Jun 25, 2024  
Rensselaer Catalog 2015-2016 
Rensselaer Catalog 2015-2016 [Archived Catalog]

Communication and Media

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Acting Head: Tamar Gordon

Director, Graduate Program in Communication and Media: Ekaterina Haskins

Department Home Page: http://www.cm.rpi.edu/

The Department of Communication and Media is an internationally recognized center for interdisciplinary education, research, and theory development. The department’s programs span areas including Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), composition and writing, computer-mediated communication (CMC),  graphics and visual communication, literature and cultural studies, rhetoric, and technical communication.

The department offers four undergraduate degrees. The first, a B.S. in Communication offers general studies in communication. Also offered is a B.S. in Communication with a Concentration in Graphic Design.This program prepares students for professional practice and graduate study in creative problem solving for print and electronic media. The B.S. in Electronic Media, Arts, and Communication (EMAC) prepares students to be creative problem solvers, critical thinkers, team leaders, and entrepreneurs. The B.S. in Information Technology and Web Science (ITWS) with Communication as the Second Discipline is offered in cooperation with the program in Information Technology and Web Science. For more information about any of these programs, please visit http://www.cm.rpi.edu/pl/undergraduate.

The department also offers a Ph.D. and three M.S. degrees. The Ph.D. in Communication and Rhetoric has a unique focus on communication in technologically mediated contexts. With the M.S. in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), students can take a unique approach to human-computer interaction centered in communication. Also offered is one of the oldest technical communication degrees in the nation, the M.S. in Technical Communication. This program enables students to gain design skills that have obsolescence and the capacity to generate content for several electronically based communication media. Finally, the M.S. in Communication and Rhetoric prepares students for applied research in industry or government, or for further study in a doctoral program. For information about graduate study in Communication and Media, please visit http://www.cm.rpi.edu/pl/graduate.

The growing need for people who understand the new communication technologies and their impact on society and individuals creates a demand for all Communication and Media program graduates. B.S. graduates seek employment in fields related to graphic/communication design, communication technology and technical communication, multimedia design and production, and careers in the emerging Internet technologies. The M.S. graduates pursue careers as information architects, Web designers, multimedia specialists, graphic designers, electronic communication specialists, technical communicators, usability engineers, and instructional interface designers. The M.S. programs also provide a foundation for doctoral study. Ph.D. graduates find careers in business and government and in academia.


Research Innovations and Initiatives

In research, the department’s mission is to develop and assess new understandings of how people create and manage their social and professional worlds through the mediation of symbol systems and communication technologies. The major thrusts of department research are described below.

Communication and Technology
Research in this area focuses on technologically mediated communication, design of human-computer interactions, information technologies in community development and networking, and technical and professional communication practices.

Rhetoric, Culture, and Communication Technology
Specific research projects in this area include cultural studies of film, photography, advertising, and cyberspace; rhetorical theory and analysis, with particular emphasis on digital, visual, and cultural rhetoric; and language in collaborative design work. Also underway is research in cultural rhetoric, which includes ethnographic studies of themed cultural environments.

Media Design and Theory
Design of hypermedia text and artwork, writing for print and digital media, visual communication and design, and the integration of visual with verbal code are current areas of research in this category.

Research Facilities
To support these programs, Communication and Media maintains a variety of research-centered laboratories and facilities.

Center for Communication Practices This free-consulation service, located on the first floor of the Folsom Library, offers to all Rensselaer students one-on-one feedback as they draft written, oral, and electronic communication products. Additional information about the Center’s resources (including on-line publications) can be accessed on its Web site at http://www.ccp.rpi.edu/.

Seminar Room Located in the heart of the department, the Seminar Room in Sage 4304 provides facilities for small group and seminar interaction with colleagues at a distance. It supports Web conferencing, video-streaming, and teleconferencing.

Media Classroom Located in Sage 4711, the Media Classroom provides a facility to support display and control of high-quality film and video.

VAST Lab (Visualization, Animation, and Simulation Technology)  Located in Sage 2411, the VAST Lab is an advanced digital imaging lab consisting of 26 high-end PCs running a full complement of digital imaging and animation software. 


Undergraduate Programs

Undergraduate programs in Communication and Media provide students with the multidisciplinary education that is essential for leadership in an “information society,” a society that is continuously being transformed by new communication processes and technologies. Building on Rensselaer’s strong technological infrastructure, these programs offer students hands-on education in new communication technologies and theoretical frameworks in order to understand and shape the cultural impact of these technologies. Our programs prepare students for advanced study of communication or for employment in the fields related to communication technology, technical communication, graphic design, or multimedia production.

Undergraduates in our programs may use some of their elective credits to complete a Certificate in Communication Design.

