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Hussman School to launch new political communication certificate next fall

Carroll Hall is pictured on Oct. 13, 2022.

The Hussman School of Journalism and Media will be launching a new certificate program in Political Communication next fall. 

The program will consist of a four-course sequence, culminating in a semester-long internship in Washington, D.C. Students enrolled in the Hussman School are able to apply for the certificate starting in the fall 2024 semester. Faculty are expecting to welcome a cohort of 15-20 students to the program in the fall, with the potential to expand.

“I think in the course of just the last few years, we've built up a really amazing alumni network of people working in D.C.,” Daniel Kreiss, the Edgar T. Cato distinguished professor, who is involved in the program, said. “So, it became very natural to then ask the question of ‘what's next?’”

Some faculty members involved said the creation of the program was driven by a high demand among students for political communication courses. Kreiss, who teaches MEJO 537: The Washington Experience, said he often keeps waitlists for the class more than a year in advance.

The first course in the sequence, offered during the fall semester, will be an introduction to political communication that will cover how policymakers and candidates use media, how media has changed and how that affects campaigns, legislative efforts and public opinion, Kreiss said.

The second course, offered in the spring, will be called Public Issues in the Platform Era and is a renamed version of MEJO 244: Talk Politics, which has been offered by the Hussman School in past years and will be taught by Professor Shannon McGregor this spring.

McGregor said the course aims to familiarize students with the political communication process from strategic communication to reporting on political campaigns. Students who enroll in Talk Politics in the upcoming spring semester will receive credit toward the new course in the certificate program.

The Washington Experience will become a capstone course and the third leg of the certificate program. In the course, 16 students participate in a semester-long campaign simulation in which they take on the roles of campaign strategists or journalists covering a simulated congressional race.

"So [it’s] giving you very hands on campaign experience to the extent that we can do it through this simulation where they're actually covering a campaign on a weekly basis as they would be doing if they were in DC."

During fall break, the class travels with Kreiss to Washington, DC, where they meet with alumni and professionals in all facets of the political communication industry.

As with “Talk Politics,” students who have already taken the course are able to count it as credit toward the certificate program. Kreiss said offering multiple sections is possible if demand for the certificate program exceeds course availability and if faculty availability permits.

Students completing the certificate will partake in a full-time internship in Washington, D.C. during the spring semester as the final part of the program. The internship, along with an online practicum course once a week, will count toward a full semester of credits at UNC.

“I think it’s going to benefit the students in terms of making them more competitive on the job market and more prepared for the jobs that they're going to want to be applying for when they finish,” McGregor said.

McGregor, who will be teaching the practicum course and traveling once a month to meet with students completing their internships in D.C, said the program is partnering with The Washington Center to assist students in funding the experience. 

Kreiss said political communication courses attract students from both the journalism and advertising and public relations concentrations and sees the program as a way to bring students together from across both areas of study.

Micah Mangot, a first-year political science major considering pursuing a career in political communication, said she was anticipating having to stitch together her own curriculum under the communication major. For Mangot, the launch of this program is a motivating factor to apply to the Hussman School.

“I am excited,” she said. “I didn’t realize we were even close to having a program like that.”

The certificate program was approved on May 30 by the Academic Policy Committee. Senior associate dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs Heidi Hennink-Kaminski said a third faculty member is being hired who will teach courses in the certificate under the title of Associate Professor for Race and Political Communication.

The Hussman School currently has four certificate programs: Business Journalism, Sports Communication, Health Communication and Marketing and a new Fashion Communication and Marketing Certificate that was launched this fall.

“This is a thing that really unites my previous work, my research and my teaching,” McGregor said. “I'm just really excited that we have this streamlined now for a way that we can share that all with the students who are interested in it.”

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