Rock the House with Glee: Craft, Community....and a bit of Friendly Competition
By Tami Martinez
The last day of class is usually accompanied by anticipation—and angst—especially when a final examination is on the docket. In addition to their final; however, the spring 2011 Public Relations Research and Methodology students had an extra measure of anticipation as they waited expectantly for the results of their semester-long project and in-class competition.
During the semester, the class was divided into four competitive teams. These teams were assigned the task of creating a unique plan to enlist local high school students to raise $12,500 for Habitat for Humanity of St. Joseph County’s annual “Rock the House Student Build” project.
According to Jim Williams, Executive Director for Habitat, “The South Bend Community Foundation of St. Joseph County pledged a matching grant of $12,500 for the ‘Rock the House Student Build’. The objective for the public relations class was to develop a fundraising event that would enable students to raise at least $12,500 in order to qualify for the matching grant.”
One of the teams’ final assignments was to pitch their proposals to Williams, and present him with a comprehensive binder that included everything from the timeline of the proposed event(s) down to a detailed budget. “The students really surprised me; and, I was impressed with the work of all four groups,” said Williams. “What was intended to be an academic assignment turned into something inspiring.”
Alec Hosterman, senior lecturer and area coordinator for communication studies, is the mastermind behind this service learning project for his students. Through this hands-on, semester-long, community-focused assignment, students learn more about the craft of public relations and what it takes to research, develop and present their ideas to a client in the local community. According to Hosterman, “I want to give them an experience as close to ‘real’ as they will get.” Ultimately, he wants “students to walk away knowing how to plan a special event; the role communication plays in the planning and implementation process; and, the fact that no one will ever engage in planning individually; rather, it's a group process from start to finish.”
Student comments underscore Hosterman’s learning objectives. Public relations major Alex Nichols stated that the project helped him build a set of skills that he can use in any occupation, “[No matter where I work] I see myself using PR because PR is the face of any company.” Kelcie Banks added that the project “taught us how to work with a non-profit organization.” And, student Ryan Webber said that he “learned how to work through group challenges.”
Hosterman has established a track record of reaching out to a variety of local community organizations and helping them meet their needs in a depressed economy while providing a learning experience for his students. In the past years that he’s taught the class, his public relations students have had the opportunity to work with the Center for History, the Youth Service Bureau of St. Joseph County, the Spurious Fugitive (a for-profit art gallery), REAL Services and the Potawatomi Zoo. Hosterman adds, “It was in 2008 that I began using just one non-profit agency per class and having them vie for ‘top honors’.”
The winning team for spring 2011 was revealed on the last day of class, just prior to the distribution of the final exam. The four event proposals for Habitat’s “Rock the House Student Build” included: a Lock-In event; a Volleyball Tournament; “Pennies for Plywood” (change collection fundraising and competition between area high schools for annual trophy rights); and, “Rock the House with Glee” (a three-phase program that includes a Pep Rally, a Dollar Donation Week; and a Silent Auction that culminates in a Glee competition).
According to Williams, making the final decision proved to be difficult since all four proposals were viable. “It was very hard to pick just one project because I know how much students put into their work.”
Ultimately, though, Williams selected the “Rock the House with Glee” project for several reasons: 1) it had the capacity to raise more money than the initial goal of $12,500—the silent auction is an easy way to generate additional funds; 2) it had the clear ability to capture the age group that they were after through its association with the popular television program Glee; 3) the musical format of the project provides synergy with musical groups in the local high schools; and, 4) they saw this project as something that would be repeatable. “We’re going to try it this year, see how it goes; and, build on it for the next year.”
The “Rock the House with Glee” winning team members included public relations majors, Lisa Birk, Danielle Fisher, Alex Nichols, Maria Stanley, and team leader Jordan Wagner. Wagner, who will graduate in May, has a summer internship with Habitat. Part of his focus will be implementing the “Rock the House with Glee” project.
Although the class is over, all of the team members look forward to being involved in the implementation of their project. Fisher states, “We want to see it come to life; and, see all our plans take shape.” Nichols adds, “I want to be 100 percent involved in the implementation!”
For Williams, “It was a very enjoyable experience and I look forward to continuing to stay in touch with the students and implementing their projects.”
“There are two things I would like to see happen in the future,” Hosterman shares. “First, I would like to work with non-profit agencies on the scale of Habitat for Humanity that are focused on the Michiana area. Second I would like to someday have this become a year-long class where students do research and plan it out in the fall; and, implement and assess the project in the spring. I think this would round out the practical aspects students look for in classwork.”
Tami Martinez is a lecturer in communication studies.