Jul 18, 2024  
Rensselaer Catalog 2019-2020 
Rensselaer Catalog 2019-2020 [Archived Catalog]

Communication and Media

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Department Head, Communication and Media: June Deery 
Director, Graduate Program in Communication and Media: Tamar Gordon
Director, Center for Global Communication+Design: Patricia Search
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 composition and writing, media, graphics and visual communication, literature and cultural studies, rhetoric, and technical communication.

The department offers the following undergraduate degrees:

  • B.S. in Communication, Media, and Design (COMD): Explicitly integrates verbal and visual analysis and production to learn complementary disciplines and technologies. The program focuses on strategic and creative writing; media theory; and design (graphic, interactive, multisensory, and mixed-reality).
  • B.S. in Communication (COMM): Offers general studies in communication. This program prepares students for professional practice and graduate study. 
  • B.S. in Electronic Media, Arts, and Communication (EMAC): Prepares students to be creative problem solvers, critical thinkers, team leaders, and entrepreneurs.

The department also offers Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Communication and Rhetoric. The M.S. in Communication and Rhetoric prepares students for applied research in industry or government or for further study in a doctoral program. 

The growing need for people who understand 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 and communication design, communication technology, technical communication, multimedia design and production, and careers in Internet-based technologies. 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. Ph.D. graduates find careers in business, government, and 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.

Undergraduate Programs

Undergraduate programs in Communication and Media provide students with the multidisciplinary education that is essential for leadership in an information-based society, a society that is continuously being transformed by new communication processes and technologies. Building on Rensselaer’s technological infrastructure, these programs offer students experiential education in communication technologies and theoretical frameworks in order to understand and shape their impact on culture. 

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 and digital technology to create a visual image or text that conveys a concept, creates aesthetic effect, or serves a practical function for an 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:

  • Chinese Language
  • Graphic Design
  • Interactive Media/Data Design
  • Media and Culture
  • Strategic Communication
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Literature and Creative Writing
  • Professional Writing

Graduate Programs

The Department of Communication and Media addresses the communicative 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.

The Department of Communication and Media faculty 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 an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Communication and Rhetoric.

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. The department is uniquely positioned to provide an environment for graduate study in communication in technologically mediated contexts. It combines 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. This program draws from numerous disciplines across the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts. Students in this program 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, Directed Research, and at least one course outside of the department’s offerings. Students may also take electives in areas such as graphics, human-computer interaction, hypermedia, Web design and development, or writing. With this structure, the 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. Prior to completion of the degree, program requirements include submitted, peer-reviewed professional presentation and writing and attendance at one grant-writing workshop.

Ph.D. students also have numerous opportunities to further their teaching. 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 the 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. More information about this program can be found at http://www.cm.rpi.edu/pl/phd-communication-rhetoric-647.

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, WRIT, and occasionally IHSS.

Faculty *


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

Kimball, M.—Ph.D. (University of Kentucky); technical writing; information design; graphic design; digital humanities; the history of data visualization.

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

Suckling, M.—Ph.D. (Newcastle University); storytelling for games, game narrative design, narrative systems within games, professional writing techniques, processes and approaches within the games industry.

Associate Professors

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.

Assistant Professors

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

Senior Lecturers

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.


Jeansonne, C.—Ph.D. (The Ohio State University); media studies; film; television; media pedagogy; video production; American popular culture.

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

Ran, W.— Ph.D. (Washington State University); media multitasking; media effects on public health (e.g. sexual health, drug abuse, and nutrition); persuasion in health campaigns; entertainment education.

Seeley, S. —Ph.D. (Binghamton University); writing pedagogy; sociolinguistics; language ideology; ethnographic theory and method.

Skye, A.—Ph.D. (State University of New York at Albany); literature; creative writing.

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.

Tack, S.—M.F.A (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); graphic design theory and practice; typography; design history.

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.

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.  

*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 2019 Board of Trustees meeting.






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