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Students launch successful careers through online graduate communication program at PennWest Clarion

For James Goertel and Corey Santoriello, it's all about building meaningful lives and successful families, backed with a solid career foundation. With help from the online M.S. in Mass Media Arts and Journalism (MMAJ) Program at PennWest Clarion, both men have attained it all.

 This year, the two finished their graduate degrees and are off and running in communication careers, thanks to their new credentials. James and Corey say more than anything, their wives and young sons have inspired their educational journeys. The boys were both born in 2009, just as their dads began coursework in the MMAJ program. 

"At the time, my wife Rachel was doing her doctorate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania," said James, age 47, in a phone interview from his home in Westfield, N.Y. "She took classes by day, and I worked on mine at night. I remember sitting in our apartment, holding Henry in one arm and typing on my laptop with the other. A few times, we thought we might actually be insane. But we were in it together."

Corey, age 26, had already earned his B.S. in Communication from Clarion in 2008. When he and his wife Nicole found out they were soon going to be parents, they decided to move from Scranton, Pa. back to Brookville, Corey's hometown. Corey said he knew the M.S. in MMAJ program was a perfect fit. "I can tell you that I didn't have to search too hard," he said in a phone interview from his home in Brookville. "I had such a great experience with the Clarion University professors and the program as an undergraduate. I knew about the Clarion faculty, their expertise and their passion for teaching. All of this made the decision really easy for me."

Adrian was born in August 2009, just as Corey started his graduate studies. "The online format of the MMAJ program gave me plenty of time at home with Adrian while my wife worked," he said. "It was one of those things I wish more moms and dads could experience - just watching my son grow and learn new things day by day; taking that first step, learning a new word. I was there for it all."       

Corey recalls that he would get up early with Adrian, feed him, hang out and play for a while. Once Adrian went down for his naps, Corey would dive into his coursework. "He would usually sleep two or more hours each time, so that was more than enough to accomplish what I needed to do each day. Clarion's course schedule and the overall program were so flexible that I was able to accomplish everything with very little trouble."   

By taking nine credits each semester and six credits in the summers, Corey knocked out his M.S. degree in only 16 months, by December 2010. He capped off his studies with a six-credit internship as a public relations assistant at The Laurel Eye Clinic in Brookville. Corey did so well that the company created a position for him as their first-ever public relations coordinator. He began full-time employment with The Laurel Eye Clinic in November, before graduation.

"I did every job they asked me to do, and looked for different ways to improve their public relations procedures and techniques," Corey noted. "Thanks to what I learned in the MMAJ program, I was able to provide a fresh pair of eyes in a company that had been doing things the same way for a number of years." 

Corey said the M.S. degree in MMAJ has equipped him with the theoretical knowledge and skills he needed to succeed in a public relations career. "This degree gave me lots of hands-on experience," he said. "Many of our class assignments and tests were very similar to real-world public relations projects, which really prepared me for this position."  

Dr. Scott Kuehn, a professor with the Department of Communication at PennWest Clarion, served as Corey's instructor for several classes. He noted that the 36-credit M.S. in MMAJ degree is both theoretical and skills-based, making it especially useful to graduates and employers. "In this program, we don't just create people who are topic experts," he said. "They understand the topics but they also know how to apply them to professional settings.

"Corey demonstrates the best of all that," continued Dr. Kuehn. "He has learned how to create messages for a purpose and execute them in a public relations setting. The management at The Laurel Eye Clinic obviously recognized this and brought Corey aboard with his technical expertise to help achieve their organizational goals. Experts like Corey are highly sought after in the public relations marketplace."     

For James, the M.S. in MMAJ degree formalized 20 years of field experience in video production. It began in 1987 when James finished his B.A. in Communication from Temple University in Philadelphia. For two decades, he worked as a videographer, lighting and sound technician, and producer for ABC, CBS and NBC. From 1996 to 2006, he produced commercials with agencies in New York City for clients including Kraft Foods, Guinness Brewery and American Express. James' video work took him across the globe, from England, Denmark and Germany to Hawaii and all of the other 50 states. When terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in 2001, James was at Ground Zero filming with NBC's Dateline.

"It was only a couple of days after the attack, and everything was still smoldering," James recalled. "Our job was to follow a retired fireman who was searching for his missing son in the wreckage. As I tried to clip the microphone on his jacket, my hands were shaking so badly, I could hardly attach it. I'll never forget what happened next. He grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye and said, 'Relax. Everything's going to be OK.' All of this while looking for his own son!"  

In the following weeks, James filmed a number of other related stories with Dateline crews at the Pentagon and at the plane wreck site in Somerset, Pa.      

 Exciting as it all was, in 2006 James decided he needed to get off the road. He continued to work as a freelance producer from home and began devoting more time to script writing. He also taught a few classes at local colleges, and that's when he realized his passion for education. Understanding that a graduate degree is a necessary prerequisite to college-level teaching, James' wife Rachel spotted the M.S. in MMAJ degree program at Clarion and urged him to enroll in it.    

