School of Journalism and Media Studies
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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.

PAO Program Bootcamp (Required Summer Courses)

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

Core Theory and Methods (Required Fall Semester Courses)

  • 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

Advanced Theory and Methods (Required Spring Semester Courses)

  • JMS 620 - Quantitative Methods in Media Research


PAO graduate students may take 2 additional courses as electives. All electives must have the prior approval of the PAO program coordinator and the JMS graduate adviser. Electives taken without approval may not be counted toward the student’s program of study. No more than six units of electives may be taken as special study (JMS 798) units.