Public Relations Course Gives Students a Real-World Challenge

Posted: April 25, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Catherine Ferraro

Christine LaPaille
Christine LaPaille

As the semester comes to a close, most students mark the end of their classes with a dreaded final exam. But for a group of seven Mason students, their semester will end with a Hawaiian luau that will take place by Mason Pond on Friday, April 25, from 6 to 9 p.m.

College courses usually employ textbooks to teach students the skills needed to succeed in the real world, but these students are actually putting the skills to the test.

In a Communication class designed by Christine LaPaille, vice president for University Relations, students formed a mini public relations team and were tasked with identifying a problem on campus, creating a solution and marketing that solution.

“I originally developed the idea for the class so that University Relations (UR) could get some help from the students,” says LaPaille. “I felt that students could give me a better perspective on strategies to best reach students with information because the vehicles we currently use to communicate events and activities don’t reach students as effectively as we would like.”

Based on a variety of several public relations challenges that were identified by Mason’s senior management, the students chose the problem of Mason being portrayed as a commuter college, an image that is sometimes perpetuated by students themselves. After identifying this challenge, the students realized that this image has led to a lack of participation in campus events.

To address this problem, the students focused their efforts on increasing campus activities and developed a campaign around a new end-of-the-year tradition: a luau. The class specifically chose a Friday night activity because one of the challenges is getting students to stay on campus on Friday.

The luau will be part of the events associated with Mason Day, the longest-standing tradition at Mason, and the activities that have been taking place during the week. Some of the activities during Mason Week include a film festival, concerts and a field day.

As if they were their own public relations agency, the students went to work to develop a budget and marketing materials and brainstormed how to publicize the event. They also prepared written plans for all of the ideas they developed. The students produced flyers announcing the event, purchased leis and handed them out to students on campus.

The event will feature a tug of war, a relay race, limbo and a hula hoop contest. Students are invited to dress for the occasion by wearing Hawaiian attire such as grass skirts and clothing displaying the many colors of the state flower of Hawaii, the hibiscus.

Students in the class also worked on other projects during the semester. They were divided into pairs and assigned to work with directors in UR on ideas related to the issue. Two students worked with Traci Claar, director of Community Relations, on plans to have local businesses give discounts to students. They also identified potential restaurants and sports bars in nearby towns to offer specials to kids in Mason gear.

Two students worked with John Blacksten, director of Media and Public Relations, in arranging for administrators to set up a new Mason Alert opt-in which will allow students to be informed of activities on campus. These students also identified groups of student leaders who helped promote events on campus through Facebook.

Another student designed a strategy to have performances in the Johnson Center during lunch hours by Mason students who are singers, dancers and/or musicians to promote activities happening over the weekend.

“Hopefully, the hard work of the students this semester will help form a stronger Patriot community, whether students commute to school or live on campus,” says LaPaille. “Using the students’ written plans, much of their work will be continued by the UR staff next year.”

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