Minerva Portfolio Program students finished out the academic year strong with a total of 21 creative advertising awards won in regional, national and international competitions.
Minerva is the creative portfolio specialization in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations. The two-year program places selected students into a cohort through a rigorous application process and guides them through an intense process of creative discovery.
“The work created by Minerva Portfolio Program students this year was outstanding,” said Mark Barry, director of Minerva. “And, to have accomplished what they did while navigating virtual classes, managing physical isolation, and enduring the emotional traumas caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is nothing short of exceptional. They are a special group for sure.”
Two student teams brought home Awards of Merit from the Young Ones Student Awards put on by The One Club for Creativity in New York. The Young Ones competition is considered one of the premier competitions for creative students internationally. The student submissions responded to a creative brief submitted by Spotify and Extra Gum.
The complete list of the 2020-21 Minerva student awards is as follows:
1 Silver National American Advertising Awards (ADDYs):
Farrow & Ball, Colour Tells a Story – Kat Best, Art Director and Nicole Zikan, Copywriter
Telling stories was first connected to telling untruths. When I was a little girl and the word “lie” was considered too grown up to say out loud, I would profess, complain or declare that such and such or so and so was “telling stories” on me. That usually meant their version of what happened was not the same as mine, or that they were intentionally, if not maliciously distorting what I perceived to be the truth or leaving out what I believed to be important details and context.
Telling stories, at the time, was a way of acknowledging a perceived injustice and seeking the space and opportunity to offer a counter-story, a different truth, for comparison before punishment.
As an adult, I associate telling stories both similarly and differently than I did when I was a child. Instead of equating storytelling with lies, I now understand that telling stories is akin to truth-telling, and truth is a complicated character. The truth is embedded within, between and underneath the stories we tell, and buried behind the stories we intentionally withhold. Stories help memorialize memories, but often fail to account for the multiple truths trying to be told and remembered. I tell stories as a mechanism for getting to the (small t) truth, and for making sense of those truths through reflection, revision and re-storying.
Telling stories, now, is a way of acknowledging a perceived injustice and seeking the space and opportunity to offer multiple accounts, perspectives, possibilities and truths—a way of anchoring lived experience and making concrete the ways our experiences are shaped by our identities. As a storyteller, I start with and linger in mundanity and ordinariness, but I am also intentional about standpoints and positionalities. Stories emerge through the ways we craft and communicate our experiences, which are framed and understood by cultural contexts, interpersonal relationships, social identity and media.
I believe, like Walter Fisher (1978), that humans are inherent storytellers, and all meaningful communication is storied. Our ears do not always bend to the ubiquitous stories we consume every day, and we don’t always recognize phatic communion, introductions, and newsfeeds as stories, but they are. We don’t always think about communication as storied, but it is.
I tell stories poetically, politically, creatively and unapologetically, but I understand that all stories and representations are partial and partisan, which makes them problematic (Goodall, 2000). Stories are not infallible. We tell stories that tend to focus on our experience (partial), and from our point of view (partisan/subjective), but our stories don’t exist in isolation. We connect to stories like our own because personal narratives and experiences help inform generalizable, epistemological truths.
My career is curated on the ways we use stories to comprehend and critique, to record and remember, to make sense of and explain, and to connect with known and unknown others. Stories are bridges across difference and anchors to understanding.
As a black woman storyteller and autoethnographer my investment in storied scholarship is grounded in the importance of visibility, imagination and possibility. The futuristic and historical promises of storytelling are what makes it accessible, and the ability to deconstruct and analyze stories are what makes them theoretical. Theory urges us to attach meaning and intent to stories, but I believe stories are themselves theories, and we are all nascent if not reluctant theorists. We are all nascent, if not naïve storytellers.
As a child, I told stories to fill in the gaps and rehearse sensemaking. As an adult, I write stories for those same reasons and rely on some of my same childhood rituals. I grew up in a house full of people, so I still write when it is dark outside and everything is still and sometimes quiet so I can hear the rhythm of the words as I type. I still jot down notes in hurried handwriting—names, phrases, scenes or memories on napkins, scraps of paper, or on my hands, careful not to smudge the ink before I can memorialize the data. I still write with the door closed if someone is at my house, and open when I am alone. I still wait to write when I am pushed up against a deadline. I write when the dishes are washed, the clothes are folded, and the bathrooms are cleaned because I am easily distracted by opportunities for procrastination.
