WSU students lend their expertise to health partnership

After success of partnership with Whitman County Public Health, WSU plans on adding more clients

By Scott Jackson, Daily News staff writer

Nov 14, 2019 | original post (posted verbatim)

For more than a year, a public relations class at Washington State University has partnered with the local county health authority to design and implement public outreach.

And next semester, the class plans to take on three new clients.

Clinical assistant professor Rebecca Cooney, who teaches the class, said the program is a valuable opportunity for students to ply skills learned in class in a real-world environment while meeting a need in the community at the same time.

“These different nonprofits have no resources, of course, to do this work,” Cooney said. “They may have a person who’s appointed, but rarely does that person have the bandwidth to do much beyond a certain level of outcome.”

Cooney said when students first began working with Whitman County Public Health, the agency had little by way of cohesive brand messaging or social media presence. To help remedy this, she organized the students into five teams with different areas of focus, including public relations, digital content creation and social media. She said the program is now in its third semester and these teams have since helped WCPH with numerous public education campaigns, addressing subjects like breastfeeding, vaccine and sexual health awareness. She said students also established a presence for WCPH on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and beyond and helped them obtain software tools to manage these accounts smoothly.

Kate Thomas, Cooney’s teacher’s assistant and a former student in the class, said the program not only helped her hone important public relations skills, it gave her something tangible to put on a resume.

“It’s kinda like a warmup internship — I was like, ‘OK, this is what will be expected of me when I do go into an internship,’ so I’m not going in just completely blind,” Thomas said. “Obviously, I have my education, but now I kind of know how that’s applied in the real world and so when I move on to the real world, I’ll at least have some of my wits about me.”

Cooney said the program is a collaboration between WSU’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication and the university’s Center for Civic Engagement. Cooney said when she was approached CCE Faculty Consultant Jessica Perone about adding service learning opportunities to her class, she was worried it could “hijack” the entire class, but agreed that hands-on learning opportunities are important for students.

Now, Cooney said she expects the program to continue to grow, and some college leaders have mentioned it may be beneficial to offer a full class devoted solely to this kind of experience-based instruction, “almost like a mini agency running out of the college,” Cooney said.

Perone said this kind of collaboration is the entire reason the CCE exists. She said not only does it provide valuable experience to students, but work like they’ve done with WCPH will have a lasting, positive impact on the community.

“Service learning projects like this we know are proven to give the students professional development and academic success,” Perone said. “This type of connection with community gives them a sense of belonging to this new home community, which supports retention in college and it also is meeting a community-identified need.”

Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to

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