COM 219 Students Impact their Communities with the “Make a Difference” Project

Nov 27, 2019

Tatianna Zambrano shares her final Make A Difference project presentation with her COM 219 classmates.

The first day of a college class is typically a guided walkthrough of the course’s content and a breakdown of the assignments with rubrics detailing how to make the grade. But in COM 219: Honors Interpersonal Communication, students are tasked with more than making the grade; they’re challenged to make a difference.

Though COM 219 has been taught since Fall 2018, this is the first implementation of Dr. Jennifer Becker’s (communication studies) “Make a Difference” project. Becker assigned her students to apply their research by identifying a need, developing a plan and executing a community-based project. Each finalized project was required to have specific, measurable and actionable outcomes that demonstrated how the students made a difference.

“The learning that occurs by designing, executing and analyzing this project is so much richer than traditional methods,” said Becker. “This project empowers the students and helps them recognize that they are capable, and there is so much they can do to impact their communities.”

The students researched an interpersonal communication concept, theory, process or principle  to develop various projects aimed at making a difference. Joey Vargo (civil engineering) planned a ping-pong tournament and movie night for peers on his residence hall floor to interact with one another, Wen Walsh (mechanical engineering) and Nicholas Coker (MBA) directed and produced a public service announcement highlighting different University programs that feature authentic conversations, and Kennah Davis (psychology) created a website that houses resources to assist college roommates with conflict resolution.

“This project is the first that I’ve ever had where you actually implement your research,” said Tatianna Zambrano. “There have been so many hypothetical projects I’ve created for classes that I’ve never gotten to do. When Dr. Becker told us we had to execute this project, it didn’t intimidate me; it excited me.”

Zambrano worked with guidance counselors at Holy Spirit Catholic Middle School to normalize their contact with students and to destigmatize mental health issues. The students involved in the project had 30-minute sessions with their school counselors which led to an increased willingness to visit the counselors on an as-needed basis. By the end of the project, none of the students answered that they felt uncomfortable visiting the counselors, which was an improvement on the data collected at the project’s start.

“This class is one of my favorites and one of the most beneficial classes I’ve taken in undergrad,” said Zambrano. “When I go to grad school, a lot of the skills that I’ve worked on here are really going to help me.”