New Mexico Tech Piloting Master’s In Public Engagement In Science, Communication

NMT News:

SOCORRO — Public engagement, storytelling with data, science writing, design thinking, documentation, and client project management – all are topics that will be covered in courses included in a new master’s degree to be offered at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (New Mexico Tech) (NMT)) starting this fall.

The master’s degree in Public Engagement in Science, Design, and Communication is aimed at both writers and scientists seeking to improve their communication skills and apply the academic knowledge they gain in the program in professional settings.

The need for New Mexico Tech’s latest addition to its array of graduate degree programs exists, according to Elisabeth Kramer-Simpson, Ph.D., associate professor of technical communication and chair of Tech’s Department of Communication, Liberal Arts, and Social Sciences (CLASS), which encompasses fields across the humanities and social sciences such as history, psychology, English, technical communication, the arts, and Spanish.

The new master’s offering is a cross-disciplinary program but will be housed within CLASS.

“Communication specialists are becoming more in demand,” Kramer-Simpson said. “There’s a need for our program.”

One aspect of the program helps technical professionals become better communicators. Kramer-Simpson said that often engineers or scientists who move into managerial positions discover that they need to enhance and build on their communications skills to become more effective administrators, executives, or directors. 

Another aspect of the program helps communications professionals in a variety of settings expand their repertoire of skills they can draw upon for different assignments. 

“There’s a broad audience for this – sometimes it’s people communicating technical information who have more of a technical communication or English background,” she said. “Sometimes it’s to help STEM professionals at the management level — if they’re very trained in engineering or science but looking to add a communication component to their job.”

The program’s required courses and four electives are scheduled for fall semester 2022. Courses that comprise the master’s degree in Engagement in Science, Design, and Communication will cover topics as diverse as such as user experience (UX) — how a person using a product, system, or service interacts with and experiences it – risk and crisis communication, persuasive communication, and grant writing – all aspects of technical communication, although the program is much broader than a master’s degree in technical communication. 

“It’s not just writing, it’s writing and design and science and technology, usability, and user experience,” she said. “There’s a graphic design component as well.”

One class included in the program is being offered by Nick Kelly during spring semester 2022 – “Communication, Product, and Experience Design” – with an asynchronous option with six students being piloted. Kramer-Simpson said the program especially targets nontraditional students, an area of potential expansion for New Mexico Tech.

Many classes will be offered in a hybrid format, allowing for distance learning – which is likely to appeal to students working during the day and taking classes in the evenings. Most classes, however, will be offered in a “face-to-face” setting when possible, she said.

New Mexico Tech is actively recruiting students for the fall semester with marketing efforts as well as with word of mouth. CLASS staff members held a virtual information session this spring, with the assistance from technical communication alumni who are employed at Sandia Labs, Los Alamos National Labs, the Air Force, Presbyterian, and other major employers. Many companies offer tuition assistance for their employees seeking to improve their skills and knowledge with master’s degrees, which helps encourage students to enroll in a master’s program.

“There’s all sorts of reasons for people to seek out advanced degrees – different motivations,” she said. “It’s for working professionals as well as for people looking to add to their bachelor’s with a master’s. We’re hoping to grow in that area.”

Tameka Huff of Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque said the program’s user experience emphasis will equip technical communications professionals with sought-after UX skills and help bring local talent to her company.

“There are no other local UX degree programs in Albuquerque and surrounding areas,” she said. “This program will provide necessary skills in user experience, including visual design, applied research, and elective coursework such as programming.” 

Students enrolled in the new master’s program will have multiple pathways to advanced degree: 

  • They can go the “fast year” route with two required classes and one elective for two semesters, three remaining electives in an additional semester plus thesis work in the summer; and
  • They can spread their coursework over five semesters – six credits each semester – with the thesis in the final, fifth semester. 

Students also have options regarding their thesis; they are able to complete a traditional academic thesis or an experiential learning project conducted within their workplace.

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