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MSC Curriculum and Course Catalog

MSC Curriculum

Lead with curiosity and discover new opportunities with the MSC curriculum.​

Expand Your Knowledge Within A Cohesive Framework

Communication is both art and science. Knowledge can be conceptual, applied, or practical. At Northwestern, we help bridge these gaps using a learning framework composed of three fundamental themes.

This dynamic framework provides you the scaffolding for learning new skills and advancing your leadership goals,

working-together

Managing Complexity

Proactively embrace complexity while learning to assess and navigate intricate organizational structures in the service of your broader communication goals.

Collaborative Leadership

Discover how to lead collaboratively through experiential curriculum that focuses on decision-making, networking, and diverse group management.

Elegant Communication

Learn to critically analyze and deliver elegant messages — appropriate to your audience, purpose, and context — and evolve your strategic communication planning practices.

The MSC Degree Capstone Project

Build Your Multimedia Portfolio Throughout Your Coursework

Over the course of the program, you’ll create a three-part cumulative deliverable that integrates academic discoveries, a skills-based project, and the design and implementation of your own personal brand.

The Capstone Project serves as far more than an assessment of your learning. Your Capstone is a deep dive into the experience you take with you as you forge new paths in your career.

Component 1: Visual Portfolio

Throughout your coursework, you will come across dozens of artifacts — cases, articles, assignments, quotes — that align to your leadership philosophy and collect these in a personal website you design.

Component 2: Case Interview or Research Project

Choose to either solve a business case in 24 hours or conduct a deep dive into an area of interest to you with an extensive research project.

Component 3: Professional Identity

During your degree work, you will build a personal brand with tangible artifacts, such as your own website, a value proposition, and a video resume.

MSC Curriculum Overview for two Unique Programs

Experience A Flexible Curriculum With Broadly-Relevant Coursework

In your chosen MSC Degree Program, you will connect with world-class faculty and gain a competitive advantage in the workplace as you master new skills and explore new ideas. Choose a program below to begin planning your coursework.

All Students & Experience Levels

Custom Leadership Program

With 81 distinctive degree paths, the Custom Leadership Program (CLP) offers a unique experience for every student, regardless of where you are in your career. 

Experienced professionals

Hybrid Leadership Program

Focus on one course at a time with a structured, hybrid leadership program (HLP) format and 5-week session sprints — designed specifically for experienced professionals.

Custom Leadership Program Curriculum

Designed for everyone. Take 4 core courses and choose electives to strengthen skills and open new doors.

Core Courses

This action-oriented course builds participants’ collaborative leadership skills. Through a series of case studies, activities, and projects, students learn how to effectively lead diverse and often distributed teams. The course explores the specific challenges associated with leading teams, some of which include: building and designing teams, managing information exchange within and across teams, structuring effective group decision processes, igniting creative thinking, enabling complex problem solving, and managing team conflict.

Read Professor Leslie DeChurch’s Biography

At its core, organizational change management is about implementation of new ideas and practices. Because organizational change requires individuals and units to change, this course examines both how an individual’s attitudes and behavior might be altered and how an organization’s policies and practices might change. Consequently, this class will focus on material related to persuasion, bargaining and negotiation, and organizational campaigns. These theories will be drawn from a variety of disciplines including organizational behavior, industrial relations, political science, social psychology, and communication. Although the primary method of teaching will be lecture, students are encouraged to ask questions and offer examples.

Read Professor Michael Roloff’s Biography

This course provides students with the concepts, insights, and techniques that will give them a competitive edge as they discover, diagnose and design networks. The course offers a set of strategic principles for students to create, maintain and dissolve network ties. These principles vary depending on a student’s desire to explore innovations, engage in entrepreneurship, exploit existing resources, implement change, or mobilize strategic partnerships. The course will identify the optimal principles in these diverse contexts using a set of case studies, review articles and computer-based visual-analytic demonstrations. By the end of the course, students will have the conceptual tools and techniques to assess an existing network and rewire them to achieve any desired individual or organizational goal.

Read Professor Noshir Contractor’s Biography

This course offers the opportunity to examine the ethical choices that people make and the repercussions and limitations of those choices. Most people deal with difficult questions in their professional lives in which they must act on behalf of an organization, usually without the agency to be fully free to choose how to respond. Good communicators must focus not just on thinking ethically, but also on how an ethical organization is able to communicate its engagement to its stakeholders in ways that support and enhance the purposes to which the organization is dedicated. Using case studies, practical situations and a bit of philosophical perspective, the course examines the costs and benefits of thinking and acting with concern for others and the desire to behave consistently across organizational contexts. The goal of the course is to help students build virtuous organizations with the structures and habits that encourage consideration of multiple perspectives, which in turn leads to the practice of ethical behavior.

