Online Master’s Student Heads to Kyrgyzstan for Russian Immersion Program
Some people binge-watched television shows during the pandemic. Others took up baking or DIY projects. Gage Taylor (‘19) decided to learn how to speak Russian.
Taylor is a science writer at KBR, Inc., a third-party contractor at NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO).
He graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville with an English degree with a technical communication concentration.
Through his company, Taylor was able to pursue his master’s online at the College of Communication and Information with a concentration in Strategic and Digital Communication. This interdisciplinary program is one of the only online master’s programs in the country that includes content from all college-wide disciplinary areas in advertising and public relations, communication studies, information sciences, and journalism and media.
Taylor, 26, is on a record pace to complete the SDC degree in just two semesters, and plans to graduate this fall. He may have finished even earlier if not for a break he is taking this month to participate in an eight-week, full-immersion experience with a cohort of students at the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan. There, he will stay with a host family and study Russian through the Critical Language Scholarship Program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.
The opportunity may not have been possible if not for his enrollment in the CCI online master’s program.
“I think being in a graduate-level program certainly showed I was serious about being a professional communicator and demonstrated the focus I have,” Taylor said. “I was able to make the case that I could use Russian to serve government customers better, whether with NASA or the state department.”
Taylor became interested in science writing as a junior at UT. He got an internship with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and spent two years working there.
“I really did enjoy it,” Taylor said. “I felt like I had a knack for communicating science in an understandable way and really being an effective advocate for science and engineers.”
Most students pursuing their masters in the Strategic and Digital Communication concentration average two classes per semester. Taylor took five classes during his first semester last fall while maintaining a 4.0 GPA, and plans to take five more next semester once he returns from his trip.
“It is a grind. I won’t lie. I dramatically underestimated the amount of work you have to do,” he said. “So I really lucked out that all the professors have been super supportive that I have a full-time job and understood that I have other obligations and they have been flexible with deadlines and the time I need to work on assignments. I have felt supported the whole way.”
Alexis Anderson, the degree program manager, was surprised when she saw Taylor was already halfway to graduating after only one semester. She had to double check to make sure she wasn’t reading anything wrong.
“I was just so impressed by his ability to take on that workload in addition to working full-time and do it all so well,” Anderson said. “I spoke to Gage to ensure he was getting the most out of the program and that the curriculum was providing him with the knowledge and skills it is designed to impart. He said everything was great, he was learning so much, and was really excited about this summer opportunity.”
Taylor largely works remotely from Chattanooga writing stories about researchers developing advanced Earth-science technologies and information systems. He spends a lot of time interviewing scientists for his stories.
“I have them tell me more about their work and put together feature stories about that and then publish them to our website,” he said. “Sometimes I will work with other NASA media folks, contractors, and civil servants to disseminate content further through the NASA sphere.”
Taylor has learned a lot during his online graduate studies that he believes will advance his career. He’s already seeing the benefit from the courses he completed.
“That has been the most valuable,” Taylor said. “I have always been good with the tactics of producing content and storytelling, but I feel like this course really helped me be able to start developing a communication strategy for my customers right now for my company to help them provide the most value to our government customers.”
Written by Rhiannon Potkey