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School of Communications Program Prepares Graduate Students for Success

Graduate’s paper wins international communication award

Months of work finally paid off for BYU graduate Mandy Oscarson, her faculty advisor, Ken Plowman, and his research assistant Zachary Miller when their paper won the Koichi Yamamura International Strategic Communication Award at the 2018 International Public Relations Research Conference in Orlando, Florida.

Despite a few nerves as a first-time conference presenter, Miller, a mass communications graduate student, felt confident because of the preparation he and Plowman had done through the research process.

Oscarson was unable to attend the conference, but she was surprised to win the award. “I used to think the only people who received awards at conferences were either PhDs who had done years of research and were experts in their fields or students who had a research project that needed funding,” said Oscarson. She felt she did not fit either of those stereotypes as a single mom and graduate student.


Mandy Oscarson. Photo courtesy of Mandy Oscarson.

“I think of this award as a tender mercy from Heavenly Father,” she continued. “He remembers all the hard work and sacrifices I made to finish my thesis and He wants me to remember it, so I don’t get down on myself when I’m struggling.”

Oscarson started the research as a graduate student in Mass Communications at BYU. Before graduating in 2012, she interned for the U.S. Department of Defense where she noticed “power seemed to be hindering communication efforts across the department.” she said. I’m always interested in finding better ways of communicating within organizations. That’s what prompted the research.”

Using interviews and surveys, the team investigated the different factors contributing to the failure of internal strategic communication within the organization. They found three elements to be the main culprits: trust, transparency and the use of power.

Survey responses cited that a main source of frustration and low morale was an absence of trust between leaders and their employees. They also indicated that a lack of transparency created confusion and inconsistencies in completed projects. Many also felt that a lack of empowerment from those in power contributed to the overall situation.

“The implications are for people to try and consider everything that could be contributing to poor communication within their organization,” said Oscarson. “There could be multiple reasons, and they may be things no one has looked at yet. As we learn more, we’ll be able to refine how we communicate, even in an ever-changing, increasingly fast-moving world.”


Zachary Miller. Photo courtesy of Zachary Miller.

“These findings are applicable in a lot of different ways, both professionally and personally,” said Miller. “These principles are absolutely worth learning about, developing and practicing. Knowing how to communicate in ways where you are inclusive of others, honest, willing to share your power and open to feedback is helpful in any relationship.” 

“Being able to present this research to other graduate students and scholars of public relations was an eye-opening and insightful experience. I was able to not only learn about conducting effective research, but I also received terrific feedback that will help me in my academic and professional careers,” said Miller.

Although they won the competition, the team isn’t finished with the project. Currently, the three are preparing to submit the paper to a journal.

Regardless of whether or not it gets published, the project has already been a success, at least in the lives of the graduate students involved.

“This research helped me land my first job out of grad school,” said Oscarson. She worked at for a year and a half and said based on that research, she is “always watchful for how trust, transparency and power can impact communications.”

“The opportunities I’ve had as a research assistant have helped me conduct better research and exposed me to different ideas that I wouldn’t normally get to experience,” said Miller. “I believe I’m better able to understand the challenges organizations face and create solutions to address those issues.” He hopes to one day work in external relations where he believes an understanding of this research will benefit his colleagues, future employer and their audiences.