Class for a Cause
April 6, 2020
UNC values hands-on education, but what does that look like in various fields? In the case of Journalism and Media Studies 481: Strategic Communications Campaigns, it looks like raising thousands of dollars for a local cause.
Professor Amy Reitz, Ph.D., teaches the course. She says the purpose of her class projects are to better prepare students for their careers.
“I believe providing students with hands-on, experiential learning opportunities enriches their learning experiences and moves them from the textbook to the real world,” she says. “The real-world experiences give them glimpses of what their future will be like and provide an opportunity for them to push their boundaries, take chances and even fail in a low-stakes environment, which allows them to grow and be better prepared for their journey after UNC.”
This spring, her JMS 481 class spent eight weeks working with client Jeraldine Kraver, Ph.D., professor of English and director of English Education at UNC. Their assignment: craft and execute a comprehensive strategic communications campaign to help get school supplies into the hands of local District 6 teachers, who can spend hundreds of dollars from their own pockets to purchase necessary materials for their students.
After meeting with Kraver, the class of 13 decided the best way to provide the supplies would be by raising money and packaging the supplies into classroom kits, as well as collecting supplies through drop boxes around campus. They contacted local businesses to serve as sponsors, departments on campus to host drop boxes, and anyone else who could help spread the word. Each student took on a different role, serving on teams within the larger team to accomplish their goals.
Senior Meagan Fisher says the class took what Reitz teaches about campaign strategies and created a situation where the students had to make real-world decisions based on real-world roadblocks.
“It (the project) shows you how nothing goes as planned, really,” Fisher says. “We walked through how we wanted it to go, and you just have to be willing to change and adapt to every stage.”
She also says that the inter-team communication she learned will serve her well in her career, where she’d like to work in communications for a company that connects people with resources. After all, connecting people with resources was at the heart of this campaign.
Joanna Sorensen ’16 is an English teacher at Greeley West High School, working with their Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) Department. She says having supplies donated by her fellow Bears is “a sweet gift.”
“It is encouraging and awesome to see the partnership between District 6 and UNC continue to grow, and it makes me personally feel connected to my Alma Mater even though I'm no longer an active student,” Sorensen says.
Sorensen typically has to wait for a supplies order at the beginning of each semester, with a $70-80 budget for the whole department, or purchase items herself. Top products include one-subject notebooks, sticky notes, granola bars to give to students who may get hungry during time in her classroom, Band-Aids, whiteboard markers and pencils.
Understanding teachers’ needs put a spark into the UNC students’ campaign efforts. They ultimately raised more than $3,000 and put together 39 classroom kits, all of which were given to UNC alumni teachers in District 6.
“One of the aspects of this experience that surprised me so much was how the students in Amy Reitz's class who were planning this incredible Collections for Classrooms fundraising event were so moved by the situation of classroom teachers,” says Kraver, who connected the class with teachers in District 6. “The thing is, we have all been taught, we all know teachers in our lives, and talking to these UNC students about the hardships teachers face and the hardships the students in their classrooms face gave our UNC students a different perspective on a world they thought they knew so well from 12 years in public education. And that personal connection to a cause is what makes working for that cause not just a job but a mission.”
Fisher agrees that the campaign was worthwhile especially for the population it served, citing how hard teachers work to care for their students.
“We exceeded all of our expectations, so I’m proud that we get to help them out a little bit because they do a lot for the community,” Fisher says.
—Written by Rebecca Dell