Civic engagement and student leadership collide (in a good way)

In the photo: CCE Leads Sam Schmitke, Casie Lynch, and Kate Thomas (Murrow College seniors, class of 2020)

An evolving story about the journey of three former students taking a leadership role in the classroom

I am an advocate for in-curriculum service learning. In 2006 I was an adjunct instructor at Whitworth University teaching a public relations course to undergraduate students. We partnered with a few Spokane nonprofits over three years I taught there – even winning a Spark award in 2008 from the Spokane MarCom Association for the work students produced for Young Life.

I believe that service-learning projects inherently challenge students to think critically, respect diverse viewpoints and cultural perspectives, integrate and synthesize knowledge from multiple sources, and define and analyze problems.

Fast forward to the summer of 2018. In-curriculum service-learning was not a new concept for Murrow College courses. I will admit I was hesitant to re-enter this world. Working with “real clients” is varied, uneven, and unpredictable – a rough combination of potential chaos for any 300-level classroom. But when I was approached by Jessica Perone, faculty consultant for the WSU Center for Civic Engagement, I was intrigued at the prospect of adding service-learning into my COMSTRAT 383 Media Strategies and Techniques curriculum. Jessica was very persuasive, so I decided to take the plunge.

Jessica first partnered me with Deanna Claybaugh, a public health nurse with Whitman County Public Health (WCPH). The focus of the overall project was to raise awareness about locally significant public health issues through the creation and implementation of activities and campaigns for earned, owned, and shared channels.

WCPH poster
Poster created for 2019 Campus Community Forum summarizing 383 CCE work between 2018-2019

Since then, we have expanded our focus and now partner with multiple organizations including food insecurity groups on campus, Pullman Regional Hospital, WCPH, and Latah Alliance on Mental Health. Students are assigned to one of three teams that are led by three past 383 students: Casie Lynch, Kate Thomas, and Sam Schmitke. Each group is assigned various tasks in public relations, social media engagement, event promotions, grassroots outreach, and digital communication. We also created a registered student organization (RSO) called Health in Whitman County so we would have greater access to on-campus benefits such as tabling, posting flyers around campus, digital signage, and access to creative services. CCE leads serve as officers and students serve as members.

FUN FACT… 9 sections of Murrow College classes (COM, COMSOC, COMSTRAT) are collaborating with 17 community partners in spring 2020

The role of CCE Lead launched in fall 2019 with the idea that a past 383 student could exercise leadership and project management skills while also benefiting CCE partners. Highlights of the CCE Lead concept…

  • Using independent study and internship credit, past 383 students are given the opportunity to return to the classroom, adopt a CCE partner that meets their personal passions and interest, and take a leadership role with a small group of students working with them on select communications projects.
  • CCE leads were recruited because of their past performance, demonstration of leadership skills, and belief in their potential to emerge out of comfort zones and take on a new challenge.
  • Each student was selected because they possess the skills necessary to communicate, coordinate, and collaborate not only with their peer students, but with CCE stakeholders and community partners.
  • The role requires commitment, accountability, adaptability, and tenacity. Working with real clients is not an easy task. They must be steadfast, professional, persistent, and thorough.
  • The skills they learn in this process are invaluable to their long-term marketability and career prospects.

I am thrilled to report that Casie, Kate, and Sam all possess these skills and are thriving in their respective roles as CCE Leads. They work independently and together, and each continue to demonstrate their ability to coordinate, lead, and deliver on promise. And we are only half way through the semester!

So, if you are contemplating incorporating CCE projects into your classroom – or like the idea of bringing on a CCE Lead or two — here are a few tips I will pass along:

  • Ensure that there is enough work to make service learning meaningful and valuable to all students in the classroom. This can be challenging with just one partner unless there is enough work to spread across 20+ students.
  • Work with partners who are responsive, willing to provide students with access to behind-the-scenes materials and info, and individuals willing to meet with the students to listen, provide feedback, or share ideas.
  • The model for CCE Leads is terrific and I highly recommend it. Finding past students who are passionate about the work and who are interested in leading teams and working with community partners has been a great decision. It greatly limits the burden for the instructor and gives the students fantastic real-world leadership and project management experience.
  • Setting aside a CCE work day for each week has been very helpful. Not doing so makes it hard to make time for it throughout the week.
  • Making CCE tasks worth X points (yet open-ended on what will be accomplished) allows for more fluidity and freedom of scope.
  • Use of course fees allowed us to provide partners with tools they need while giving students access to paid tools and promotions including social media engagement, stock photography, and digital content creation software.

Murrow Symposium 2020 poster showcase
Poster created for spring 2020 showcases at Murrow Symposium and the Campus Community Forum at the University of Idaho

If you would like to learn more about the CCE project work in COMSTRAT 383, please visit my CCE in 383 page.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Mahatma Gandhi

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