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Experiential PR students make real-world connections

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Posted on Thursday, March 28, 2019

After years of practice, college students begin to predict the formula for success when it comes to excelling in classes. 

Step one: Read each chapter carefully. 

Step two: Take detailed notes during lectures. 

Step three: Complete a group project or write a research paper. 

Step four: Take the final exam and hope for the best. 

This is practical method for many disciplines, but for those students studying public relations, this formula doesn’t quite cut it.

Every fall semester, seniors majoring in public relations at Westminster College must enroll in Experiential Public Relations—a course that takes a step outside of the classroom walls and requires students to produce functioning work for real clients. In the fall of 2019, seniors Olivia Withers, Conner Tumblinson and Matthew Causer created a working social media campaign for Westminster’s Clinical Mental Health Department of the Graduate School.

“The opportunity to have hands-on experience before graduating is crucial,” Tumblinson said.  “You can learn the tricks and theories of your field, but the work environment is very different than a classroom environment.”

Tumblinson and his classmates—using skills developed during their freshman, sophomore and junior year coursework—coordinated with the Graduate School Director Dr. Alison DuBois and Sharon Muraca, administrative coordinator, to learn more about their needs and collect data to be used for strategic planning.

“In a field like public relations, students can’t really learn all they need to know by sitting through lectures or reading textbooks,” said Dr. Suzanne Prestien, associate professor of English and public relations. “They absolutely have to apply what they’ve learned to real situations in the outside world.”

After the initial data collection, the students developed a situation analysis and a SWOT analysis identifying the Graduate School’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  After establishing campaign objectives, the team worked together to create a social media template plan for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that Dubois and her staff could manage.

“The project allowed me to collaborate with a group to develop a single social media,” Tumblinson said. “This helped me begin to become comfortable with collaborative projects in a work setting rather than a school setting.”

~ Megan Simpson '19