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Classroom project opens eyes to real world

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Classroom project opens eyes to real world

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March 1, 2015

The University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication prides itself in giving students both in-class instruction and professional career opportunities. For two public relations classes in the Grady College, that means interviewing industry professionals and creating an e-book.

Taught by Juan Meng, assistant professor of public relations, the classes were tasked with interviewing public relations professionals about their perceptions of millennials.

Millennials, who were born between 1982 and 2004, are the youngest generation in the workforce. They are a widely discussed generation, though they haven't been specifically researched well in public relations.

"A lot of the academic and mainstream literature has focused on millennials in the workplace in general, and very little has looked at millennials in the public relations field," said Holley Reeves, a doctoral student in public relations and Meng's research assistant. "And in the near future, millennials will be the largest group within both the public relations field and the workforce."

Meng and Reeves decided to research the generation by coordinating student interviews with both millennial professionals and senior executives who manage millennials.

"We want to know how we can prepare better leaders for this profession in the future," Meng said. "That's why we're focusing on young professionals. When we look at the attributes of millennials, we have to think about how we can prepare them."

Meng's undergraduate class, Public Relations Research, interviewed young millennials in the public relations industry who were new to the industry and only had a few years of work experience.

"I knew my professional before the interview so I was able to ask her questions without worrying," said Haley Williams, a fourth-year public relations major from Alpharetta. "The experience allowed me to go into depth about the questions I asked."

The students said that they could relate to the millennial professionals, many of whom had recently graduated from college, that they interviewed.

"I really liked interviewing," said Jasmin Nash, a fourth-year public relations major from Alpharetta. "Graduation can seem very daunting, but the interviewee gave me hope and got me excited about graduating and working in public relations."

To complement the millennial interviews, Meng's graduate class, Public Relations Foundations, interviewed senior public relations professionals, who were actively managing millennials. The senior professionals each had over 20 years of professional experience and were contacts of Grady College.

"The two classes took different perspectives but on the same subject," Meng said. "One listened to the millennials about public relations, and the other class listened to the executives and how they have managed millennials."

Brian Alsobrook, a graduate student from Lawrenceville, did his interview with a public relations executive over Skype. He says he learned valuable insights as to how his senior professional viewed millennials.

"One thing that millennials can bring to the workplace is to keep the business in mind," Alsobrook said. "You can be good at persuasive communication or connecting with audiences, but if you're not working towards objective goals, then you're not going to be successful."

Other students, like Whitney Miller, a graduate student from Dublin, did two or more interviews for the class project.

"Through this class project I was definitely able to step out of my comfort zone," Miller said. "I was kind of nervous about speaking to someone I'd never seen before, but it worked out really well. It was an educational experience and I was able to learn a lot of information."

Some students were even able to reap professional benefits beyond the interview itself.

"I spoke with two professionals for the class project," said Hyoyeun Jeon, a public relations graduate student from Daegu, South Korea. "One of them even offered me the chance to apply for an internship."

After students finished their interviews, they prepared insights based on their findings. The insights included key ideas described in the interviews, such as recruitment, engagement, retention and generational attributes associated with millennials. The insights were then passed along to an editorial team.

The designated editorial team edited the insights and designed an e-book made up of the findings.

The editorial team included Morgan Anderson from Statesboro, Julia Battinelli from Watkinsville, Molly Berg from Norcross, Taran Gilreath from Kennesaw and Jordan Simpson from Lawrenceville.

The editorial team designed the book, creating infographics and taking key quotes and insights from student interviews. Once they edited the book, students had the opportunities to send the final copy back to the corporations and agencies professionals who participated in the interviews to share results.

Meng says she is pleased with the final product and the hands-on experience the classes got from the project.

"We always want to teach students as much as we can about public relations, but sometimes it's more beneficial for them to learn outside a traditional classroom setting by listening to current leaders in the field," Meng said. "The interviews, which made up the e-book, helped students meet industry professionals. When students graduate, they'll be able to know the expectations of the workforce as they are the millennial generation. This is the nature of experiential learning: learning through action and learning through experience."

For a copy of the book, contact Meng at jmeng@uga.edu or 706-542-2173.