"Actually, she just went and signed me up," said James with a laugh. "Next thing I knew, I had an acceptance letter from Clarion.  As a returning student, it was hard at first. If you had made a recording of me during that first week of study, it couldn't be shown on most networks. But once I got past that early frustration, and got into the rhythm of coursework, I began to love it. I realized, 'Oh my gosh. I am about to open a world of possibilities I had never considered."

From that day on, James never looked back. He says he found the PennWest Clarion courses to be relevant and interesting, user-friendly and highly organized, with plenty of support from professors and technical staff. "I immediately saw how well structured everything was," James recalled. "If I submitted an assignment wrong, or got lost on the course website, they were right there to help me. I could always shoot them an e-mail and get a quick response. Since I'm 47 years old, I'm not afraid to ask questions. I felt that rapport with my professors right away."       

This spring, James successfully defended his portfolio project, titled "A Proposal for Chautauqua Crisis Communications". The portfolio focused on the development of a startup company to help organizations manage the public relations aspects of crisis communications. James is also following his teaching passion as a communication writing instructor with Daemen College near Buffalo, N.Y. Last summer, he and Rachel bought a home on Lake Erie and have been working to renovate it in between online coursework. "When everyone else is out boating and fishing on the lake, I'm working or studying," James said. "But it's not a bad deal. I can open my laptop out on the deck and enjoy the view while I study."          

Back in Brookville, Pa., Corey said he found his online class experiences at Clarion to be equally positive. The professors were friendly and helpful, and they structured the courses to enable healthy interaction with classmates. "My expectations were more than exceeded," he said. "Whether it was through e-mail communication or a thread on a discussion board, each professor responded in a timely manner and completely answered any questions that arose.  Many instructors also provided their home phone numbers and e-mail addresses, which made it easy to contact them if I had any pressing questions near a project deadline.  It was great feeling to know that the professors were as vested in my learning and progress as I was."

Corey noted that he especially enjoyed working with the other students in the program. "Many of the students came from different backgrounds and even had different undergraduate degrees, so it was great to learn new ideas and theories from such a diverse group," he said. "When projects were assigned it was very easy to schedule online chat sessions with group members due to the flexible schedule.  Just like the professors, the other students could usually be counted on to answer a question. Professors and students alike were willing to stop and help at the drop of a hat, or discussion post."

So what do James and Corey advise others who are considering enrolling in an online degree program? James noted that students will need some basic computer experience with Web navigation, Microsoft Word and e-mail. Also, online study demands a higher degree of discipline. Students must be able to manage their own schedules and be willing to work hard every day without any direct supervision. "If you're going to pursue the degree, if you really want learn something and get results, you must commit the time," James said. "It's not just about doing the assignments. It's about taking something from the program."

The M.S. in MMAJ is intensive and rigorous, cautioned James. "This is not one of those soft programs where you can float in and check in on the course every so often. Clarion's program is top-notch, so to bring anything less than your 'A-game' is a setup for failure. But if you try at it, you will find all the help you need. 

Corey encouraged anyone interested to give online study a try. "Many people might not think they have the time to go through a degree program while they work and raise their families," he said. "But honestly, the curriculum at Clarion University makes it really easy for you. Try hard and you will make it." 

About PennWest Clarion's Programs

Clarion's online programs enable students to earn a two-year associate degree, a four-year bachelor's degree, a graduate degree or an advanced certificate online while working full-time, without having to come to the Clarion campus. Online study can be an ideal choice for people who are unable to travel to campus due to distance, job commitments or family responsibilities. Financial aid is available. PennWest Clarion is approved for the GI Bill®, and offers in-state tuition rates to active-duty military personnel, spouses and their dependents.

 "Clarion University delivers online educational programs that are convenient and flexible, and which are held to the same quality standards as traditional on campus instruction," said Dr. Art Acton, Associate Vice President for Graduate and Extended Programs. "These programs all meet or exceed the rigorous requirements for regional and national accreditation."

About PennWest Clarion

Located 70 miles north of Pittsburgh in northwestern Pennsylvania, PennWest Clarion is a public, state university with an annual enrollment of 5,500 students in undergraduate and graduate programs. The university sits on an historic 100-acre campus with 43 buildings including the Carlson Library, two dozen computer laboratories, and a $35 million science and technology center. PennWest Clarion is recognized by 27 separate accrediting agencies, which is the most of any university in the State System of Higher Education. The PennWest Clarion Virtual Campus has been providing online learning opportunities to students since 2000, and enrolls more than 1,600 in its various distance education programs. 

For more information

For more information on The M.S. in MMAJ degree, or other online degree and certificate programs at PennWest Clarion, call 1-866-272-5612, send e-mail to or go online at 

“GI Bill ®” is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at

Last Updated 8/31/22