When I walk around our department, I see a group of students who have persevered through so much, and I’m not just talking about my own courses. It’s been difficult. College in the best of times is not easy for anyone. Throw in a pandemic, and college becomes almost overwhelming.
But our graduating seniors didn’t just persevere. They excelled. They didn’t just step into the ring to meet the challenge. They won.
And their prize from their victory is that they’re equipped with powerful communication skills. I can’t wait to watch them change the world one film, one speech or even one tweet at a time.
That’s what you can do with a degree in communication.
Michael North is a professor in the communication department at Central Connecticut State University.