One of the signature thrusts of The Rensselaer Plan 2024 is communication. Professor Miles Kimball, the current head of the Communication and Media Department at RPI, says communication skills are more valuable in our modern era than ever before. “Good communication skills will make you more valuable,” he said in our interview. “Communication skills help you get the job, help you get the promotion.” These skills come in many forms, from creative writing to technical communications.
Kimball got his Ph.D. in English from the University of Kentucky. He described technical his expertise in communication as, “getting the right information to the right people at the right time.” More traditionally, technical communication is about writing manuals. But nowadays, with the widespread usage of the internet, communicating essential information has become greatly more efficient.
But technical communication also has much more important uses. “Let’s say that you had a control panel that had four buttons,” Kimball said, “and you had to press those four buttons in a particular sequence. You could make a fifth button that does that for you, but that’s an engineering solution. That costs a lot of money. Instead, you might have a communications solution where you tell people in which order to punch the buttons.” However, if this is a solution is in a nuclear facility, for example, this type of solution will be temporary, “until an engineering solution can be done.” Mainly, technical communication fills in the gap between the way technology ought to work and the way it actually works.
The Communication and Media department at RPI prides itself on its interdisciplinary structure. This means that this department at RPI offers courses that most Communication departments can’t offer. “RPI is very good in putting different disciplines together in different ways, and I hope that I can contribute to that,” Kimball said. He’s right; the department offers collaborative majors with the arts and social sciences, as well as a doctorate in Communication and Rhetoric. In that past, RPI had one of the few technical communication majors in the county, but over time, those faculty retired. But tradition never dies at Rensselaer. Kimball hopes to capitalize on this history and start offering more technical writing classes.
He also hopes to expand the department to offer more interdisciplinary courses. Currently, he is most excited about a new major that is currently in development called Digital Humanities. As of right now, it is a work in progress, but outside of his office, on the fourth floor building, is a poster that shows videos and animations when you look at it through your phone, an example of what technology can bring to communication.
RPI students are well prepared for the working world in relation to hard, technical skills but communication skills are typically lacking. Kimball said, “If graduates of the Institute recognize it and the Institute recognizes it, we just need to convince more students that it’s more important.”