Dr. Kristen Koehler and two alumni of the College of Communication and the Arts' M.A. in Public Relations program delivered a presentation on the importance of experiential learning during the New Jersey Communication Association's 22nd Annual Conference at Brookdale Community College earlier this year.
Koehler, Paige Anderson and Jade Latson — along with Dr. Cass Freedland, Goucher College's director of community-based learning — discussed how gaining experience in a professional working environment supplements students' classroom learning and prepares them for their future careers. Specifically, Koehler explained that the experiential learning-centered Public Relations II undergraduate course and the student-run Litore Agency allow participants to put the theories they study into practice as they work with local organizations.
Koehler notes that she has seen several students "transformed" by their experiences, with many applying what they learn on the job during their classroom discussions. And since the students mainly work with nonprofits, she underscored that the work they do is a win-win for everyone.
"We hear a lot about people who want to help and people who need help," Koehler said. "This is one way that we can make an impact in both our communities and in our students' lives."
Koehler noted Anderson as an example of someone whose life was greatly affected by experiential learning. Originally, Anderson was intent on working in fashion public relations. But after assisting Dress for Success, a charity that empowers women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support and professional attire, Anderson became so passionate about philanthropy that she designed her master’s project around corporate social responsibility.
Looking back on her experience, Anderson said she learned much that will serve her well in the professional public relations world. Particularly, she learned how two-way communication is so necessary for a successful relationship while working with Dress for Success. Because of that, she was able to teach Litore Agency students how to enhance their communication with the charity when she started working as an intern there.
Yet Anderson is not the only one who benefited from experiential learning. Latson discovered the importance of tailoring messages to each target public after a Litore client advised her that the press release she had written was not appropriate for all the people it serves. Determined to improve, Latson appreciated the feedback and pointed out that giving students the chance to gain knowledge from missteps without having to face the consequences of the academic or professional world is what makes experiential learning so valuable.
"Students fixate on grades a lot of the time, saying, 'I have to be perfect in order to get an A,'" Latson said. "But an experiential learning opportunity grants you the chance to alleviate that stress and not feel as though mistakes are a bad thing. As we know, mistakes are ways to reflect and grow beyond the person who you are currently."
Latson has certainly grown through her experiences presenting at academic conferences. The alumna, who previously presented her research on nonprofit social media trends alongside Koehler at last year's NJCA gathering, said in an interview that she enjoys giving presentations because it lets her make an impact within the communication field. While some students may be wary of public speaking, she encourages anyone to submit their work to future conferences so they can grow as scholars.
Unlike Latson, Anderson had never presented at a conference before this year's NJCA gathering. She said she was honored to speak, especially about a subject that has had such a significant effect on her own life. The alumna explained that working with Dress for Success allowed her to give back to those in need, which was important to her. Additionally, the experience taught her a lot about teamwork, time management and other skills that will serve her well in the workforce. Overall, she feels experiential learning is something every student should try.
"It's good for students to be able to have a hands-on experience because that's where a lot of learning comes from," Anderson said in an interview after presenting. "A lot of people say you learn more on the job than you ever do in school, so to be able to tie the two together is a great feature that Seton Hall provides for its communication students."
The College currently offers three master's-level programs, including Museum Professions, Strategic Communication and Public Relations. In addition, four dual-degree options, including three accelerated B.A./M.A. programs and a dual M.A. degree with the School of Diplomacy and International Relations are offered.