MS and PhD in Communication and Rhetoric

For more than thirty years, our graduates have been the leaders in the study of the relationship between communication and technology.

Students entering the graduate program in Communication and Rhetoric bring diverse cultural and intellectual perspectives to Rensselaer and the Communication and Media department’s multidisciplinary research community. They matriculate with experience or research interests in the humanities and social sciences with a focus on how texts create and are created by culture and society. These incoming graduate students aim to understand how texts – written texts, cultural events, place, communication artifacts and processes, design outcomes, games, interactive media – influence and are influenced by humanity and the social and material environments. They also aim to contribute new knowledge through the design, redesign, interpretation, or appropriation of texts. To these ends, they may study historical, contemporary, or future texts to develop a critical understanding of cultural expression, facilitate meaningful interaction, or proffer new technologically mediated ways to communicate. 

The graduate program in Communication and Rhetoric offers a multidisciplinary curriculum that engages students in questioning the complex textual phenomena they encounter, as conveyed through media and communication technologies. An integrated curriculum in communication, culture, design, and media prepares students to contribute to sustainable and resilient national and international communication infrastructures. Students conduct humanistic and empirical research focused on the development and analysis of multimedia, multicultural, and multimodal texts that enable them to orient and otherwise operationalize diverse media and communication technologies to contribute to the sustenance and preservation of humanity and the environment and effect positive global change.

The graduate program in Communication and Rhetoric provides a research platform for studying humanity's mediated interactions with texts for social or political advocacy, cultural expression or engagement, and cognition. The stories told through mediated texts—like Twitter, television, games, data, software, novels, still and moving images, robots, and Indigenous and vernacular artifacts and processes—shape intellect, individual and collective identities, aspirations, perceptions of others, and behaviors. And such stories profoundly affect political, cultural, and social institutions in our local and global communities.

Situated within the nation’s oldest technological university, the graduate program through its renowned faculty, evolving graduate student constituency, and interdisciplinary curriculum creates opportunities for cutting-edge research in human cognition, communication, and culture—a signature thrust of President Shirley Ann Jackson’s vision of the “New Polytechnic” that is Rensselaer. The growing interface of the basic sciences, social sciences, and engineering that President Jackson argues constitutes the “New Polytechnic” is one that is trans-disciplinary with a “sweet spot” lying at the intersection of those disciplines and the humanities, that includes disciplines represented by the graduate program in Communication and Rhetoric.

Graduates of our M.S. and Ph.D. programs in Communication and Rhetoric leave equipped with critical, creative, and methodological abilities, as well as self-awareness, empathic cognizance, and ethical principles for using language, in all its varied forms, in multicultural, multimedia, and multimodal environments. The program's freshly minted scholars are ready to contribute expertise in cultural, communication, and media studies; design thinking and making; visualization; and humanistic literature to virtual communities, immersive and mixed-reality environments, as well as to traditional textual environments involving word, image, and sound. These graduates possess an analytical, applied, empirical, and theoretical knowledge set that enables them to collaborate in interdisciplinary teams working to address global challenges in the world. Thus, they are competitive on the job market, readily finding careers in business, government, and academia.

General information on the Ph.D. program in Communication and Rhetoric degree requirements can be found in the Rensselaer Catalog. 

Current Doctoral Students

Christopher Adamczyk

public memory; rhetoric of technology; classical rhetoric

Allison Bannister

visual storytelling and comics studies; feminism; gaming

Jacqueline Bowler

cultural studies of the music industry; new media and film theory philosophy of technology

Shannon Briggs

human-computer interaction; security studies; and cross cultural communication

Arielle Cerini

critical design; the evolution of publishing and the development of experimental communication systems

Jason Coley

virtual reality; presence; immersion

Laura Decker

visual communication in service to and communication with vulnerable populations

Justin Dowdall

computational aesthetics; cybernetics; and media ecology

Nicholas Hanford

games criticism; audience and identity; data mining

Stephanie Jennings

video games; games criticism; player agency

Sarah Kennedy

place studies; phenomenology; film

Robb Lauzon

the medium; the medium's capacity for influence; and the built environment

Hayley McCullough

pop culture; video games; fiction and integrative complexity

Marco Navarro

writing pedagogies; post-secondary correctional education; digital literacies

Lorelei Wagner

writing centers; composition; sound studies

Eric Walsh

meaningful game design; communication and rhetoric in games; and games for change.


 Recent Dissertation Titles




Britney Summit-Gil

“Making Men: Community Building and Masculinity Online.”


Candice L. Lanius

"Arguments in big social data analysis: uncovering the hidden rhetoric of sociological data science"


Gaines S. Hubbell

“A brief history of topical invention in 20th century United States rhetorical studies"


Laquana Cooke

“Metatuning game construction learning: underrepresented youths’ designing for cultural and social transformations"


Joshua Comer

"Updates: Technologies of Media Change"


Raymond A. Lutzky

“Diversifying STEAM: Culturally-situated drawing for math education with African-American youth"


Matthew Rolph

“This is not a test!: Communication, usability, and gamification in the future of standardized assessment"


Eric Newsom

“Participatory storytelling and the new folklore of the digital age"


Jason Zalinger

“Gmail as story world: How technology shapes your life narrative"


Shira Chess

“License to play: Women, productivity, and video games"


Debbie Rowe

“What feels good in the mouth and sounds right to the ear: An examination of the practice of reading aloud during revision"



View more ...

Comments from Graduates

"My studies in C&M not only provided the things I expected from a Ph.D. program- academic knowledge, research skills, professional connections and credentials—but made me ask important questions of myself and my world, and gave me the opportunity to build long-lasting personal relationships as well. Dialogue with colleagues on the material we studied resonated far beyond the boundaries of the classroom. As a result, my experience in C&M not only positively shaped me as a scholar, but as a human being as well."

Eric Newsom '13

"My years in C&M shaped me into the researcher and teacher that I am today. I consider myself an interdisciplinary thinker -- surely a result of the nature of C&M... Just as important to me are the personal and professional relationships that I formed at RPI and that I continue to form with RPI graduates from other years. I cannot imagine my career without these relationships, which keep me connected to the profession."

Beth Britt '97, Associate Professor of English Northeastern University

"Much of my professional identity and success and many of my most cherished personal relationships reside in the growing community of people I joined when I began my studies in C&M."

Greg Clark '85, Associate Dean in the College of Humanities Brigham Young University


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