JMU PR Education Program Earns Accolades for Innovative Approach

edelman PR training sessionStudents work on projects in small groups during the training session.

Videos from the conference:
Overall conference
Study Abroad
Houston Astros Presentation
Edelman's expectations
Pre-event thoughts

Digital 101 Blog

The sounds of clicking keyboards filled Festival ballroom on a recent Saturday morning as 65 communication studies and media arts and design students sat anxiously waiting for day two to begin. It was 8:30 a.m.

For most college students, it was prime time for sleeping in, but for these students it was all about being more active.

By 8:45, day two of Edelman’s Digital 101 Bootcamp was under way and the students were busy at work, learning how to use social media in the public relations industry.

"Most of the people who attended knew how to use new media and technology like Facebook, Twitter and blogging," said Valerie Noonan, a junior public relations major. "But we wanted Edelman to show us how to use them in PR—how to strategically use them."

Edelman, the world’s largest independent public relations firm, chose JMU as the host for its second-ever Digital boot camp. With JMU’s close proximity to Washington D.C., numerous alumni that work at Edelman and the prestige of the JMU PR program, JMU was an ideal place for the boot camp, said Dr. Corey Hickerson, assistant professor of communication studies.

Edelman Digital 101 spanned the weekend of March 27, led by nine account members of the Edelman Digital Public Affairs team. Two of the presenters, Kate Marshall and Patrick Stinnett, are JMU alumni.

The event introduced students to the expanding world of social media and ways to implement social media successfully into the PR industry. Students separated into seven groups where they worked for mock clients.

The groups researched their client, created a situation analysis and developed strategies and tactics, culminating in presentations to the entire group about what they learned.

"Edelman exposed our students to more new media, reinforced what was taught in the classroom and helped students make contacts in the professional world," said Hickerson.

Students said the hands-on structure of the program was unique.

"The most valuable part was to do a campaign from beginning to end," said Noonan.

At the end of the two-day event, students left with a better understanding of the world of social media and the tools available to them.

"We are considered to be a tech-savvy generation, but there is always more to learn," said Noonan. "We learned all we could learn in two days."

"Edelman also left the event impressed by the JMU students, the skill set they brought with them and the knowledge they had about social media," Hickerson said. "It's indicative of the changes JMU has integrated over recent years to enhance its program."

On March 5, JMU took home honorable mention for Education Program of the Year at the PRWeek Awards in New York City, coming in second to New York University. The awards, sponsored by PRWeek, honor the nation’s best corporate, agency, nonprofit and educational achievements. The education program of the year award recognizes achievements in curriculum innovation contributing to the professional preparation of future public relations practitioners.

JMU's PR program focus has expanded to include new courses on both international and new media approaches, said Dr. Frank Kalupa, professor of public relations.

"I think those are the two biggest needs in the field of PR as well as for the students here," Kalupa said. "Developing a global perspective and armed with new media we hope the JMU students will be more competitive."

Advanced writing courses in the program allow students to participate in new media outlets such as blogs and Twitter. International courses such as the Global Public Relations Project give students the opportunity to work with students from universities around the world to competitively develop communication campaigns.

In 2008 JMU chartered its own chapter of Public Relations Student Society of America, a group that now has more than 100 active members. The organization sponsors events for students including resume and cover letter workshops and visits to top public relations agencies in Washington, D.C.

Kalupa recently started a Middle East-Europe study abroad program, which provides PR majors an opportunity to meet international communication professionals from places including the United Arab Emirates, London, Paris and Istanbul. The program is considered one of the most extensive public relations study abroad programs offered by any university, Kalupa said.

Innovation requires investment from students and professors alike, but it's all part of a necessary evolution, students say.

"The PR program is so focused on practicality," said Noonan. "If you take advantage, you are going to be more than prepared to be successful."