By EMILY HOLLINGSWORTH & RACHEL MANNING
The English, Linguistics and Communication department released its newest major, Communication and Digital Studies this semester, making UMW the first school in the state of Virginia to create a major combining the two disciplines.
According to Anand Rao, Speaking Center director and associate professor of communication, the major was created in part due to student demand, as students have created special communication majors for years.
The major was announced spring 2015 and became available for students to pursue at the beginning of this semester.
The digital studies component, Rao said, gives students a practical way to communicate in the 21st century using technology while also being grounded in the liberal arts.
“It’s a major that builds on strengths that [UMW] already has,” Rao said.
The 36-credit major requires 15 Communication credits, nine Digital Studies credits and 12 electives. Some of the electives cover unusual topics, including ART 454’s “Approaches to Video Art,” COMM 357’s “Social Media” and ENGL 386’s “The Graphic Novel,” allowing students to concentrate their major in specific fields.
The course list online puts classes in bold font that are hosted online or in the evenings to include non-traditional students who may not have time during the day to go to class.
In addition, the program integrates technology already used in other UMW departments, including Domain of One’s Own, UMW Blogs and ThinkLab.
For the social media class, Rao has his students maintain an Instagram account, called “insideumw.” The account has 1,200 followers. The class has also promoted events on campus, such as the Multicultural Fair.
“[Students] get to practice their major and benefit the campus community,” Rao said. While social media is an important component of the major, Elizabeth Johnson-Young, assistant professor in the English, Linguistics and Communication department, says the major balances both digital and liberal arts.
“What we are doing is not necessarily teaching people how to use social media, but learning more about what the implications are, thinking about target audiences, thinking about ways to communicate with their audience through a particular means,” Johnson-Young said.
The major spreads across different departments in addition to spreading between digital and liberal arts. Most of the classes, according to Rao, take place at the ITCC and Combs Hall. However, for some of the classes, they require going to other buildings, including Melchers Hall. Rao believes this interdisciplinary focus will make the students more well-rounded pursuing their major.
“It’s a practical major for many students that prepare them to go out and do work in a number of different fields,” Rao said.
The Communication and Digital Studies major has made waves with both the faculty and students. David Mercer, junior, is one of approximately 14 other students majoring in Communication and Digital Studies. The major would give him applicable experience in the career he wants to have, according to Mercer.
“I want to work for ESPN, and I could definitely use the major there,” Mercer said. Freshman Katherine Dickerson said the major would teach good technological skills that would aid in a career after graduation.
“We’re going into a tech age, and that major would work well in business,” Dickerson said. On the other hand, freshman Emily Daly expressed concern that the Communication and Digital Studies’ major’s specialized focus would limit job prospects.
“I wouldn’t want to use those skills in my job. What could you do with that major?” Daly said. Rao cited a presentation given by Steve Jobs in 2011, who spoke about Apple being the intersection of technology and liberal arts. According to Rao, the intersection not only allows students to know how to utilize technology, but it also allows them to understand why technology is important, why people use it, and how to adapt and predict changes to technology happening in the future. And technology changes quickly.
“I think [this major] is going to set our students apart,” Rao said.