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High-impact capstone experiences help prepare public relations students to excel as professionals

Oct 6, 2016

One of the biggest transitions for a college student is the graduation to the “real-world.” It can come with many questions and concerns because, as a graduate, they are no longer in the proverbial “Kansas” anymore. Navigating through job responsibilities in a career can look starkly different compared to the coursework of a college major. To ease the tension from college student to a professional, the public relations program at Ohio Northern University has implemented a high-impact learning opportunity built-in to the senior capstone project: real-life clients.

The public relations program, which is part of the Department of Communication and Media Studies, brings real business clients that need actual PR work done for their organizations. Client-based senior capstones stemmed from the ideas of faculty members Kathie Fleck, Ph.D., and Alisa Agozzino, Ph.D., who wanted to combine student learning with community needs. “Students benefit from learning and adapting beyond classroom skills,” said Fleck. “Skills like professionalism, deadlines, and how to give and receive feedback are intangible skills gained from client work.” Further, the community benefits from the relationships built from the senior capstones, and, of course, the work done by the seniors benefits the client.

For the 2015-16 academic year, public relations seniors worked with Parkview Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit serving a health system spread throughout northeastern Indiana and northwestern Ohio called Parkview Health. Seniors started the project by meeting with the client and learning the client’s needs and expectations. Throughout the meeting process, seniors got to tour the Parkview grounds in Fort Wayne, Ind. The tour included the health system’s research center, where students witnessed Parkview’s cutting-edge medical technology, like the heart catheter simulator.

After meeting with the client, seniors hit the ground running straight into the first steps of a PR campaign. Campaigns are an aspect of PR taught in the classroom that gets practical application in the scope of the senior capstone. These practical aspects come full circle for students upon entering the workforce. Hannah Peterson, a 2016 ONU graduate who was a team leader for the 2015-16 senior capstone, said, “Senior capstone was challenging yet rewarding – even to this day. I can look back on our presentation to the client and utilize those skills when I’m presenting to my current clients at my full time job. Capstone teaches you how to be and work like an adult.”

At the end of the school year, the senior capstone comes to a close when students present the client with the completed work. Last year, seniors completed print pieces, web content, social media content and pieces of Parkview Health’s annual report. This annual report recognized the work ONU students completed for Parkview for all the community and investors to read – a huge honor for ONU and the seniors.

While graduating is a big step for any senior in college, Ohio Northern University equips its students to make the jump with high-impact learning opportunities like the one in the public relations program. By combining classroom ideas with real-world experience, ONU students become effective and knowledgeable professionals upon graduation.