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PAO Program

What is the PAO Program at SDSU?
The PAO Program in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University is an intensive graduate program leading to a master’s degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies. The program is restricted to mid-career Public Affairs Officers (PAOs) in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Typical PAOs in the program have a minimum of five years of professional experience; some have had 20 years of service as PAOs.

A Brief History
Launched in 2004, the initial impetus for the PAO Program was a request from the U.S. Navy to devise a high-level strategically oriented program for mid-career PAOs. The PAO Program has grown and now involves participation from nearly all branches of the U.S. military.

Program of study
Through an intensive summer session program and a heavy program of study in the fall and spring semesters, PAOs complete the rigorous 30-unit master’s degree program in 10 months. Candidates are selected for the program by various branches of the military and assigned to full-time studies at SDSU. The candidates, in turn, compete selectively with civilians for admissions to the master’s degree program in the School of Journalism & Media Studies.

What PAOs learn at SDSU
Through training and experience, PAOs arrive at SDSU with extensive expertise in the technical aspects of public relations, including news writing, media relations, and message distribution. In the Mass Communication and Media Studies master’s program, PAOs learn strategic analytic skills that permit them to plan public affairs programs with measurable outcomes, implement those programs, and measure their effectiveness. Further, PAOs learn skills that help them play the critical role of strategic counselors to their commanders.


PAO Program Curriculum

Please visit the SDSU Graduate Bulletin for detailed information on all JMS graduate courses. The program lasts approximately 10 months, from July to May each year.


Summer Semester

The summer session is 4 weeks, with classes five days a week. The summer session is in person.

  • JMS 603 - Seminar in Professional Development in Military Public Affairs
  • JMS 602 - Seminar in Military Public Affairs

Summer registration goes through SDSU Global Campus. Dr. Sweetser provides specific registration instructions for Navy and Marine students. This is typically emailed to the cohort around late May or June.


Fall Semester

Students register for available classes via SDSU's WebPortal, which is a different process than summer school registration.

  • JMS 595 - Seminar in Theoretical Approaches to Public Relations
  • JMS 600A Seminar - Introduction to Graduate Studies in Mass Communication and Media Studies
  • JMS 600B Seminar - Research Methods in Mass Communication and Media Studies

Most classes are one day per week, for a nearly 3-hour block. Our graduate classes typically start at 4 p.m. or 7 p.m. Check the SDSU course list to see what is offered for the semester.


Spring Semester

The spring semester allows students the most choice in their study. If you're not sure what to take, talk to Dr. Sweetser for recommendations.

  • JMS 620 Quantitative Methods in Media Research
  • Approved elective 2
  • Approved elective 3
  • Approved elective 4

Just as in the fall, the classes are typically evening classes for a 3-hour block one day a week. Check the SDSU course list to see what is being offered this semester.


Approved Electives

Students will take 4 electives within this program. There is 1 elective in the fall, and 3 in the spring.

Not all classes are offered every semester. Check the SDSU class schedule to see which classes are being offered.

  • JMS 506 Advertising & Society
  • JMS 525 News & Social Media
  • JMS 566 Advertising Analytics
  • JMS 567 Advanced Topics in Advertising
  • JMS 581 Applied Research PR
  • JMS 574 International Advertising
  • JMS 588 Public Relations Case Studies
  • JMS 590 Crisis Communication in Public Relations Management
  • JMS 596 Digital Media & Public Policy
  • JMS 619 Qualitative Methods
  • JMS 780 Advanced Theory in Public Relations
  • JMS 798 Special Study
  • COM 610 Advanced Communication Theory
  • COM 555 Conflict Management
  • COMM 735 Relational Communication
  • HSEC 601 Homeland Security
  • HSEC 602 Science Technology & Homeland Security
  • HSEC 690 Cyber Crime & Infrastructure Security
  • MKTG 772 Strategic Brand Management
  • LDT 515 Games, Play and Learning
  • LDT 596 Consciousness Hacking

Among the electives students choose, they must take 2 of the following classes during their time at SDSU: JMS 515, JMS 525, JMS 566, JMS 588 and JMS 590.

Students may present electives to Dr. Sweetser as options for their individual degree plans for review. Electives must be first approved by Dr. Sweetser before consulting with the graduate program coordinator.