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At its decennial, a look back at how MCS came to be

UMBC’s media and communications studies department, which is currently celebrating its ten year anniversary, “was born in a log cabin in American Studies,” according to founding chair Jason Loviglio; he started it as a side-project while working as an assistant professor of American Studies. But ten years later, the once under-resourced department is thriving, boasting 300 majors and eight full-time faculty members. A recent panel featured MCS alumni working in everything from broadcast journalism to public relations to nonprofits.

It is hard to define the major concisely. The department’s website describes the curriculum as “[focusing] on communication skills, a critical understanding of the media, and the use of relevant new technologies,” while Loviglio himself defines it as “a humanities-based liberal arts discipline that is interested in the historical and the theoretical and critical and practical aspects of human communication.” In addition to the liberal arts basis around which the department is centered, the curriculum features everything from image editing to podcasting to public relations, depending on individual student’s interests.

One MCS student, junior Andrew Grabowski, was drawn to the major because he felt it would help him cultivate his interests in culture and entertainment. “I just always felt very in touch with things on the internet, different social media,” he explains. “I’ve always found it interesting to analyze trends of what’s happening.” Though he did not have a clear-cut career path in mind, he knew that studying MCS would provide him with a great breadth of options.

Junior Sam Saper views the major in a similar way – though he is unsure of exactly how he plans to use it, he “[thinks] it helps to have this skill set that can be used in a number of different ways. And then the guidelines associated with that, putting those two together, I can figure something out.”

Conversely, freshman MCS and English double major Anjali DasSarma came to UMBC already knowing she wanted to become a journalist, and she chose majors she felt would best help her reach this goal. Of her experience in the department thus far, DasSarma says, “in these few core classes that I’ve taken, it’s really a background on the history of communications and I’m a firm believer that you have to learn the history of things before you can move forward.”

Although history is featured prominently in the MCS curriculum, the field is anything but antiquated. On the contrary, it is constantly shifting alongside the media landscape. Effective navigation of these changes is important for the department. For example, MCS faculty members meet every summer to discuss how to teach the most relevant and up-to-date software in MCS 101, a class that features a lab portion in which students study programs like Adobe InDesign and Photoshop.

But perhaps the most prominent change that has come to the department in its ten years is a revamped curriculum set to be implemented this summer. “The current curriculum,” requires students to take six core classes, as well as six electives, which could be drawn from departments ranging from theatre to gender and women’s studies and beyond. “[It] is an artifact of a time when it was literally me and one other guy,” Loviglio states. “We had to create a BA education, so we did it on the backs of lots of partnered departments.”

The new curriculum will include more core classes, including a research methods class intended to help prepare students for their capstone projects. There will also be a wider selection of MCS electives offered. Notably absent from the new curriculum is the depth of field requirement, which required all MCS students to also be enrolled in a relevant minor or certificate program.

According to Loviglio, this is a change a decade in the making: a sign of the program coming into its own and moving away from relying on other departments. “We want to own more of the education, we want to own more of the curriculum,” he explains. And above all? “We want students to be successful.”