Courtesy of Cornell University

Communication department chairs adjusted Cornell's communication major to reflect evolving technology and media.

September 4, 2023

Communication Department Adapts Requirements in Response to Recent Technological Advancements

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The communication major at Cornell University, situated within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, offers students an interdisciplinary education in the art and science of effective communication. The department website states that the major equips students with valuable skills to convey ideas, information and messages across various platforms and contexts.

Starting this academic year, the communication major has been updated to reflect the evolving landscape of communication in the digital age, according to Prof. Christopher Byrne, communication. Students are encouraged to explore the intersection of communication, media and technology. Through the revised communication curriculum, students can now focus on emerging technologies and contemporary communication trends such as chatbots that utilize artificial intelligence and social platforms like TikTok. 

The major changes in the communication department for students entering Fall 2023 and after are:

  • The addition of a required, one-credit core course: Communication 1111: Navigating the Communication Major for first-year students, not including transfer students.
  • Requirement to take three “Explorations in Communication Courses,” previously known as “Focus Area Courses,” instead of two courses. Four total course options are offered.
  • Students are no longer required to declare a focus area.
  • Instead of taking nine credits under a focus area and six credits of upper-level electives, students are only required to complete 12 credits of upper-level electives.

The history of the communication major at Cornell can be traced back to Cornell’s first president, Andrew Dickson White. White held a strong belief in the value of a liberal education and felt that students should have access to a curriculum that “satisfies the wants of the hour,” according to William B. Ward’s “History of the Department of Communication at Cornell University.” 

Through his visionary leadership and commitment to educational innovation, White worked with Ezra Cornell, the University’s founder, to establish the world’s first university-level journalism instruction, a curriculum that not only embraced the traditional subjects of study but also recognized the pressing needs of the contemporary world. That program soon evolved into the modern communication department.

Byrne noted that the recent changes in the communication major are related to adapting to the dynamic landscape of modern communication technologies and evolving industry demands.

“If TikTok is where the younger generation is going to get their news from, then we have to figure out a way to get stories on social media,” Byrne said.

Byrne believes that the changes in the communication major allow students to develop an understanding of the modern media landscape, equipping them with the skills to navigate and excel in a digital world where effective communication strategies are crucial for success across a variety of industries and contexts.

Byrne also said that strong communication skills are not only necessary for media but also useful when interacting with AI. According to Byrne, in a world where AI is progressively integrated into various aspects of society, effective communication will play a pivotal role in ensuring that these advanced technologies are ethically developed, properly understood and seamlessly integrated into the human experience.

The previous communication focus area requirement allowed students to develop a deeper understanding of a specific field. New students entering the communication major will no longer declare a focus area. Those currently in the major are not required to declare a focus area — however, they are still permitted to if desired. 

Lauren Pappas ’23, a recent graduate of the communication major and former vice president of the Communication Student Advisory Board, said that she enjoyed her focus area, persuasion and social influence, but she understands why the department chose to remove it. Reflecting on her discussions with leaders in Fortune 500 companies and her post-grad job search, Pappas has found that large companies are now seeking well-rounded applicants over those with more specialized knowledge.  

“The change with no focus area will prepare students better for life after graduation, where you have to be a generalist and not a specialist,” Pappas said. “The changes in the communication major are in line with how the industry is changing.”

Lauren Aubert ’24, the Communication Student Advisory Board’s social media manager, believes that the addition of the one-credit course Communication 1111: Navigating the Communication Major will be extremely beneficial for incoming students. 

“The introductory communication class is a good way to set people up for success,” Aubert said. “I didn’t know what the communication major encompassed coming into Cornell. [The intro class] can really help students get oriented to the major and give them information about who they can talk to.”

Byrne noted that the changes in Cornell’s communication major underscore the importance of adapting to the rapidly evolving media and technology landscape. 

“As the communication field [has] continued to grow, we decided we had to grow with it,” said Byrne. “Communication, it’s related to everything.”

Correction, Sept. 5, 11:02 a.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Prof. Christopher Byrne is the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Communication Department. He held that title as an interim position last Fall. The article has been corrected and The Sun apologies for the error.

Anushka Shorewala is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].