Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My PR Students Don't Waste First Two Years of College

I was a little conflicted, and a little upset.

I read this morning's USA Today article about a report that claims students gain very little from their first two years of college. The same article made the rounds of Chronicle of Higher Education and other trade and mainstream media.

Of course, criticism of higher education is not new, and in many ways it's appropriate given the importance of a college education in today's market and the fact that many colleges are funded at least in part by taxpayers. Indeed, the report's results showing a lack of rigor, both in terms of student attitudes and from some professors more interested in research than teaching, is consistent with an observed problem on some campuses.

But the danger is that people will generalize too much from this report. I know that here at Grand Valley State University, the message is loud, clear and frequent that teaching is paramount. That "rigor" word comes up often in meetings with faculty colleagues and deans.

I also know from my own experience that while some students may not apply themselves in their first two years on campus, many are beyond precocious in taking every opportunity to learn and grow.

Witness an event I attended last Friday night. It was an awards/kick-off banquet for GrandPR, the student-run PR firm associated with the GVSU Chapter of PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America. Let me emphasize, this was an event planned and executed entirely by students. This was all extracurricular and voluntary. This was evidence of their passion for their profession on a Friday night when many students might have been looking for more social activities. I was only invited as their advisor.

But I was glad I went. In fact, I have not often been more proud in my 10 years of teaching full time. They gave awards to individuals and teams of students for their public relations work with clients in the community--restaurants, a housing complex, a chamber of commerce, and more. They did research, media relations, web work, social media, events--again, all of this was outside of class requirements.

 Student Stephanie Rice speaks
at the GVSU PRSSA GrandPR event.
As for not making gains in their first two years of college, consider this passage from the group's president, Stephanie Rice, that night:

"I first joined PRSSA 4 years ago as a little Freshman, new to GVSU. Charlotte Sasinowski was the President then and during my sophomore year. Doug Clements was the Treasurer. I still remember the first day I heard about GrandPR… at a PRSSA meeting. Charlotte and Doug stood at the front of Kirkhof 2266, and Doug said: “If you are interested in working for GrandPR, stay after the meeting.” Now, at that time, I had NO clue what GrandPR even meant. But of course, I stayed anyways. Fast forward a bit and I was sitting in a GrandPR team meeting as an Account Associate on Leah’s team. This was the first night I met Stacey Nardozzi – yes – Stacey was a Freshman Account Associate. Our client was Lakeview Financial, and we had to write a news release and create direct mail pieces. And I heard Leah talk about client meetings and collecting payment. (It was pretty legit ;) To be completely honest, I can’t say I contributed anything meaningful to that account. But I was a darn good sponge. Fast forward to last year and Sarah Myles is chosen as the new GrandPR Firm Director. The same night I am elected President of PRSSA. Leading up to that night, the two of us talked forever about what we wanted to do if we got these positions. Well, you are all here and  you are all a part of them. So how are we doing?"
I know what I think. They're doing very well. It's a very different story than what you might get if you believed studies reported on in USA Today are reflective of all young people.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

'PR in Practice' Video Interviews With Practitioners

My fall 2010 semester sabbatical project was to produce a series of eight videos to show my “Fundamentals of Public Relations” classes. The idea is that, while guest speakers are great, they are standing in front of a white board. It’s also a hassle for them to find parking on campus ☺ By comparison, a series of video interviews, with b-roll footage, is a way to get students inside the offices and environments of PR practitioners.

I selected interview subjects who were recent graduates of the Grand Valley State University Advertising/Public Relations major program or who were seasoned veterans with unique experience in their particular area of the diverse public relations industry. The younger professionals will be interesting to students who can get an idea of where they might be in just a year or two. The veterans provided savvy insights based on years of experience. Collectively the videos are very educational.

The topics for each interview are aligned with a popular textbook in introductory public relations courses: “Public Relations Strategies and Tactics” by Dennis Wilcox and Glen Cameron. An early chapter explains the differences between agency work as opposed to working in-house in a PR department, so I have an video featuring the president and a staff member of an agency. The remaining videos feature practitioners in corporate, nonprofit, international, government, education, sports, and travel.

Originally, I had planned to burn an instructional DVD with each video being chapter. But with a nod to the emerging social media distribution model, I posted each video to this blog as they were finished. They are also all on my YouTube channel. But I thought I would post the master list with direct links here for anyone who’s interested to view and share:

•    Agency PR. Featuring Jeff Lambert and Jeremy Bakkan, APR, of Lambert, Edwards, and Associates. PRWeek Small Agency of the Year 2010.
•    Corporate PR. Featuring Sarah Heins at Shape Corporation.
•    Nonprofit PR. Featuring Keri Kujala at St. Mary’s Hospital and its Doran Foundation.
•    Government PR. Featuring Kevan Chapman of (former) US Representative Vern Ehler’s office.
•    International PR. Featuring several staff members of Amway Global.
•    Education PR. Featuring Ron Koehler, APR, of the Kent Intermediate School District and current president of the National Schools Public Relations Association.
•    Sports PR. Featuring Randy Rice of the Grand Rapids Griffins hockey team.
•    Travel PR. Featuring Janet Korn of Experience Grand Rapids.