A good idea, or a good deed, can’t succeed without good communication. This past semester the students in Associate Professor Kristen Berkos’s Senior Seminar in Communication Theory course worked with Serve Rhode Island, the state's resource for volunteer and community service opportunities, to develop plans for increasing engagement, building brand awareness, and enhancing recruitment efforts.
“One of the goals of the course is to ensure that the students take all of the things they're learning and look outward with them,” explains Berkos about the seminar, a capstone for seniors in Bryant’s Communication program. “By including an experiential learning component, it helps them to gain confidence and to connect their classroom lessons with a unique experience, and the real world, in a meaningful and motivating way.”
It also provides a chance for the students to aid others. “One of the things we wanted to do a little bit differently from other capstone consulting projects was to have the students work with a nonprofit client so that they could use their work to help their community,” says Berkos. “For many of them, it can be really exciting to make that sort of difference for the first time.”
That opportunity to do good work, says Communication major Madison Sherriff ’23, offered the students a forum to test themselves. “Serve Rhode Island came to us with open minds and wanted us to be creative,” she says. “They gave us the free reign to go in whatever direction we saw fit based on the criteria that they gave us.”
"It was really cool to see the foundation of knowledge we’d built become actual solutions."
Making a difference
After a presentation outlining their task from Serve Rhode Island representatives at the start of the semester, the class split into teams and each team member took a key role, from Chief Executive Officer to Chief Data Officer to Editor in Chief. They began to analyze their mission, their client, and their prospective audience — and then turn that analysis into cohesive plans using the theories, techniques, and skills they’d acquired.
“What I really appreciated about this project is that we focused on addressing a real need; it wasn’t just a hypothetical. It was really cool to see the foundation of knowledge we’d built become actual solutions,” says Sherriff. “We had 13 weeks to make our plans but drew from four years of knowledge and skills”
Working together, the teams crafted key messages and decided how to adapt them to different audiences and mediums. They also consulted with their client and received feedback that helped them finetune their approach and ensure their solutions would meet Serve Rhode Island’s goals.
The students learned that creating effective communications that resonate takes teamwork. “One of key things I know I’ll remember about the course and take with me into my career is that you never start with a perfect idea,” says Sherriff. “You need to work with others, and do research, and really look at it and examine feedback from your client. When you’re able to do all those things, that’s when it really comes together.”
Throughout the course, Berkos helped the students figure out how to brainstorm and test their ideas “She wasn’t just invested in the success of our projects. She wanted to make sure they helped with our professional development as well,” Sherriff says. “She always took the time to help us understand the real-world application of the Communication curriculum.”
“We were actually able to contribute toward a solution for a major Rhode Island organization. That made the work a lot more meaningful."
At the end of the semester, the students presented their ideas, each of which addressed a different need and targeted a different audience, to Serve Rhode Island representatives. One had recommendations for developing a diversity program that would broaden Serve Rhode Island’s volunteer base. Another suggested a comprehensive social media campaign. A third masterminded an initiative for reaching out to the Ocean State’s college students. Sherriff’s team presented plans for an internship program targeting young professionals.
Making a presentation to an outside stakeholder, notes Berkos, added a whole new dimension to the project. “It’s a validating experience for the students to demonstrate their work — and what they're capable of — to a real-world client, not just a professor,” she says.
Sherriff concurs, and adds the presentation also made things more fun. “I really enjoyed making our final presentation — and watching the other teams pitch sessions as well,” she says. “Seeing all of our hard work come together was really memorable.” She also notes that the positive feedback the groups received from Serve Rhode Island was a great confidence-builder.
Seeing the positive impact her work could have, Sherriff says, was more valuable than any grade. “We weren’t just asking the question, ‘How can this company make the most money from our plan?’ It was ‘How can we really make an impact in the community through our communication efforts?’ she reflects. “We were actually able to contribute toward a solution for a major Rhode Island organization. That made the work a lot more meaningful.”