Tech Communicators: Still busy!
Lawrence Technological University established a master's degree program in technical and professional communication during the height of the dot-com boom.
That boom is over, of course, but the program goes on -- attracting a wide variety of people with interests and experience outside what LTU officials originally thought they might get.
LTU established a bachelor's degree program in technical and professional communication in 1994. The program produced its first graduates in 1998. And in 1999 and 2000, the Southfield university started putting together a Master of Science program in the same discipline.
"At that time, the IT industry was still booming, and we saw all the excitement of dot-coms and the evolution of the Internet," said Brian Pedell, program director, who came on board in 2002. "Beyond the traditional technical communication jobs of computer hardware and software documentation, we saw opportunities for Web site development, marketing and corporate communications jobs, increased demand in the health care and financial services and pharmaceutical industries."
Those industries, of course, still need skilled technical communicators -- no matter what the state of the dot-coms. LTU's program can be completed in two years and consists of 30 credit hours, including 12 hours of electives that allow for specialized focus. Coursework includes advanced publication design, Web design and proposal writing.
Pedell said the common definition of technical communication is the ability to "take highly scientific, technical information and repackage it, so that a lay audience can understand it."
The multi-faceted nature of the program also includes what Pedell refers to as "corporate storytelling."
Working with colleague Corinne Stavish, senior lecturer and professional storyteller, Pedell learned more about her craft. "I started thinking about how people develop corporate stories for motivational purposes and collaborative purposes," Pedell said. "You take lessons learned in the corporation and turn them into a compelling narrative." There can be a variety of goals for this narrative: motivation, conflict resolution, even what Pedell called "a meaningful post-mortem" of a failed project.
Pedell said LTU has approximately 25 students in the bachelor's program and 19 in the graduate program now. "One thing that surprised us was that we enrolled a very diverse group of master's students," Pedell said. "I had anticipated it would be people working in the auto or computer industries, but we have had people from all walks of life, from a registered dietitian to a professional musician."
This article was featured in the The Great Lakes IT Report for February 19, 2004.