Current and Former Mason Students Join Professor to Teach Military Community

U.S. Defense Information School learns crisis communication management

by Zach Eisenstein

Current and Former Mason Students Join Professor to Teach Military Community
David MacNeil, a Mason doctoral candidate, speaking to students at the U.S. Defense Information School in Fort Meade, MD.

Many professors hope to extend teaching, learning, and working experiences with their students beyond the walls of their classroom. For Dr. Katherine Rowan, a communication professor, this hope became a reality last month at one of the nation’s premiere military information institutions.

On May 14, 2014 Katherine Rowan joined David MacNeil, a current doctoral student specializing in crisis communication, to present a two-hour “Crisis Communication” instruction and role-play for students at The U.S. Defense Information School in Fort Meade, Md.  

“We were honored to teach at The U.S. Defense Information School,” Rowan said. “The opportunity gave us a chance to meet with some of the nation’s emerging public affairs professionals and to think about steps that assist them in managing crises.”

Andrew Pyle, who received his PhD from Mason this spring, assisted Rowan and MacNeil in the development of the presentation. Pyle currently works as an assistant professor of communication at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Rowan and MacNeil were invited to teach at Fort Meade by Major Christopher Anderson, an alumnus of the Mason master’s program in strategic communication, as part of his public affairs qualification course.

“In life, bad things happen. Crisis communication is concerned with preparing yourself and others to deal with those bad things so that you can get back to normal as quickly as possible,” MacNeil said.

In order to provide an effective, hands-on crisis communication experience, Rowan and MacNeil presented realistic role-play simulations in which students engaged in hypothetical crisis situations.

“Dr, Rowan, Dr. Pyle and I tried to develop realistic scenarios for the military and civilian public affairs personnel that were taking the course,” MacNeil said. “We researched actual situations that had occurred at military installations, from hurricanes to the disappearance of nerve agents.”

While studying past crises is a necessary educational method, Pyle noted that crisis events essentially never happen the same way twice. Given this, Pyle identified the importance of equipping students with transferable, flexible skills for managing novel crisis situations.

“We want to help practitioners learn to make sense of uncertain situations so that they can effectively manage those events and function as leaders to help others through crises as well,” Pyle said.

After working alongside current and former students in a professional setting and witnessing Mason students performing jobs that are personally meaningful, Rowan felt a great sense of pride.

“In Mason’s communication programs, we identify and learn about tough communication challenges that professionals face daily,” Rowan said. “Involving students in this process helps me understand what students need to know to assist professionals.”