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Why communication professionals should partner with a local school

Here's how marketing communications pros can help give students a leg-up on the job market and real-world experience by connecting with their local universities and colleges.

6 min read


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Is classroom instruction and textbook content enough to fully prepare a college graduate for the real world?

Some would argue yes and in some fields, it is sufficient. In public relations, marketing and journalism, prior exposure to the field will set a student apart from one who has not had the opportunity to gain real-world experience. It allows the student to see themselves actually carrying out the duties they have been studying. It provides a new perspective for them and typically, it ignites a spark of excitement to begin their future career.  

Do college professors work hard and provide all they can to make sure the student is ready to enter the workforce? 

Absolutely. The caveat, though, is there is a missing link that business professionals can fill: being a resource for the educator and student. This partnership provides a more holistic view from the student’s perspective.  

College students need exposure to what is expected of them in the real world. Textbook information is helpful and feeds them the knowledge they need. However, observing an office setting and hearing from a professional in their field of study makes it all come together. What they have learned in the classroom can become more tangible once they are exposed to how this knowledge is going to be used.

This relationship also provides students with a contact in the field. You might have an opening in your office when they graduate or you might know of a job opportunity that you can share with them. Think back to your senior year of college and how many stressors there were of what your next steps were going to be. 

Or, maybe you were one of the lucky ones and already had a contact in the field who helped pave the way for you. If you are the latter, you understand the importance of that person and how integral they were in providing you confidence as you exited the classroom.  

Ideally, this connection will be mutually satisfying. You will feel rewarded that you have assisted a professor in setting up students for success and by offering opportunities they might not have had. Something simple, yet special that could be the beginning of a future successful, ethical, experienced, award-winning communicator. 

How to involve students

Contact a professor at a local college who teaches the work that you do. Share with them what you do and the area of the field that you are in. Brainstorm together on what would be best for the students. 

The easy option is to say yes if a professor reaches out to you. This means the professor probably already has some ideas and is looking for a contact in the field to help supplement their classroom material.

What do you do next?

You might have an interest in assisting college students but are concerned about not having the time to commit. With that in mind, here are a variety of options:

In-class panel discussion: A panel of three to five representatives from the marketing communication industry could answer questions during a college class. These questions could be planned by the teacher and/or come directly from the students. A panel allows for different perspectives and experiences. 

Guest speaker: This is a very personal way to interact with students. You could either speak on a specific topic or just share your experience; classes you took in college, classes you wish you would have taken in college, what your career path has been and then conclude with advice and a time for a Q&A session.

Review student resumes: This could be done through a workshop or by email. While a university’s career services office is a strong resource,  it also can be valuable to have a professional in the field review it as well. You know specifically what you and your office are looking for. That insight is very helpful to a student applying for an internship or a job.  

Offer a tour: You could allow a small group of students access to your office area. Let them see “a day in the life” of a communication professional. Share the work areas and the overall layout of your office. I have found this specific option goes over really well with students. It allows them to see and feel the office environment and can create a strong interest to want to work there. 

Offer an internship: This is definitely the largest undertaking of all the options. For many organizations, there is already an established internship program. If that is the case, then take part in spreading the word to college professors about the internship program. It is extremely helpful to be able to share a link with students about opportunities and details such as deadlines and expectations. 

If your company does not have an official internship program, start small but start one. Hire one to three college juniors or seniors to work part-time in your office. Research which part of the business has the biggest need for assistance. Or, you could give the students a project to work on and have them reach out to the employees for guidance as needed. Many universities have the option for the student to receive course credit and/or you offer it as a paid position. This is the biggest workload for a business but it has the biggest payoff.  

Host a job-shadowing day: This is a combination of an office tour and an internship. It is a step-up from the office tour but a much smaller commitment than the internship. It is an invitation to see how the office operates with an in-depth look of what takes place for different positions. But, it is not long term, there are no commitments needed; just a half day to allow a student to look over your shoulder and experience the real world. 

Be a contact: With this role you are not necessarily meeting with students; instead you are a resource for the educator. This partnership typically plays out over email, and also may entail grabbing coffee a couple of times a year.  

With all of these options, another key piece to keep in mind is that this can be a one-time gig, a once-a-semester/year event or ongoing. It could be virtual, in-person or a mix of both. The biggest factor in your favor is flexibility.

I have partnered with numerous professionals and each interaction with my students has always been a success. I encourage you to take a step toward guiding a future communicator.  

Megan Toland is an assistant professor of Journalism at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, Ark., and teaches journalism and communication courses in the Communication and Media Studies department. She has been the faculty advisor for the ATU chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists since 2015. Megan held numerous roles in the local business community before joining ATU in 2012. She loves creating an interactive and engaging classroom setting with quality discussion and prides herself on bringing real-world opportunities to her students. 


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