Outcomes of the Undergraduate Curriculum
Students who successfully complete this program will be able to demonstrate:

  • an ability to design and conduct research using empirical data, theory, and secondary sources.
  • an ability to define and explain key disciplinary concepts.
  • an ability to use key disciplinary frameworks or principles to interpret or analyze written, visual, or multimedia text, or social/cultural phenomenon.
  • an ability to use both traditional & digital technology to create a visual image or text that conveys a concept, creates aesthetic effect, or serves practical function for audience.

Minor Programs

Students in all undergraduate degree level programs are strongly advised to develop a minor in a compatible field of interest. Participation in an internship or co-op is also recommended to allow students to gain professional work experience.

The Department of Communication and Media offers a selection of minors, all of which require at least 16 credit hours.

Graduate Programs

The Department of Communication and Media addresses the communcative processes by which humans construct and share meaning in all media including the new electronic media.  It is a multidisciplinary scholarly community embracing literacy study, speech communication, composition and rhetoric, media studies, visual design, human-computer interaction, and technical communication.

More than a dozen faculty are involved in graduate education. They comprise a large, diverse, yet integrated community dedicated to teaching and mentoring graduate students. They make an exceptionally strong contribution to research in communication in technologically mediated contexts through an active program of publication in a variety of fields and in the production of artistic media. They are also successful in securing external funding for their work. Recent research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Society for Technical Communication, the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, the Elsevier Foundation, and the California HIV/AIDS Program (IDEA Grant). At last count, Communication and Media faculty had won over 30 awards including numerous fellowships, awards for best articles, visiting professorships, and professional society awards. They come from such organizations as the National Science Foundation, College Art Association, the Fulbright Program, the Game Developer’s Conference, the IEEE Professional Communication Society, the International Visual Literacy Association, the National Communication Association, the Popular Culture Association, the Rhetoric Society of America, and the Society for Technical Communication.

Currently, the Department of Communication and Media’s graduate programs consist of three master’s level degree programs, a Ph.D. in Communication and Rhetoric, and two certificate programs.

Doctoral Program

The mission of the Ph.D. in Communication and Rhetoric is to enable students to make a contribution with rigor, depth, and creativity on issues related to Communication in Technologically Mediated Contexts.

For almost 40 years, department graduates have been the leaders in the study of the relationship between communication and technology. As new forms of technologically mediated communication emerge, research and scholarship are needed to describe their nature and account for their unique effects. We are uniquely positioned to provide an environment for graduate study in communication in technologically mediated contexts. We combine the resources of a premier technological university with a faculty strongly grounded in theory and research as well as technology and media.

The key to the Ph.D. in Communication and Rhetoric is its multidisciplinary nature. Our program draws from numerous disciplines across the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts. Students in the Ph.D. in Communication and Rhetoric take advantage of this multidisciplinary base to design dissertation projects that are both innovative and rich. In the Ph.D. program in Communication and Rhetoric, all students complete a two-course core, two methods courses, and at least three graduate seminars. Students may also take up to three application courses in areas such as graphics, human-computer interaction, hypermedia, Web design and development, or writing. With this structure, our program is highly tailored to the individual career goals of each student. Students who join the Communication and Media community are expected to become active researchers and scholars. All students must have at least four public presentations, publications or grant proposals prior to completing the degree.

Ph.D. students also have numerous opportunities to further their teaching. All students teach under the direction of a faculty supervisor. The department values professional service and offers graduate students opportunities to undertake important service obligations to the department and community. Students are supported through teaching and/or research assistantships. Ph.D. students are also very competitive for university-level fellowships. 

The Ph.D. in Communication and Rhetoric requires satisfactory completion of 90 credit hours beyond the bachelor’s degree, which includes an appropriate master’s degree, which will be counted as 30 of the required 90 credit hours. After completion of an appropriate master’s degree, students are required to take 36 credit hours of course work at Rensselaer. Some Plans of Study may require additional course work beyond this 36-credit-hour minimum, typically not to exceed 42 credits. More information about this program can be found at http://www.cm.rpi.edu/pl/phd-communication-rhetoric-647.

Special Graduate Opportunities

Certificate Programs  The Department of Communication and Media offers two specialization certificates, one in Graphics and the other in Human-Computer Interaction, as options in the master’s programs, though additional courses over the 10-course minimum required for the M.S. degree may be required to pursue either certificate, if certificate courses are not listed as part of the M.S. core curriculum.

Cooperative Education Participation in the Cooperative Education Program is encouraged as part of the departmental degree offerings. The intent of co-op is to provide a full-time, career-related work experience that will enhance students’ knowledge and skills in their chosen professional field. Students who accept co-op assignments typically work from one to two terms (one of which must be an academic semester) prior to graduation. As a result, it is not uncommon for co-op participants to extend their graduation date.

