CHADRON – Dr. Shaunda French, Chadron State College associate professor of Communication and Social Sciences, teaches students to think with their heads and on their feet.
CSC alumna Ali Munk, creative engineer, said this skill is crucial in her role as creative engineer at Center Mass Media, a digital marketing agency in Denver, since May 2016
“Life happens. You’re going to have to think on your feet,” Munk said.
Munk said principles she learned in Event Planning and Leadership (CA 239), taught by French since 2013, help in her daily work with public relations, press releases, media content, SEO work and events.
“With multiple clients on deck you can't focus on just one project at a time. It is important that you make sure you keep focus and track of what each client wants. Clients are only worried about the work you are doing for them so they expect the best,” Munk said.
Practical experience with The Big Event, an annual community service project, Late Night at the Pit activities in the CSC Student Center and her internship at Arrowhead Golf Course further prepared Munk for her career.
“Someone will be late, the printing company will mess up, you will mess up, people will misbehave at an event. Whatever the case might be you will need to be prepared for the craziest of situations with ethical ways to resolve them,” Munk said.
French said she extracts content for the course from a dozen books, Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) talks, documentaries, and refers to current advertising trends in class discussions. She surveys students enrolled in early in the semester and then customizes the weight she places on civic engagement, event planning and leadership.
Assignments include public speaking and reflective journal entries. Once each semester, students are required to attend an event, take notes and share their evaluations with the event’s organizer.
“I really emphasize evaluation. Research shows less than five percent of public relations efforts are effectively evaluated,” French said.
Projects like writing “Happy Autumn” cards to elderly residents of Crest View and Prairie Pines have been eye opening, according to French who challenges the students to do something for someone who can’t repay you and then ask, “How do you become the best version of yourself?”
“One lady was so thrilled with her new secret pen pal. It was amazing for the students to see how they brightened the days of these residents,” French said.
In addition to civic engagement in Chadron, students can also take advantage of professional networking opportunities outside the community.
During a trip to Omaha in November 2016, students met with public relations professionals from the Omaha World-Herald, TD Ameritrade, CenturyLink Center, the Henry Doorly Zoo and the American Heart Association.
Other outreach includes student involvement in workshops sponsored by the American Advertising Federation (AAF) Black Hills.
In 2014, French led a group to the national AAF conference in Minneapolis. Students were given opportunities to network including meeting a public relations professional with the Minnesota Twins.
“In addition to what they learned about social media, they realized it is not an easy career. A vice president at the Mall of America told the group an average work week consists of 70 hours,” French said.
Each fall, the class conducts the Oxfam Hunger Banquet, an awareness program about hunger and food security. Each spring the class hosts The Big Event.
At the Oxfam Hunger Banquet, guests draw random roles when arriving. Each role dictates whether the guest eats a dinner of rice and water or a multi-course meal complete with linen tablecloth and napkins.
“The students plan it, provide informal feedback and evaluate of the event. I do consider their input when planning for the event the following year,” French said.
The Big Event has involved hundreds of CSC students, faculty and staff for the past four years and the fifth will be April 22. Projects range from playing Bingo and serving ice cream to yard work and painting.
“I truly believe in student-led events. It’s difficult to see them deal with mishaps but an important part of their growth is learning how to deal with those,” French said.
Another CSC alumna, Cheyenne McGriff of Wall, South Dakota, completed an internship while working on The Big Event. She has been the Wall Economic Development Corporation director since 2015.
Like Munk, McGriff, said she regularly uses skills she learned through the course assignments.
“I was happy to learn how to do something I’ve always enjoyed in a way that is effective. The class was helpful, especially working with a diverse group and facing real life situations together. I can’t say enough good things about Shaunda and her advice,” McGriff said.
McGriff worked on contingency arrangements for variables like bad weather and planning the budget for The Big Event.
“One of the most important things I learned in the class was budgeting. For example, with a wedding, you can shift the importance of things. If the client wants a great band you might reduce what you spent on flowers to make that happen. With civic events you can secure community partners or discounts,” McGriff said.
—Tena L. Cook, Marketing Coordinator