SRU media course benefits students, community and faculty through service-learning
From left, Ashley Meier, a senior dual communication and interdisciplinary programs major from Bellefonte, Delaware; Trey Douyon, a senior communication major from Charleroi; and Christopher Fuller, a senior communication major from Washington, pitch media project ideas to their client, Slippery Rock Area Parks and Recreation.
March 3, 2020
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — The name of the Media Project Management course at Slippery Rock University describes exactly what students are doing during the semester: managing media projects. But this senior-level capstone course for communication majors is developing skills for more than just students because of an emphasis on service-learning. Community partners who are serving as real-world clients, and even the professor of the class, are also benefitting from their experience.
"This class is more beneficial for the students, more beneficial for the community and it's more beneficial for me as I learn how to better implement service-learning into the classroom," said Doug Strahler, SRU assistant professor of communication. "The goal of the class is a capstone, so it gives students the opportunity to put into practice everything they've learned over their four years at the University. I've set up various community partners as clients that allow students to really develop and apply their skills, providing a focus on community engagement."
Aspects of service-learning in classes at SRU are not new, even for the same Media Project Management courses dating back to when Strahler took the class in 2005 as an SRU student.
However, Strahler is SRU's first Service-Learning Faculty Fellow, a one-year position selected by the University's Office for Community-Engaged Learning for which a professor advocates to promote involvement among faculty peers in the practice of implementing service-learning in the classroom. Fellows also oversee faculty mini-grants from the OCEL and a faculty learning community that studies service-learning. As an institution recognized with the 2020 Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, SRU approaches service-learning based on six attributes that include reciprocal partnerships and critical reflection.
"One of the great things about what we do is giving back to the community through reciprocity," Strahler said. "The clients who wanted to be involved with the student-learning process are teaching them about their organizations, programs, services and other things that they do, and the students reciprocate by being involved with teaching the clients, not just producing work for them but educating them on things that (the client) could be doing."
This semester, Strahler recruited three community partners to serve as clients for his students: Slippery Rock Area Parks and Recreation; IZE Week, which is an annual social justice collaborative organized by the Student Nonprofit Alliance at SRU; and the Shady Beans Coffee Co., a nonprofit, organic coffee company owned by Julie Snow, SRU professor of geography, geology and environment.
The 18 students in the Media Project Management course are assigned to one of three groups that conduct research about each organization before pitching ideas for media projects, such as website design, videos, social media campaigns, email newsletters and other deliverables. After that, the students form separate "departments" to complete the projects. For example, students who specialized in video work together to create content for each of the three clients.
From left, Cydney Dewitt, a senior communication major from
Montrose, meets with Mary Messer, director of Slippery Rock
Area Parks and Recreation.
"I set the course up like an agency, which allows the students to play off of each other's strengths," Strahler said. "By the end of the semester they will have put together all the deliverables and hopefully have conducted part of a campaign to have some sort of assessment for the client."
Six students are pitching ideas to Mary Messer, director of SRAP&R, to help the organization grow awareness in the community for its programs that include everything from youth gymnastics and adult yoga classes to cooking and painting programs.
"This will help me with client interaction," said Cydney Dewitt, a senior communication major from Montrose, who is the project manager assigned to SRAP&R and plans to pursue a career in social media. "This is the first time I've ever interacted with a client before and that's something that I'm going to be doing (in my career). Just being able to get that exposure before I graduate is something I'm incredibly grateful for. Having the opportunity to make connections and serve the community is something I really enjoy."
"I love working with SRU students," said Messer, who is the only full-time SRAP&R employee working along with as many 24 part-time staff. "They understand the technology and they have the social media awareness that we lack in our office because we are such a small operation.
"This has been fabulous. What my group has been able to do in a couple weeks I couldn't have gotten done in six months. They've done research and provided excellent feedback and I'm eager to see what's next."
All three clients provide unique challenges for the students. IZE Week provides students with the urgency of meeting deadlines. This year's IZE Week, which addresses food security and food justice, is March 22-28 at various SRU locations and incudes a March 27 "Harvesting Ideas for Food Security" mini-conference at Butler Memorial Hospital. Shady Beans sources coffee from Nicaraguan farmers who use forest-grown methods that are environment friendly, but because the company has no storefront business, the students are charged with developing strategies to appeal to a national market and consumer-advocates who want to #BeanTheChange, as the team's social media hashtag suggests.
"We're helping rebrand the company, redesigning the website and setting up social media accounts," Viktoria Minina, a senior communication major from Lititz, who is project manager for the Shady Beans client. "We want to touch on the empathy behind her company and the environmental benefits. I like how the work we do is a real-life experience and is something I'm actually going to be able to put on my resume or in my portfolio."
According to Strahler, even after the semester concludes, the clients will have access to files and other materials that he said will act as a "training manual" to continue the progress made by the students.
"They'll get documentation on their strategy and a content calendar that the students will start to populate for them," Strahler said. "When the students 'turn over the keys' at the end of the semester, they're going to be set for however many years they want to use it. At the very least it's a starting point that gives them some structure and basic content and they can walk away with a better idea of how to proceed."
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