I still read for inspiration.
I write memory-heavy stories, grounded in my childhood or past but threaded with the present in ways that establish verisimilitude, coherence and fidelity to my narrative. I write stories to imagine justice when and where it doesn’t exist. I write stories to make claims and cultural critiques. I write stories so I can see and remember myself—and other people like me, and people who are nothing like me.
A good story lingers and stays with you. It changes how you think—and what you think about. It resonates and informs how you see yourself
and others. A good story captures your attention and insists existence.
I tell stories to insist on my existence—as a rural black woman—in academic scholarship, popular culture and community.
I know myself because of the stories shared across conversations and kitchen tables with women in my family and community: my mother,
my grandmother, my aunts, cousins, sister and friends.
I found myself in the stories of black women storytellers who told truths and centered the experiences of black women.
I recognized myself in the story-grounded research of black women scholars who insisted that our survival be documented and canonized.
I tell stories to leave the same legacy I inherited, and to silence the lies that are too often spoken out loud.
Confidant, a creative and strategic communications agency with offices in New York and Nashville, has pledged $10,000 to establish a scholarship focused on diversity within the College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) at The University of Alabama for the 2021-22 academic year.
The scholarship will assist in promoting increased diversity among the College’s student population with a particular focus on students studying public relations and who demonstrate financial need. In addition to the monetary award, the selected student will receive a full-time paid internship with Confidant in New York City during the Summer of 2022 and ongoing mentorship from employees of the company.
Garland Harwood, co-founder of Confidant and a UA alumnus, hopes that by establishing this opportunity for a student, other companies in the industry will follow suit in serving students and paving the way for more diversity in the communications industry.
“Creating a diverse workforce is not only the right thing to do in light of the inequities that have long existed in our society, it’s also what’s best for business,” Harwood said. “Diversity on our team, and the industry at large, leads to more diverse ideation and better outcomes for all. Our hope is that this model will eliminate the barriers that many students face in getting great experience early on, including income, geographic residence, or legacy. It counters many agency internship programs that favor students with connections to senior executives at an agency or its clients.”
According to Dr. Damion Waymer, C&IS advertising and public relations department chair, the College is grateful to see innovative companies supporting its continued diversification efforts.
“It is one thing for a company to say it is committed to diversifying the practice of public relations. It’s another thing entirely for a company such as Confidant to demonstrate its commitment to diversity via concrete actions, including financial support, professional mentorship, and paid internship experiences for our students,” Waymer said. “We truly appreciate Confidant’s generosity, and I hope this partnership signals to our students and the larger university community our collective commitment to diversity and its importance to both our department and the college.”
C&IS is committed to promoting an environment that fosters diversity and inclusion and is proud of the efforts of our students, faculty and staff. To learn more about diversity, equity and inclusion in C&IS, visit cis.ua.edu/diversity.
C&IS Alumni Champion Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Across their Industries
A signal achievement of 2020 at The University of Alabama came through significant work by UA’s Presidential Advisory Committee for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Charged with developing plans to build on the campus-wide strategic goal to attract and support a diverse community, members of the faculty, staff and students produced a comprehensive report of strategies, best practices and research. This report of recommendations will guide the work of the colleges and units as UA moves forward toward continued progress. The same work and progress is taking place around the country as corporations and organizations dive deep into listening to and understanding their employees and constituents so they may take necessary steps forward. C&IS alumni are leading and influencing their industries throughout the nation. Here are just a few stories of how our graduates are championing diversity, equity and inclusion across their industries.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion is not only critical to creating a productive work environment, but also to creating more meaningful campaigns that reach and resonate with our clients’ diverse audiences. When you think of DEI in terms of gender, women have historically outnumbered men in the field of public relations, but lagged behind them in leadership roles. That’s why I’m proud to work for an agency like Edelman that prioritizes DEI and truly ‘walks the walk’ through education and training, recruitment programs and employee networks like the Global Women’s Equality Network (GWEN), launched in 2011 to achieve gender parity at our most senior levels and ensure equal pay for equal work.”
“Every community has members of the LGBTQIA community in it, and providing these patrons with the information they need is perhaps even more crucial than my usual duties. Working to highlight our LGBTQIA materials is a simple, meaningful step that we as librarians can take to show our LGBTQIA community members that we welcome them and are proactively thinking about their needs. The public library is one of the last truly public institutions remaining in this country, and we work to uphold that incredible precedent by ensuring that everyone in our community can find the information that they want and need in a respectful, dignified way.”
