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Program Director Paul Mihailidis on our MA in Media Design: Same Mission, Clearer Approach

January 14, 2019

In the Fall of 2016 Emerson College launched a new Master’s program in Civic Media: Art & Practice. In developing our program, we focused on the elements and aspects that made our program unique, namely:

  • Our interest in the types of media interventions that have civic impact

  • Creating an applied program where student work happens in and with communities and organizations

  • Harnesses the creative processes that are involved in working with communities to solve problems

Housed in the Engagement Lab at Emerson, CMAP was born with an ambitious mission to be a graduate experience like none other. We wanted to teach students the design process of building media technologies, designs, and practices, that can have real world impact. The lab has been doing this for years, and so the pedagogical application of this was not difficult to see. Courses were built to teach students foundational knowledge in the emerging space of civic media, in how to work with communities, and in the design processes that are needed to develop prototypes. Those foundations were in place from the beginning, and still are today. Students chose thesis partners, and work on applied projects (read about them here) that they implemented and exhibited within the 12-month time period. Students also have the opportunity to participate in the Salzburg Academy on Media in Austria.

Three years into the program, and three cohorts in, our cohorts have reflected the value of our MA in how they have progressed through our program, and where they are today. 30 students have come through our program, and what we’ve realized is that while our core of the program is still evolving, our name is not entirely reflective of the approach and experience of the MA.

I’m a fan of radical clarity, and potential applicants were oftentimes unsure exactly what our program did, and how it reconciled all the terms that compiled our name. And it wasn’t always easy to express them from a faculty and program director position either. After our third year kicked off, our curriculum committee and graduate dean began to talk about a pivot in the name to help clarify the MA program. We wanted to accomplish three things:

  1. Maintain the core focus on civic media and civic impact

  2. Prioritize the design process, as that’s the anchor of our program

  3. Add new courses that better support design (a space of gainful employment for many of our grads)

  4. Clear up any confusion for prospective applicants.

Hence, our newly named MA in Media Design

What does this mean for us? That the core focus and experience of our program remains intact, but that we are adding in courses that better reflect the design focus. Courses in UX Design and multimedia production will exist alongside courses in civic media, participatory methods, and our yearlong design studio.

We believe that this pivot will help open our program further, and include those interested in designing media for civic impact. You’re interested in designing apps to sell more cheeseburgers? Unless they are supporting better civic engagement or participation, this probably isn’t the program for you. But if you want to learn about media design to improve how governments, communities, non-profits and public entities better support inclusive, equitable and justice-oriented structures?

Then our MA in Media Design is leading the way.

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