New Bemidji State Degree Explores The Study of Human Communication

Starting this Spring 2022, Bemidji State University is offering a 36-credit degree in communication studies, the study of human communication as it applies to interpersonal, organizational and community settings in an ever-changing world.

Dr. Donna Pawlowski, professor of communication studies

The communication studies program, housed within the university’s Department of Sociology and Communication Studies, was first launched as a 21-credit minor by Professor Dr. Donna Pawlowski in Spring 2018. Pawlowski started at Bemidji State in 2013 and with the help of Cindy Nelson, an adjunct instructor within several disciplines, has been building the program since.

After experiencing exponential growth, Dr. John Perlich, associate professor, joined the program’s faculty in Fall 2019.

To date, Bemidji State has awarded 13 minors to graduates from a range of disciplines and will award seven additional minors this spring.

John Perlich

“As a discipline, communication studies revolves around human connection and the shared meaning of communication; how do we create messages for each other and how do we understand those messages,” Pawlowski said. “We create messages for different contexts like relational, organizational or applied contexts.”

Communication competency is an important skill that employers are increasingly seeking when hiring new employees, Perlich said.

“When you look at surveys about what employers want from applicants, the importance of strong communication skill and ability is off the charts,” he said. “We have a market here that no other local college has, and there is a need for people who know how to communicate in the local area.”

Cindy Nelson

In the study “Workplace Basics: The Competencies Employers Want, 2020”, The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce explored preferred employee competencies and their impact on salaries. The data revealed that communication has been the most highly demanded employee skillset for decades – resting at 89% demand in 1970 and 90% in 2019.

The report also indicated that communication skills were generally associated with higher earnings.

Communication Studies, Family Communication
Family Communication with Pawlowski.

At Bemidji State, the communication studies program prepares students to effectively examine how communication influence the lives of individuals and relationships in our society, Pawlowski said. The program’s courses – which range in topics from public speaking to communication in a diverse society to conflict management – all help students develop and maintain strong communication skills that encourage and examine human connections.

“The beauty of this program is the mass application of the curriculum,” Pawlowski said. “The content and skills we teach in our courses are not just specific to the classroom, they are things you can use in life no matter what your path or goal is or whatever your career might be. These are life skills.”

Communication Studies, Family Communication
Family Communication with Pawlowski.

Just as Bemidji State’s communication minor offers a wide range of courses that apply to all disciplines and many students have used it to complement their major, the new Bachelor of Arts in communications studies is similarly applicable to all fields.

“We’re blessed to have so many people on this campus that see the value in what we are doing and its interdisciplinary nature,” Perlich said. “We get a lot of criminal justice students who are learning how to do their job the best that they can so they can serve our communities. We also get a lot of nursing students, business, psychology and sociology. We have so much support from the campus.”

Pawlowski also said the degree path is designed so students could easily double major.

Additionally, the communication studies program is home to the the Communication Scholars Society, an initiative started in April 2021, that is building relationships between students and employers across the state.

“I always tell my students that it’s not enough to just have a degree and a GPA,” Perlich said. “Everyone has that. What is going to set you apart? What is going to make you pop? That’s why I stress to my students about finding opportunities. It’s what you do here in addition to your degree that improves your opportunities to get the job you want.”

The scholar’s society welcomes students from all academic departments and explores the many ways to communicate socially and professionally. During monthly meetings, students are given a space to overcome communication anxiety, propose ideas to increase student engagement and discuss career opportunities.

For more information about BSU’s communication studies major, visit the website or contact Pawlowski.

“Building the program had been a dream of mine since I started at BSU and I am so thrilled to see the full degree up and running,” Pawlowski said.