One-credit courses allow students to see new perspectives through expert, alumni experiences 

The Diederich College of Communication provides an opportunity for students to select classes with unique themes taught by industry experts in a workshop style setting

Actor and writer Pat Finn’s comfort zone is in front of the camera, portraying memorable characters on shows including Seinfeld, The Middle, Friends and the Meryl Streep movie “It’s Complicated.” But for the past three years, Finn has stepped off the stage and into the classroom to give back to Marquette, his alma mater. 

In February, Finn, Sp ’87, traveled from LAX to MKE to spend four days teaching one of the Diederich Learning Labs, one-credit workshops offered throughout the fall and spring semesters. The class, “Improv and Communication,” consists of four, three-hour sessions focused on improvisation skills and how they relate to effective communication in the real world. This is the third year Finn has taught the popular course, with around 20 students per semester in attendance. 

“It’s funny, there are colleges out there where you can’t graduate without taking a week of improv,” Finn says. “Companies are now finding that someone who has skills in listening, adapts to change and understands how to handle resistance is a better team player. Those aren’t qualities that you can learn in a book — they’re not taught in schools. Improv can help improve all of that.” 

Learning through lived experience 

The concept of a one-credit course is relatively new to the Diederich College of Communication. Dr. Kati Berg, associate professor and associate dean for academic affairs, explains that the workshops offer students a variety of outside-the-box learning opportunities that complement their traditional three-credit, semester-long classes. 

“The Diederich Learning Labs are taught by our engaged alumni and friends of our college,” Berg says. “Our students are fortunate to learn from them in this unique format since they bring years of industry experience to the classroom. We’re continually impressed by course topics suggested by our instructors.” 

“Improv and Communication” is just one of many one-credit courses that have been offered at Marquette. Recent topics include “The Business of Entertainment,” taught by alumna Jenna Santoianni, president of television at MRC, and “In the Bullpen,” which focused on play-by-play announcing skills instructed by famed Milwaukee Brewers announcer Brian Anderson

Experiencing is believing   

Student Katelyn Hodgson

Leaders in the college consistently hear positive feedback from students who have taken the one-credit courses.  

Junior digital media and sociology major Katelyn Hodgson says the course is a nice alternative to typical three-credit courses, noting that this is her fourth one-credit course — and it won’t be her last.  

“I think it’s super cool to take classes with alumni who have jobs and have made it because it’s hard to be in college and still figuring things out,” Hodgson says. “So, it’s great to see people who have made it. It’s really inspiring.”  

Corporate communication major Christopher Moore has no regrets taking the improv class and says that the experience has helped build his self-confidence. “It’s honestly a breath of fresh air,” Moore says. “I think having to go up there in front of everybody and work with a team has really helped me.” 

Student Christopher Moore

The communication field is fast paced and concepts change constantly; no one knows that better than Dr. Sarah Feldner, dean of the Diederich College of Communication. She explains that the Diederich Learning Labs are used to help supplement the curriculum across the college. 

“These do not always need to be a full semester-long course, and yet they are timely and important topics,” Feldner says. “At the same time, we have many talented alums and professionals connected to the program who have expertise to share with our students and faculty. The idea for these one-credit classes sits at the intersection of these two trends. It is a win-win.” 

For Finn, giving back to his alma mater by teaching the one-credit course is just one way he can pass on the values that he learned as an undergraduate at Marquette.  

“I think the takeaway is that you learn that you can make a difference and help others,” Finn explains. “I know people helped me and students are going help others along the way. So that’s certainly something that Marquette instilled in me and it’s just the right thing to do.”