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Professors encourage involvement outside the classroom

Elon University is known for involving its students in experiential learning, and there are ample examples of this in the courses offered in the School of Communications. Professors augment their traditional classroom lectures with real-world assignments that take students outside Elon's ivy-covered walls. Here's what a few of Elon's Communications professors are doing to involve their students outside the classroom:

David Copeland: My JCM 218 Writing and Information Gathering students visited clerks of court offices, police stations and courthouses all across America as part of an assignment. Students were assigned to visit one of the three above places to gather information from public records over fall break. They also interviewed officials whenever possible. The idea is to gain a better understanding of how media work with law enforcement, the judicial system and administrators to gather information. Students also learn what information is available to media. Results were varied. Some students went to places where records were open as they should be. Other students ran into trouble gathering information because those in charge of the information did not see the "relevance" of students looking at the records. Students also left campus to produce feature stories.

Connie Book: I have every confidence that our students have been given the opportunity to learn to write well and to learn production skills associated with our profession. I focus on giving rising graduates an opportunity to combine their Elon curriculum to solve problems as a result prepare them for leadership roles within communications. A study of mass media managers found the following characteristics key to long-term success: 1. People who have integrity. 2. People who are collaborative and build good relationships with others. 3. People who have lots of ideas. 4. People who take responsibility, make decisions and attempt to solve problems. 5. People with vision. 6. People who are strong at follow-through and feedback. To that end, here are a couple of the projects I've directed students in:

1. Instant Messenger: An emergent technology with workplace potential. This study focused on uses and gratifications among IM users with particular consideration to gender differences. 2. The impact of Sept. 11 on the wireless telephone industry. This study focused on wireless telephone use on 9-11-01 and the impact of that device's use as a life-saving tool on the future of the wireless industry. The report predicts that the wireless phone industry will soon be regulated like a utility, seen as a necessity rather than a luxury item.

Jessica Gisclair: The 33 students in my spring semester section of JCM 318 Organizational Communications have chosen a corporate or not-for-profit organization to visit throughout the term as observers of the organization's communication. Through their 10 to 12 hours of observations, students will analyze the organization's use of communication theory and suggest changes for a more effective communication process. Their final reports will be shared with their supervisors. In my two spring semester sections of JCM 333 Principles of Public Relations, students are working with an on-campus client for whom they will create a public relations plan. The client is Resa Walch, assistant professor of HPLHP/director of substance education at Elon. Our goal is to develop and implement a plan to shape low-risk choices about alcohol use at Elon. If successful, the plan will be posted to the web site of the U.S. Department of Education: Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention. By posting our plan to the web site, other universities may adapt the strategies Elon students suggest to help with alcohol and drug prevention on their respective campuses.

David Loomis: Students in my fall 2001 JCM 218 Writing and Information Gathering class scooped local news media on a complex political story about two feuding Republican state lawmakers. The assignment: Write a news story about local politics. Options included campus politics - the Elon Student Government Association, for example. A group of students chose instead to tackle a complex story that involved an intraparty spat between two Republicans, each of whom has represented Alamance County in the North Carolina General Assembly for four terms. Recent press accounts had reported that State Sen. Hugh Webster, R-Yanceyville, had been publicly critical of state Rep. Cary Allred, R-Burlington, a signal that Webster might challenge Allred in the 2002 election, an unusual political maneuver. The story was complicated by state legislative redistricting, a rapidly developing partisan process in Raleigh threatening to Webster's re-election prospects in the Senate. The group of students researched the issues, invited Webster to campus for an interview, and Webster agreed. The news conference lasted more than an hour, during which Webster announced that he had just changed his legal residence to Alamance County, a move that would help him if he were to challenge Allred. The students' stories scooped the Burlington Times-News and the Raleigh News & Observer by at least two days.

Mark Fox: I always require my Public Speaking students to attend at least one outside speaking event, either on the campus or off, after which they write a two-to-three-page critique of the speech. I also require my Interpersonal Communications students to do "field work" by observing interpersonal communication events (ICE) and keeping a journal of their observations.

George Padgett: My senior seminar students do community projects which require them to combine their communications skills. They plan an event, promote, organize, and stage it. Last spring semester, students staged two events: a Frisbee tournament at Cedar Rock Park to benefit the Kopper Top handicapped riding program; and a bowling tournament to benefit Family Abuse Services. The two student groups raised about $1,000 or so for the two community groups. They also conducted a clothing drive and turned over many bags of like-new clothes to the FA used clothing store. The previous spring semester, students raised about $1,000 with a golf tournament. That check went to the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Greensboro. Over the years, we've done projects for Boy's & Girl's Club, the Aids Quilt and the Humane Society among others. In my feature writing class this semester, I am requiring students to submit their two major features to magazines. They are required to do market studies and magazine analyses, write letters and mail the articles.

Vic Costello: Students in JCM 352 Corporate Video are producing independent video projects for 20 local non-profit organizations. Students enrolled in this course conceptualize and produce an 8-to-10-minute video program designed to address a specific communication problem or need identified by the client company. Working with the client, students produce a program concept and script, then work to produce the finished video.

The list of client companies for Spring 2002 includes: Alamance Cares; Alamance Children's Theater; Alamance Community College Literacy Education Programs; Alamance County Community YMCA; Alamance County Dispute Settlement Center; Alamance County Meals on Wheels; Alamance Partnership for Children, Inc.; Alamance-Caswell Area mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Authority; Burlington & Alamance County Convention & Visitors Center; Burlington Downtown Corporation; Child Care Resource & Referral of Alamance, Inc.; Friendship Center of Alamance, Inc.; Habitat for Humanity of Alamance County; Loaves & Fishes - Christian Food Ministry of Burlington; Outreach and Prevention Services of Alamance, Inc.; Residential Treatment Services of Alamance, Inc.; Room at the Inn - Greensboro; Sickle Cell Disease Association of the Piedmont; The Hospice League of Alamance-Caswell; The Salvation Army Frank S. Holt Jr. Boys & Girls Club

Janna Anderson: The students in JCM 225 Reporting and Newswriting courses are each assigned to go to at least one civic meeting and come back with a report, including interviews with meeting participants. They generally cover the Burlington City Commission, Alamance-Burlington School Board or the Elon Board of Aldermen.

Students in JCM 425 Advanced Reporting course began the fall semester of 2001 by being assigned to find as many stories as possible about the new football stadium at Elon University. They put out a special newspaper about the stadium and its impact on the university and surrounding community. But they had an even bigger civic project. They also worked throughout the semester as reporters for The Burlington Times-News. The top three news editors at The Times-News came to campus to visit with the students three times. The students went to The Times-News, as well, first to familiarize themselves with a daily newspaper operation, and then to work on articles and do research. Each of the 18 students in the class had two or three bylined stories about the people, organizations and politics of the Burlington metro area published in The Times-News in February. Article subjects included: County taxes - how rates are set and what the money is used for; the controversy over a hog-processing plant being built near several area schools; the influx of Latinos in the area and what it means in the business community; the pros and cons of further business development in the region.

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