Since graduate funding may be forfeited in any semester (not including summer) during which students are away from campus and unable to fulfill Teaching Assistant (T.A.) or Research Assistant (R.A.) duties, funded students should discuss their situation with their adviser and with the department’s Graduate Programs Coordinator before accepting a co-op position.

Before accepting a co-op assignment, graduate students must have completed the core requirement of a graduate writing course or Foundations of HCI Usability (COMM 6820), one additional Communication and Media course (such as COMM 6530, Communication Research I), and have matriculated in the department as a graduate student for at least one semester.

Students may continue their education while on assignment by registering for Communication Studies (COMM 6940), or they may petition the department’s M.S. or Ph.D. Policy Committees to take credits elsewhere. While working on co-op, students will also be registered for Co-op Industrial Assignment and will be considered full-time, regular students.

Please note that international students with an F1 visa must receive permission to work from the Cooperative Education and International Student Services offices to fulfill Immigration and Naturalization Service requirements.

Course Descriptions 

Courses related to all Communication and Media curricula are described in the Course Descriptions section of this catalog under the department codes COMM, LANG, LITR, or WRIT.

Faculty *


Odell, C. L.Ph.D. (University of Michigan); composition theory and research; integrating visual and verbal information; writing in nonacademic settings; writing in engineering; rethinking “literacy”; education reform.  

Search, P.M.A. (Goddard College); visual design theory and practice; interaction design and multimediate art; computer animation and hypermedia interface design; indigenous knowledge and interaction design; multiliteracy models for intercultural communication.

Whitburn, M.Ph.D. (University of Iowa); history and teaching of technical communication; history of rhetoric; rhetoric bibliography; history of English studies.

Zappen, J. P.Ph.D. (University of Missouri); contemporary rhetorical theory; digital rhetoric/digital media; design and implementation of community information systems.

Professor of Practice

Grice, R.Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); information usability; human-computer interaction; communicating on the WWW; usability testing and evaluation; analysis of interactive interfaces; effective teaching and learning in the virtual classroom; designing the total user experience.

Associate Professors

Bennett, A.M.F.A. (Yale University); theory and research on the design of images for culturally-specific and cross-cultural communication across different media.

Deery, J.D.Phil. (Oxford University); media studies; television and new media; advertising and culture; popular culture; utopian literature; literature and science. 

Esrock, E. J.Ph.D. (New York University); cognitive/neuropsychological approaches to literature and visual art; visual culture; theory and history of photography; literary theory; modern and contemporary literature; women writers.

Gordon, T.Ph.D. (University of California-Berkeley); religion and media; ethnographic methods; discourse analysis; documentary theory; visual culture; themed environments; South Pacific and U.S.

Haskins, E.Ph.D. (University of Iowa);  rhetorical theory and history; visual rhetoric; rhetorics of public memory and national identity.

Sheldon, L.—M.F.A. (California Institute of the Arts);  writing and designing commercial and serious video games; alternate reality games; virtual worlds and interactive media; designing classes as games; television and film writing and production; mystery writing.

Assistant Professor

Rouse, R.—Ph.D. (Georgia Institute of Technology); digital technology in performance, augmented and mixed reality experience design, media in museums and at cultural heritage sites.

Zhou, Y.—Ph.D. (University of Missouri—Kansas City); applied linguistics and educational linguistics, narrative-based, game-enhanced Chinese learning, learning English/Chinese as a second/foreign language.


Dentz, S.—Ph.D. (University of Utah); creative writing, 20th and 21st century American literature, European and American Modernism, and interdisciplinary focus on the relation between word and image.

Lewis, B.Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); composition theory and research; writing center theory and research; theory and practice of peer tutoring; writing in disciplines across the curriculum; especially in engineering design.

Lynch, M.Ph.D. (University of Connecticut); interactive storytelling, especially the design of better game world and story world characters through the use of appropriate cognitive architectures; artificial intelligence (AI) in games, including in the emerging areas of social intelligence, conversational agents, and the modeling of emotion in non-player characters; game design/development; the history and culture of games.

Miyamoto, P.M.F.A. (Otis Art Institute); visual communication design theory and practice; exploration of paint-based medium as an expressive art form.

Spina-Caza, L.—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); effects of moving activity from physical to virtual environments, gender differences in physical and virtual play, video game design, film and video production.

Yue, J.—M.A. (Beijing Language and Culture University); Chinese linguistics and pedagogy, second language acquisition, Chinese character evolution, grammar instruction.

Professor Emeritus (Active)

Halloran, S.M.Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); memory studies; the role of museums and historical artifacts in preserving collective memory; historical sites as sites of rhetorical education and citizen formation; rhetorical tradition(s) in the United States.

*Departmental faculty listings are accurate as of the date generated for inclusion in this catalog. For the most up-to-date listing of faculty positions including end-of-year promotions, please refer to the Faculty Roster Section of this catalog which is current of the May 2014 Board of Trustees meeting.






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