Read Professor Randall Iden’s Biography

Electives

Decision-making in organizations is increasingly delegated to formal models, algorithms, and big data. These information resources are dangerously close to replacing the dialogue between human beings. This course defines dialogue in an organizational context and examines the interactions that bring about effective, satisfying collaboration. Students will study the “Conversational Firm” and find connections between dialogue and the modern organization, as well as develop dialogic skills and learn to recognize the threats to dialogic unity.

Read Professor Randall Iden’s Biography

This course emphasizes learning and development for adult and organizational change in many different settings – educational institutions, business and non-profit or government institutions, and community settings. It is grounded in research focusing on learning at work, through work and for work. To meet the complex global challenges found in the workplace, it is necessary to develop new kinds of professional expertise and knowledge, new types of work identities, new forms of collaboration, and, foremost, new ways of learning. Students will analyze and synthesize forms of learning that enable people to engage in transformative and innovative rather than in rote and reproductive learning, and in networked and social learning rather than isolated and individual learning, as well as, in ethical and (organizational) value-conscious rather than ‘value-free and objective’ learning. Students in this course will also gain perspectives on teaching as a complex intellectual activity through an in-depth study of andragogy within an integrated and interdisciplinary model. All of these components require deep, research-based study and participation in simulations and (re)creations designed to uncover of how learning takes place and how it can be generated and enhanced in workplaces.

Read Professor Amy J. Hauenstein’s Biography

Traditionally, the study of business communication has been divided into marketing communication (advertising, marketing and public relations) which is primarily addressed to outside audiences for purposes of selling, promoting or spinning; and organizational communication which is addressed to both inside and outside audiences for the purpose of defining the parameters of the company or business unit. Developments in Communication Studies over the past 20 years have shown this distinction to be spurious and, often, detrimental to the achievement of individual and group goals. In addition, the very parameters of the organization and who counts as its members have been called into question. 

Strategic communication is the study of the integrated messaging among stakeholders of an organization which acknowledges the contested boundaries of contemporary organizations. The course will explore the way language is used to construct meaning for an organization and how mission statements can be used to develop authentic, nuanced messages among stakeholders that will augur to the long-term benefit of the organization and its stakeholders in the broader sense. We will use business cases and other examples to explore the ways in which strategic communication can be purposefully and consistently implemented in a variety of organizations.

Read Professor Erik Nisbet’s Biography

This course will discuss the issues (problems, challenges, and opportunities) arising from the confluence of commerce, culture and politics under the current regime of globalization. While there is more to globalization than economics (integration of markets and finances) and technology (mobility and connectivity within the knowledge based and information driven wired/wireless world), one has to begin by attending to the techno-economic forces transforming the world today. On the other hand, even though our world driven by technological innovations and economic imperatives it is rapidly globalizing, the cross-border differences—cultural, political and geographical—still matter a great deal. Paying attention to and leveraging those differences is critical for the success of any individual manager and also any corporation or nation now compelled to compete on the global stage. This is where strategy or global strategy becomes relevant. This course will explore, by way of case studies and theoretical reflection, how to identify, negotiate, and overcome/or utilize differences strategically. Please note that this is not a “business model” course, even though there will be ample use of corporate case studies.

Read Professor Dilip Gaonkar’s Biography

Michelle Shumate, PhD

This course focuses on the challenges of leading a nonprofit organization that stretch even the most seasoned leaders – exploring concepts related to maximizing both the social impact of their work and financial obligations of the organization. In this course, students delve into the challenges of nonprofit leadership with an overview of the nonprofit sector and the leadership roles in typical nonprofits. Students learn about the sector in general, the fiduciary and normative roles of board members, and typical responsibilities of chief executives. In addition, special attention is given to the relationship between the board and staff, which can be managed in a variety of ways.

Read Professor Michelle Shumate Biography

This course covers business and regulated industries and uses the communications industry as a model to discuss two important general business concepts: strategies for operation in regulated environments and the intersection of technology and regulation. The general concepts are then extended and applied to several example industries. Students will learn about the policy and law surrounding businesses as well as the practical applications of strategies of dealing with operational challenges and regulation in a way that can be applied to any business in any industry (financial, pharmaceutical/medical, auto/transportation, etc.). The course and the exercises combine theory and practice and deals with real-world strategies of communication and business. The strategies discussed in this course will be of immediate use to students.

