Springfield, Ohio — A cross-campus collaboration between Wittenberg University's Department of Communication and WittPath Career Services brought about an innovative approach to experiential learning, leading students from the classroom to the boardroom.
Introduced in 2006, the Communication Leaders experience offers 8-12 students a yearlong competitive educational opportunity that involves trips to various organizations and visits from business leaders. The focus of the program is on leadership qualities and styles as the students visit organizations and explore career opportunities in communication fields.
The Communication Leaders experience, spearheaded by Associate Professor of Communication Matthew J. Smith and Director of WittPath Career Services Karen Reynolds, is different from any other class offered within Wittenberg's Department of Communication. It was created to give students opportunities to learn about real-world organizations, from Fortune 500 companies to small non-profit agencies, while gaining hands-on learning experiences.
"I learned to work collaboratively and to develop a presentation that isn't about what I want, but rather what the client wants," said Kristian Kovacs, class of 2009 from Westerville, Ohio. "It is something that no class really could have given me."
A trip to Columbus has become an annual part of the Communication Leaders curriculum. In 2008, the group visited Limited Brands and OhioHealth Foundation, thanks to the efforts of Tia Carter, class of 2008, and Amy Holden, class of 2007, both former students in the Communication Leaders program. Carter hosted to group at Limited Brands, while Holden created a learning experience for them at OhioHealth Foundation.
In addition, the students visited FahlgrenMortine, one of the top public relations and advertising firms in the Midwest where another alumnus Steve Drongowski, class of 1974, serves as president and CEO.
To end the school year, the Communication Leaders participated in two challenging hands-on projects – one for Internet search engine Google, and the other for Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company. Divided into two groups, the students tackled real communication-related issues that the two companies have faced. Tasked with providing solutions and recommendations, the students made presentations to senior leaders at both companies during what has become an annual trip to Chicago in April.
"The trip to Chicago was extremely rewarding," said Erin McBride, class of 2009. "Not only did we visit outstanding companies (and organizations) such as the American Cancer Society, the Chicago Tribune, Accenture and Google, but we also were able to present what we had been working on for nearly four months.
"I was given a subject that I knew very little about, and my group and I were able to make it something exceptional. Very few college seniors can say they have made presentations to global Fortune 500 companies or have shaken hands with presidents and CEOs."
Business professionals from a variety of backgrounds have paid the Communication Leaders visits on campus as well. President and CEO of Sweet Manufacturing Alicia Sweet Hupp, class of 1982 and a member of the university's Board of Directors, visited during the 2008-09 school year, as did Scott McCune, class of 1972 and vice president and director of integrated marketing for Coca-Cola. They are among numerous guest speakers who have given their time to discuss workplace experiences and offer professional advice to the students.
Without the help of alumni, the Communication Leaders Program would not be possible. The whole experience was made possible by Margo Steinbaugh, class of 1974, who believes in the value of experiential learning and wants to see the opportunities expanded. With the Communication Leaders Program, Wittenberg alumni across the country have been able to "pass the light" by providing hard-working students an insider's view of their daily professional lives.
Written by: Jennifer Dick '10 and Ryan Maurer