How the UF Social Media Program Came to Reality

In Social Media by Andrew Selepak

When the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications decided to create a new graduate specialization in social media, we did not make the decision lightly. We have top-ranked graduate programs in journalism, advertising, public relations, and telecommunications, and the College’s undergraduate majors are rated among the best in the world. But we recognized that social media was dominating the fields and industries where our alumni worked and where our current students would find their future career.

In the Summer of 2013, we admitted our first class into the program and became the first communication school in the country to have a graduate degree focused exclusively on social media.

The response was immediate. We got a lot of questions about our curriculum and even some questions about the need for a degree in social media. The second question proved the easier of the two to answer and the answer was a resounding YES.

Over the past few years, companies have been shifting their advertising budgets and personnel to social and mobile media, yet no leading university offered a degree to train people in how to effectively use them. We saw the tremendous need for education and training in the areas of social media for those who had been in the workforce for a few years. Tens of thousands of college graduates had been educated in the fields of advertising, public relations, marketing, and reporting, but had graduated before the meteoric rise of social media and were finding themselves being passed over at work or having to rely on the youngest person at the company to do their social media marketing campaigns. Even those who had just earned a college degree within the past few years found themselves unprepared for careers in the modern digital workforce.

As an institute of higher learning dedicated to improving the lives of students to help them be successful, we understood the need for working professionals to be able to go back and receive the education they needed to be successful and take charge of their careers. But when deciding what we needed to teach students, we faced a dilemma. Too many people saw social media as platforms and apps, and there were already countless websites, books, and videos available online by so-called “experts” willing to tell anyone who would listen about their knowledge of social media to sell their book.

But the world of social media is so much more than platforms and apps. It also includes theory, research, analytics, big ideas, creativity, design, storytelling, marketing, the Internet of Things, gaming, customer relations, SEO, video, branding, and much more.

At the same time, meaningful education doesn’t come from just watching videos or reading books. We made several important decisions in creating the program. One of the most significant was that our program would focus on active learning. Our students demonstrate their new skills and knowledge through real-world projects and by working with real clients. Our program is about learning by doing and not learning about what others did.

We also took a holistic approach to the areas of online and social media with courses that taught the skills that companies needed. Our students learn more than just how to create a social media campaign. Our program teaches students how to make a campaign effective and analyze results driven through a deeper understanding of the data behind their marketing efforts. Students learn how to make a brand resonate with a target audience. They learn how to craft a message that moves an audience to take action. And our students learn to incorporate creativity into their work to make their marketing standout.

From the start, we recruited instructors from a variety of industries to ensure the knowledge and instruction our students receive is innovative, relevant, and practical.

In 2015, we formed our first Advisory Council made up of industry professionals. We asked them to review the entire program to ensure our curriculum and individual classes taught the skills they use in their fields, and the skills they were looking for from the people they hired.

In 2016, we updated our curriculum by adding new courses and requiring all students to build a brand from the ground up as part of a multi-semester practicum.

But our pioneering ideas didn’t stop with a new degree plan and new courses. We recognized that as we update our courses and curriculum, our own graduates should still benefit from the degree they worked to achieve. So we started what we call Master Access.

Master Access is a program that offers our graduates the opportunity to audit any of the online courses offered by the College. It guarantees that our graduates never stop learning and their degrees never becomes dated because they can always come back and learn more in social media or in any of other programs.

We’ve had only one mission from day one: help our students to achieve their professional dreams. Our vision of a collaborative education built on a holistic approach to social and online media through exceptional feedback and support has shown remarkable results. Our graduates know companies are looking for people with their newly learned skills. Best of all, they have been able to transform their work from a job they did to a career they love.

Education is a passion. And we are passionate about what we do and passionate about helping our students achieve. This is what we do. And this is who we are.

Ready to change your future? Learn about all our social media program and all of our online graduate programs today.

Andrew Selepak
Director, MAMC in social media

About the Author

Andrew Selepak


Dr. Selepak is a professor in the department of telecommunication at the University of Florida, and director of the graduate program in Social Media.