Growing numbers of Professional Writing and Interactive Media Studies double majors forge a formidable set of skills for the future

Written by Rachel Zurilla, CAS communications intern

Professional writing majors in a group discussion

As a need for diversified skills in the workplace increases, more and more Miami students are choosing to double major or co-major in professional writing (PW) and interactive media studies (IMS). There is an increasing need from employers for recent graduates who understand the digital world of design and user experience as well as a need for employees who are strong writers who can communicate across any platform effectively.

Professional writing is housed in the Department of English while interactive media studies, with two concentrations, is housed in the Department of Emerging Technology in Business + Design (ETBD). Many of the courses are cross-listed, allowing students the opportunity to major in two interconnected disciplines.

Double majoring is common at Miami, with many students choosing to do so in order to diversify their skill sets as much as possible. IMS and Professional Writing pair well in that students are learning various skills in each major, but the skills are reinforced in cross-listed and upper level classes.

A Potent One-Two Punch

Professional writing places a focus on how to communicate effectively through through words, both written and in relation to images and digital designs, allowing students to "learn rhetorical theories and strategies that will help them write effectively in a wide range of print and digital media for a variety of audiences."

IMS has an emphasis on communicating via digital platforms and teaches students more about actual design. ETBD, its home department, is described as "a cross-disciplinary institute that works with students and faculty from across Miami University, offering the exploration of the intersection of technology, design business, and how digital technology is transforming traditional areas of inquiry."

"For the past 10 years, we have seen a steady increase in students taking classes in and double majoring in both PW and IMS," said Heidi McKee, professor of professional writing and affiliate faculty with IMS.

To accommodate this growth, a number of faculty in English are jointly-appointed as faculty in IMS and more faculty members teach both English and IMS courses, including Digital Writing and Rhetoric, a foundation course in both majors. This strategy allows them to have a deep understanding of what students, particularly PW/IMS double majors, are learning and where.

A Fusion of Skill Sets

Many of the classes within both of these programs are cross-listed, including Interactive Business Communication, Digital Media Ethics, and Visual Rhetoric (a design class). These courses allow students to explore a variety of interests within the disciplines of writing, design, communications, and more, all while still graduating on time.

"These two majors work because when you have majors that are a little bit more outside the norm, you get all these different skills and you learn to market yourself," said Adam Strantz, an assistant professor of English and EMBT who teaches courses in Professional Writing and IMS. "You're going to have a varied skill set that makes you attractive to employers because we do have such a need for a diversified workforce. Having students come out with diverse skills and abilities and multiple majors under their belt really helps them."

Students in both Professional Writing and IMS, usually during their first year, must take ENG/IMS 224 (Digital Writing and Rhetoric: Composing with Words, Images and Sounds) as a core class.

"This is usually the time that students find they have interest in both areas and begin making decisions on co-majoring or minoring," said Strantz.

The programs pair well together because the classes in each department reinforce what was learned in previous classes. Upper level classes also tend to be tailored to the level that students are currently at to either help them learn a new skill (like working with Adobe Creative Suite) or allow them to create a new version of work to add to their portfolio.

Seniors Readying for the Future

"IMS is so relevant toward everything that's happening in the digital world, which is prevalent in every industry right now," said Adrienne Bechtel, senior majoring in both Professional Writing and IMS. "Writing is also an area that's so widely needed; having that capability along with understanding how the digital world works and how to best communicate on different platforms can make you versatile in any industry."

Graham Curry, a senior majoring in Professional Writing and IMS, worked on a project for the city of Hamilton in ENG 414 - Usability and User Experience. Utilizing skills from both professional writing and IMS, everyone in the class had to pick a working website or app and outline the usability issues they saw.

"It's important to have the skills to be able to look at website content and say, 'Oh, this could be worded differently' or 'This doesn't quite make sense,'" Curry said. "It all ties together, mixing the written word and visuals into one, which is a perfect combination of my majors."

Due to these benefits, an IMS and Professional Writing double major is growing in popularity with Miami students, who can choose from many cross-listed courses and will help them become more marketable to employers. The team-based aspects of IMS along with Professional Writing demonstrate how people in the business world are often speaking different "languages."

Having an understanding of both design and development and how to best communicate across platforms leads to strong team players who can help improve productivity, and efficiency in the workplace.

"Students gain skills focused on the usability and user experience of content, design, and networked writing," said associate professor of English Michele Simmons.  "Both majors reinforce these skills across the scaffolded curriculum."