New STEM Master’s Degree program for Journalists at Northeastern University

Opportunity for international students to extend visa in US


Modoono, Matthew

Street artist El Mac’s mural at Northeastern University Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Desirée Vignola-Hung, Contributor

The College of Art, Media and Design (CAMD) at Northeastern University starting this fall will offer  the new Media Innovation and Data Communication MS at the School of Journalism.

 The new master’s degree is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) designated.  Professor John Wihbey, the program coordinator, said it’s a “degree for the twenty-first century that is going to be very valuable for the students that earn it.”

CAMD already offers a graduate degree in journalism with to track options, professional journalism, or media innovation. The new Media Innovation and Data Communication graduate degree differs from the latter in that two of the required courses are directly in data, and data visualization and communication areas.

“Our goal collectively” Wihbey explained, “is to bring this whole philosophy of education and learning and discovery and community around us to a different level with this degree. I’m hoping that now that it is a stand-alone degree, we can recruit even more students [and] we can build a unique and larger, more robust community.”

For international students, the new MS is a way to stay for a longer period in the United States after graduation. Currently The Optional Practical Training (OPT) time for international students is one year, but with the new master’s being STEM designated by the U.S. government, students on an F-1 visa could apply to stay longer than that. 

As stated in the Office of Global Services website: “F-1 students who receive Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) degrees and meet the requirements below are eligible to apply for a 24-month extension of their Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT).” 

Wihbey thinks that this is important because “if people want to get sponsorships or they want to explore things, one year is a very limited amount of time to prove value to an employer or to really get your feet on the ground so you can figure out what you want to do. Two years starts to be a little more realistic [to] get some sponsorship, [and] potentially make connections.”

According to the program coordinator, there are a broad number of different fields where students could apply for co-ops where data visualization, analytics, or visual forms of communication are involved: “There is this huge demand from Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), philanthropies, universities [and] government for people who have visual storytelling skills who can tell compelling stories using visual tools, but there is also a huge demand for people who can engage audiences in creative ways. Co-ops could be in news media, strategic communication marketing and advertising, or it could be in a mission-driven social kind of work with NGOs.”

Regarding the loss of credibility that the journalism profession has suffered in recent years, and asked if the new data-driven communications could help regain some of that previous credibility, Wihbey was certain that the reputation that journalism enjoyed during the twentieth century might never be regained.

“Journalism needs to get better at telling its own story,” Wihbey said. With the events that have been going on in recent years, “journalists have been forced to articulate their own value,” and for Wihbey that is a positive step. “You could make a case that journalism is in fact more accurate, more fact based, more data driven, more rooted in the norms of social science than ever has been.”

Asked about the future of data communication journalism in the next two decades, Wihbey explained that “all this changes in computational tools make all this very exciting, but there are trends that make this also very difficult, because the business model behind news media is changing and we [journalists] must figure out how to support really talented people in newsrooms that do this kind of innovative work, where payoff may not be immediate.”

Wihbey added that “one of the big critiques of the news media industry is that they have not done enough research and development; that media organizations tend to be very deadline driven, and this sacrifices the [research and development] that needs to be done in order to innovate.”

“We are hoping to produce graduates that can go out there and be leaders as innovators in the media industry.”