–Elizabeth Burton (’20) – Adult Programs Librarian, Harris County Public Library
“As communication professionals, we play a unique role in creating inclusive workplaces. We know that years of inequality cannot be solved with one press release or one social media campaign. It is our job to challenge our clients and business leaders in this space. One way to improve diversity in our own industry is by mentoring and supporting students of diverse backgrounds as they matriculate to college and into the workforce. If we want to have more diversity and inclusion in our industry, we all need to take a proactive role in mentoring the next generation of our industry’s leaders.”
–Jennifer Kitt-West (’07) – Marketing Communications Manager, Dow Chemical Company
“I’ve learned that true diversity, true equity and true inclusion happens when we can place ourselves in the shoes of someone else’s journey and open doors of knowledge, engagement and opportunities to access a better understanding of what each other needs. Regardless of my position to power and authority, I have learned that great leaders (and friends) have always been the ones who were capable of demonstrating high levels of empathy and compassion when times were most crucial. In my role, we work with philanthropists who often say, “I want the best and the brightest.” Does that only mean those who have 3.5 GPAs and higher? If we are to be inclusive of everyone, then we must see the value of those who strive hard. We must see the value in those who have challenges to overcome. We must look at those who may not be book smart but have street smarts that far exceed the classroom setting.”
–Joshua Butler (’07) – Associate Dean of Advancement and Chief Advancement Officer, The University of Illinois at Chicago
“Each person on a communication team has to have a global view of the business world. Every strategy and tactic that we deploy has an impact that is far reaching. Diversity, equity and inclusion has to be incorporated in those strategies and tactics, not separated. When an employee is working on a project, I encourage them to think about how we can broaden the audiences that we are reaching. We have successfully done that, and more people who may not have known us are now enthusiasts—all because of our inclusive strategy. I expect them to think about diversity, equity and inclusion continuously.”
–Kristina Hendrix (’03) – Group Communications Director, Dynetics, Inc.
“Studies show that companies with diverse leadership at the board, executive and management levels outperform those without. Work teams that value diversity and inclusion are likely to be more collaborative, innovative and productive. In today’s environment, proclamations favoring diversity, equity and inclusion will not be enough to retain the most talented and skilled employees, especially if societal tensions and injustices embed themselves in our workplaces.”
–Debra Nelson (’80) – Founder and President, Elevate LLC
The Society of Professional Journalists has awarded Alabama Public Radio (APR) a Sigma Delta Chi Award for Radio Documentary for its submission “Oil & Water: 10 Years Later,” covering the ongoing impact of the BP oil spill on the Gulf coast.
“I am so proud of the APR news team and delighted that their work earned the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Radio Documentary,” said Elizabeth Brock, director of the Digital Media Center. “At a time when news cycles for even the big stories last an average of seven days, this kind of work is critically important. The support of The University of Alabama and our colleagues at the College of Communication and Information Sciences and the generosity of our listeners and supporters make it all possible.”
The documentary brings together coverage APR produced in 2010, during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and follow-up interviews gathered in the first four months of 2020. It covers a variety of long-term effects of the spill, including the economic impact and the effect the oil spill had on locals’ mental and physical health.
In an effort to address the lack of investigative and in-depth news reporting along Alabama’s Gulf coast, APR News Director Pat Duggins recruited and trained veteran print journalists in Mobile and Baldwin counties to join the news team and produce radio stories as APR Gulf coast correspondents. “Oil and Water: 10 Years Later” features the work of correspondents Guy Busby, who investigated the economic impact of the spill on local businesses, and Lynn Oldshue, who investigated the health impacts Gulf coast locals experienced after being exposed to chemicals used to help disperse the oil.
Duggins with Busby
Duggins with Oldshue
“I’m delighted that Guy and Lynn share in the spotlight for this prestigious award,” says APR news director Pat Duggins. “APR and its listeners know what a great job they do for us, and now the broadcast journalism industry does as well.”
This is APR’s fourth Sigma Delta Chi Award, having won back-to-back honors in 2011 and 2012 for coverage of the 2011 Tuscaloosa tornado, and in 2016 for a documentary outlining their six-month investigation of the Alabama prison system.