Read Professor Rick G. Morris’ Biography

Contemporary society is inundated with visual messages. Aside from the pervasive images and icons used in advertising, visual information permeates every aspect of our lives (from politics, fashion and architecture to data, computers and the domestic objects that require our daily use). While visual information in society has become more prominent in the digital age, many of the methods for communicating visually remain the same. Visual Communication uses a set of universal principles to effectively communicate through the design and layout of images and data. Through the study of Design, Cognitive Science, Cartography, Human Machine Interface, Typography and semiotics, this class will study the ways that we perceive visual messages, how we interpret them, how to create them for a variety of purposes, and how to problem solve visually.

Read Professor Erik Patrick’s Biography

This course introduces students to the field of conflict analysis and management. it teaches how to describe conflict accurately, how to assist parties in resolving it, how to negotiate and to conduct mediation, and how to manage anger, aggression, and bullying that lead to destructive conflict developments. The class materials also cover important topics for successful conflict resolution. The student will learn skills that will be useful for application in a variety of settings: workplace, family, media, elections, business, etc.

Read Professor Olga Kamenchuk’s Biography

OConnor, AmyCatastrophic events (and perceived catastrophic events) – whether cyber, physical, or financial, can challenge even the most experienced and prepared leaders. Reputation threats, social and traditional media message control, and internal communication are just a few of the communication management concerns that organizations need to prepare for and plan to recover from. This course focuses on the relationship between organizations and their various publics: media, stockholders, special interest groups, and consumers.

Read Professor Amy O’Connor Biography

This course investigates how individuals influence group decisions. Students are videotaped in decision-making interactions in order to assess and improve their leadership and analytical thinking skills in groups. This course is highly interactive – allowing students to evaluate and practice real world challenges in this content area.

Read Professor Paul Arntson’s Biography

This course is an exploration of the ways in which communication can be more effectively used to exert influence and to exercise power — bringing together a variety of disciplines including rhetorical analysis, leadership theory, composition, speechwriting, and public speaking. The goal is to help students understand how the beliefs and behaviors of decision-makers and publics can be influenced by effective communication.

Read Professor Jason DeSanto’s Biography

Crestodina, AndyBob RowleyMarketing communication in the digital age plays by a new set of rules yet is founded in the timeless art of persuasion. This course will connect evidence-based audience evaluation techniques with persuasive messaging that will empower learners to manage content as a business asset. This course will explore the mechanics of content, online networking and the power of influencers, social media and email promotion, and web analytics and marketing ROI. The skills you will learn in this course will focus on ways to engage an audience, using content to drive profitable behaviors. You will learn how to win better results through content for yourself, your company and your clients.

Read Professor Andy Crestodina Biography

Read Professor Storer H. (Bob) Rowley Biography

Hybrid Leadership Program Curriculum

Designed for experienced professionals. Take one pre-set course every 5 weeks with four in-residence seminars.

Core Courses

The affordances of new technologies and changes in the modern business landscape have fundamentally transformed strategic communication. Where previous research and practice has separated public relations from organizational communication, the modern environment makes such a distinction not only meaningless, but dangerous. This course explores the new foundations of strategic communication, beginning with stakeholder identification and assessment. It then explores cases that demonstrate the ways the ways that external stakeholders can and should influence organizational processes and practices. Next it turns to cases that demonstrate how internal organizational processes and practices impinge on traditional public relations strategy. Finally, this class uses authentic corporate social responsibility communication as an ideal case that unites both of these forces.

Read Professor Michelle Shumate’s Biography

This action-oriented course builds participants’ collaborative leadership skills. Through a series of case studies, activities, and projects, students learn how to effectively lead diverse and often distributed teams. The course explores the specific challenges associated with leading teams, some of which include: building and designing teams, managing information exchange within and across teams, structuring effective group decision processes, igniting creative thinking, enabling complex problem solving, and managing team conflict.

Read Professor Leslie DeChurch’s Biography

In this course, students study the use, collection, analysis and application of information in organizational planning and decision-making. Particular attention is given to sampling methods, survey methodology, social media/website analytics, and focus groups. The goal is to produce students who make informed decisions when presented with organizational and market research.

