First Graduate of CCU’s Master of Arts in Communication Program is Ideal Role Model

Staff Report From South Carolina CEO

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

When Brianna Smith’s name was called in Coastal Carolina University’s virtual commencement exercises on Friday, May 8, she became the first graduate of the Master of Arts in communication program, housed within the Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts.

Smith, who earned her undergraduate degree at CCU in communication with a minor in journalism in 2018, embodies numerous qualities the program is designed to foster: passion, a penchant for collaboration, and commitment to her community.

While some students enter graduate programs with loosely developed goals, Smith had her plans fully formed and was interested in gaining the means to accomplish them. Wendy Weinhold, assistant professor of journalism in the Department of Communication, Media, and Culture who taught Smith as an undergraduate, brought the developing graduate program to Smith’s attention.

Although the program was still in its final stages of creation, Smith decided to enter the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) program initially and then transfer to the M.A. in communication program when it launched in 2019.

During her undergraduate study, Smith became interested in studying addiction and the toll it takes, not only on the user, but on the family members around him or her. As she discovered a void in both data and supportive services for this group, she became interested in working to fill the gap.

“I chose to study this topic because of life experiences and being exposed to a culture different than I was used to,” said Smith in her capstone research presentation. “My project takes a look into why family members and loved ones of addicts should be advocated for more than they are.”

Smith’s research culminated in a digital magazine and creation of a nonprofit corporation titled Unspoken Love: Care for the Caregivers, which focuses most specifically on support services for those caring for the children of an addicted person while he or she is ill or in recovery.

The M.A. in communication program offers two concentrations: activism and advocacy, or leadership. While Smith selected the former concentration, her work reflects the best elements of both tracks, according to Deb Breede, program coordinator and professor in the Department of Communication, Media, and Culture.

“One of the things that we’ve been impressed with is that [Smith] is in the communication advocacy and activism concentration, but all her work really demonstrates such amazing innovative leadership as well,” said Breede. “She started Unspoken Love: Care for the Caregivers, and she’s already got it incorporated as a 501(c) corporation; she’s already developed relationships with other service providers in the area; she’s already working out a mechanism for providing food and clothing for the caregivers; and she’s really interested in providing respite service for those caregivers.”

Smith said the experience of the graduate program not only allowed her to achieve her personal goals, but it also expanded her abilities as a writer, a researcher, and a professional. She was initially unsure of her ability to succeed in a graduate program, but the support of faculty members and evolving accomplishments resolved her doubt.

Amanda Brian, associate professor in the Department of History and associate dean of the Edwards College, recalls the sense of uncertainty that surrounded Smith at the outset of her graduate studies.

“[Smith] came to me first semester as a graduate student struggling with confidence – it’s such an issue with many graduate students,” said Brian. “She didn’t feel confidence in what she was doing, in her voice and her message. And I think that’s changed a lot. Now she’s defending her thesis and making a capstone presentation.”

Smith concurs that her identity as a scholar has evolved with support of faculty members.

“I always would question whether I belonged in a master’s program, and my professors would say, ‘You have imposter syndrome. You don’t know you should be here, but everyone else knows that you should be here.’ That was a huge challenge, trying to be more confident in my work. I still have challenges with it. I just eventually started to realize that nobody knows more about my topic than I do, and I’ve spent years researching it, and that made me feel more confident.”

Breede sees Smith as a model for the kind of student the program seeks and the kind of professional it strives to develop.

“It’s not just someone who wants to go out and serve, but someone who wants to take initiative and take leadership in our area in order to provide these services,” said Breede. “It’s exactly the type of thing we were hoping for when we put the program together.”