Alabama Public Radio is a network of public radio stations licensed by The University of Alabama and located in Bryant-Denny Stadium’s Digital Media Center. Its affiliation with the College of Communication and Information Sciences gives students opportunities for practical training in a variety of production activities.
About the Sigma Delta Chi Awards: First awarded in 1932, the Sigma Delta Chi Award recognizes the best in professional journalism in categories covering print, radio, television, newsletters, art/graphics and online. To learn more about the Sigma Delta Chi Awards, visit https://www.spj.org/a-sdx.asp.
C&IS students learn content marketing in innovative Twitch class
The advent of the internet dramatically reshaped the entire world, bringing together people from all backgrounds and experiences to communicate with each other and share their stories. Years later, social media would enhance that connectivity and bring us even closer together, providing platforms for all users to share videos, photos and more. Today, new platforms are popping up every day, enhancing the online conversation and introducing new neighbors from every corner of the globe.
As new platforms continue to emerge, they are shaped by a young generation of content geniuses bursting at the seams with entrepreneurial spirit and creative potential. At C&IS, part of equipping the next generation of global leaders in the world of communication and information is encouraging growth in and mastery of new emerging platforms through experience and practice. For now, that new platform is Twitch.
Twitch launched in 2011 as a new streaming website showcasing live-streamed video games and live e-sports. By 2014, the platform was purchased by Amazon and had more than 20 million visitors per month. Twitch became “the next big thing” in the tech industry, and advertising and public relations professionals quickly recognized a new creative outlet for getting content into households and onto devices all over the globe. Companies began promoting branded gaming content and partnering with streamers to sponsor them. As Twitch continued to grow, advertising strategies from major brands developed to sync with the platform and the opportunities it presented. In 2019, consumer brands spent more than $650 million on sponsorships and branded content for online streaming platforms globally. The total for 2020 surpassed $800 million, and experts predict the global spending to top $1 billion annually by 2022.
With Twitch advertising budgets at nearly $22 million and the website ranked the 14th most popular in the United States last year, the new platform can experience upwards of 2 billion hours in viewed content in one month alone. The future success of Twitch is clear now, but The University of Alabama took a chance on prioritizing the platform in the early days. That chance is paying off.
Three years ago, when COVID-19 was not part of our everyday vocabulary and the idea of a global sports stoppage was unthinkable, faculty in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations were building a partnership to help educate students on “the next big thing.” In 2018, Twitch was making its way to college campuses, and UA was one of the first institutions in the United States to launch an official university Twitch channel — the first school in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). The channel was developed as a means to teach students about the platform and its relevancy to the advertising and public relations industries while also giving students a place to create their own original content.
Examining the analytics of their content viewership helps teams craft new content to address their audiences' feedback.
Student production teams collaborate to bring high-quality live streaming content to UA Twitch followers.
C&IS Instructor Randall Huffaker assists student Alyssa Harrison in setting up her Twitch livestream studio.
Today, students are learning the platform and practicing the art of creating their own original content through a regularly offered course specifically focused on Twitch. Developed by advertising and public relations senior instructor, Randall Huffaker, the course teaches students a variety of skills related to content marketing, including search engine optimization, social media and influencer marketing, analytics, and event promotion.
“There are billions of marketing dollars being poured into this streaming platform every year, so the potential for future public relations and advertising professionals who know the platform and can strategize with Twitch in mind is limitless,” said Dr. Kenon Brown, associate professor of advertising and public relations. Brown and Huffaker worked together to bring Twitch to UA’s campus.
The class is structured so that students work in collaborative teams where each student carries different responsibilities. Students might work on the “community management team” where they oversee the channel itself, from content to analytics. Or, they might work on the “writing team” or “creative team” where they are writing scripts or creating graphics to promote streaming events, gaming nights or interviews with industry professionals. The goal is that students contribute their unique talents while stretching themselves to learn something new through a very hands-on experience. To Huffaker, the class is about the original content creation; after all, that’s why people are part of the Twitch community.
“Taking ownership of their learning leads to a more motivated student,” said Huffaker. “They become more engaged with the concepts, preparing them for that next stage and the start of their career.”
In the C&IS Twitch class, students create content for an audience that they also develop and nurture throughout the semester. Essentially, in 12 weeks, students create a product and develop a ground-up content marketing campaign to promote it.
“It is very much a ‘learn as you go’ experience,” said J.J. McGrady, a senior public relations major from Prattville, AL, who was enrolled in the Twitch class last fall. McGrady was a member of the community management team. “We were able to learn on our own and find what content worked and what didn’t in an organic way.”