Read Professor Olga Kamenchuk’s Biography

As we enter into the age of big data, we increasingly need ways to present that data to persuade, inform, educate, and understand large volumes of information. Information design is an emerging discipline that tells us the stories of data, helping us to understand and elegantly communicate our increasingly complex world and share our conclusions with others. While information design borrows from diverse fields like psychology, statistics, cartography, cognitive science, visual design and human machine interaction, there are a series of basic principles that make up the foundations of the field. At the conclusion of the class, students will have a solid understanding of how to secure and prepare data for visualization, how to choose a relevant visual framework to represent that data, and how to use principles of visual design to maximize comprehension, retention and appeal of those designs.

Read Professor Eric Patrick’s  Biography

Decision-making in organizations is increasingly delegated to formal models, algorithms, and big data. These information resources are dangerously close to replacing the dialogue between human beings. This course defines dialogue in an organizational context and examines the interactions that bring about effective, satisfying collaboration. Students will study the “Conversational Firm” and find connections between dialogue and the modern organization, as well as develop dialogic skills and learn to recognize the threats to dialogic unity.

Read Professor Randy Iden’s Biography

This course provides students with the concepts, insights, and techniques that will give them a competitive edge as they discover, diagnose and design these networks. The course offers a set of strategic principles for students to create, maintain and dissolve network ties. These principles vary depending on a student’s desire to explore innovations, engage in entrepreneurship, exploit existing resources, implement change, or mobilize for strategic partnerships. The course will identify the optimal principles in these diverse contexts using a set of case studies, review articles, and computer-based visual-analytic demonstrations. By the end of the course, students will have the conceptual tools and techniques to assess an existing network and specify how it should be rewired to achieve any desired individual or organizational goal.

Read Professor Noshir Contractor’s Biography

This course is an exploration of the ways in which communication can be more effectively used to exert influence and to exercise power — bringing together a variety of disciplines including rhetorical analysis, leadership theory, composition, speechwriting, and public speaking. The goal is to help students understand how the beliefs and behaviors of decision-makers and publics can be influenced by effective communication.

Read Professor Jason DeSanto’s Biography

Elegant communication is one of the three foundational areas of the MSC program. In this hybrid class, students are trained in key communication skills necessary for effective leadership: cultural intelligence and managing inclusion, crisis communication management, informative and persuasive public speaking, facilitating open dialogue, mindful listening, and executive presence. In this full credit course that is spread throughout the year in both online and in residence sessions, students work closely with some of the world’s leading academics and industry experts to accelerate advancing their personal expertise through deliberate praxis.

In-Residence Seminars

For those experiences that cannot be honed or refined online. While the majority of your Northwestern MS in Communication degree takes place online, there are four in-residence seminars that take place at the Northwestern Evanston campus. Get the flexibility of an online Masters degree without compromising exceptional experiences with the hybrid leadership program.

Embrace diversity and gain new cultural intelligence by collaborating with a diverse cohort committed to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

Learn to respond confidently with strategic crisis communication management skills in our crisis simulations and seminars that develop proactive leadership.

Discover the power of collaborative decision-making and learn to leverage the diversity of your teams to identify, form and implement better strategies and policies.

Find out how to craft and deliver messages that resonate and prompt action. Create an executive presence that leads with empathy and resilience — and guide yourself and your organization to new heights.

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Professors & Industry-Leading Faculty

Learn and Connect with World-Class Faculty

Network With Leaders

Dive deep into thoughtful conversations with your industry’s thought leaders and experts. In the Northwestern MSC, you work with world-class faculty to question the way things are, discover new perspectives, and build a new framework to advance your leadership

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Leading Collaboration

Build your collaborative leadership skills in this action-oriented course. Through a series of case studies, activities, and projects, you’ll learn how to effectively lead diverse and often distributed teams.

“The class pushed me to reexamine leadership skills and strengths in myself and in my team members. I find myself pausing and reflecting more about the broader context in a situation and how I communicate with my teammates and, as a result, strive to be a more thoughtful leader.”

Holly Jones

Director of Alumni & Parent Relations at Iowa Wesleyan University
Current Custom Leadership Program & NU MS in Communication Student

Northwestern MSC News & Events

Connect with Northwestern Master of Science in Communication students, alumni, and faculty with our latest stories, insights, and events.

Meet Us Where Inspiration Strikes

Learn new skills and advance your career with Northwestern’s MSC program.