Helping students succeed: Master of Arts in Communication

As a self-professed late academic bloomer, ASU Online faculty member Deborah Way’s path to a college degree was similar to that of many of her students: nontraditional. She became an adult learner after her son had graduated from college, earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Southern California.

Deborah then transferred to ASU to pursue her doctorate from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. Though she was on campus throughout her collegiate experience, she didn’t feel like the typical student.

“I was the person in class who loved participating and would raise my hand to answer questions while the other students gave me dirty looks,” she says with a laugh. “I love learning and relished the fact that I had an opportunity to go back and get a college degree.”

When Deborah started an assistantship during her doctorate program, she discovered that teaching was something she really enjoyed, too. She stayed on to teach face-to-face classes at ASU and then, after defending her dissertation in 2010, moved to Seattle, where she transitioned to teaching exclusively online.

Over time, she began teaching more courses with ASU Online, and last year was approached by the university about helping to develop and teach some of the courses in the recently launched online Master of Arts in Communication program. Deborah is currently working on designing the graduate-level course for Gender and Communication, one of her most-taught classes at the undergraduate level. The master’s degree is considered terminal, meaning it is the highest degree awarded in the field.

“It’s perfect for those in our undergraduate program who want to continue on, as well as other working adults who are looking for an applied program that will help them advance in their career,” Deborah explains. “Having taught at the undergraduate level for so long, I knew many students who wanted to go on for a master’s degree. But there are so few programs for communications offered online, and even fewer are as highly regarded of a program as what ASU offers. Having the chance to be on the ground floor of the program was really exciting.”

A big part of what sets ASU apart, Deborah says, is the quality of instruction.

“We are dedicated to our students’ success,” she says. “There is a lot of care put into each of the courses. They are straightforward and easy to understand, with no ambiguity. It helps students feel supported.”

A supportive university environment has also made it possible for Deborah to travel internationally while continuing to teach full time. After living in Seattle for nearly five years, she decided to sell most of what she owned, fit everything she needed into one 28-inch suitcase, and fly to Europe. She began in Budapest and spent a year and a half traveling around the continent to cities that included Berlin, Athens, London, and Oslo.

“As long as I had an internet connection, I could work,” she says. “I never once ran into a problem with connectivity. I could work wherever I was staying, but more often would throw my laptop into a backpack and find a coffee shop. Every place had its unique charms and even though Europe is small and countries are in close proximity, each one is so different. It was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot about myself, too.”

With more than 15 years of teaching at ASU under her belt, Deborah has some sound advice for online students who, just like she did, want to make the most of their opportunity to learn.

“Check out the tools that are available to you,” she says, citing the online writing center as an important resource for all students. “Write them down, bookmark them and utilize them. They’re there, they’re free and they’re spectacular. ASU cares about their online students so much and wants you to succeed. Don’t overlook what’s available to you.”

Learn more about ASU Online’s Master of Arts in Communication program.

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