Huffaker understands what creative freedom can do in the learning process.
“I just want them to create and find things they’re passionate about and go to work,” said Huffaker. “As they create and analyze the content, they can tell a story with the data to make meaningful changes.”
“Content” can include anything from playing live video games and creating educational videos about photography, to recapping the latest episode of “The Bachelorette,” discussing UA athletics or giving a cooking demonstration. The point is for students to choose topics of their own interest and to build their content as a way of channeling that passion.
“It’s an exciting moment when the teams begin streaming their content and viewers from all over tune in, but the students know the work doesn’t stop there. That’s when we begin diving into the analytics,” said Huffaker.
Students learn how to analyze viewership metrics and social media analytics. They are responsible for adjusting their programming as necessary to reach larger audiences through Twitch and their other channels. The comprehensive and fully integrated learning experience is something the advertising and public relations department knows will give students an advantage in the industry.
“This class really helped pinpoint what aspect of public relations I would be interested in when I begin my career,” said Alyssa Harrison, design team leader for UA Twitch in fall 2020. “In the public relations field, having firsthand experience with content creation and how to use shared media platforms is a huge strength.”
What started as a class dedicated to preparing students for a new arena of marketing has now grown into a channel with national attention. The UA channel, created and managed by C&IS students, has participated in some of the biggest nationwide e-sports tournaments and the faculty has worked to garner sponsorships from worldwide companies such as Red Bull, Dell Computer, Mainline and Learfield IMC among others. And they are just getting started.
“The dollars and the data on Twitch speak for themselves,” said Brown. “We will continue to grow the course, the channel and the learning opportunities as Twitch continues to evolve and grow in the future. Our goal is to have the most highly-qualified and prepared graduates in the country and this course plays a part in that.”
C&IS Board of Visitors member Sharon Tinsley has been named the 2021 Dean’s Medal recipient by Dean Mark Nelson.
The Dean’s Medal is awarded to individuals who exemplify the qualities of sustaining friendship, unsurpassed loyalty and dedication to the College of Communication and Information Sciences. Since its inception in 2002, only twelve recipients have been honored with the award.
“This award celebrates and honors Sharon’s commitment to our college,” Nelson said. “She is valued by our faculty for her vast knowledge of the industry, and she is a trusted mentor for our students. We are incredibly thankful for her continued loyalty and support.”
Tinsley’s leadership and innovative ideas have been invaluable in developing the College’s national profile and strategic priorities. She has been a member of the C&IS Board of Visitors since 2005 and served as president from 2012-2013. An alumna of UA, Tinsley graduated from C&IS in 1986 with a degree in broadcast and film communication. Today, she currently works as the president of the Alabama Broadcaster’s Association.
While a college diploma symbolizes years of hard work, it doesn’t always tell the full story of a person’s journey. Behind the scenes there are usually years of preparation, extracurricular involvement, and making the most of every opportunity. Scottie Rodgers (Journalism 95’) came to The University of Alabama with a passion for writing and a strong desire to hone his skills as a communicator. Although he didn’t know it at the time, it was the experiences he would participate in as a student that would help him create his story and later shape him into a mentor for both students and alumni of the University.
Before attending college, Rodgers worked for his hometown paper, The Atmore Advance, and gained experience as a sportswriter. He also attended the University’s minority journalism workshop – now known as the Multicultural Journalism Workshop – where he won the award for best story, and his experience prompted him to declare journalism as his major at the College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS).
As a student, Rodgers worked in UA Athletics for three years. He worked numerous sporting events and spent countless hours working in the athletics department through this position and was able to work closely with the women’s soccer program for the team’s first season reinstated as a varsity sport at the University.
“If it wasn’t for C&IS giving me the opportunity to grow as a person and grow into myself as a professional, then I wouldn’t be able to be where I am right now,” Rodgers said. “These were such meaningful experiences and exposed us to so much more about what the world working in sports looks like and what the world in sports was going to be.”
Rodgers believes it is important to take advantage of every opportunity. To show his gratitude for the experience C&IS provided him, he now aims to provide the same opportunities and insight to current students.
“I think if I can help someone understand what opportunity sits there in front of them and they can take advantage of it, then it’s going to open up a new world to them while they’re in school and when they step off campus as a graduate,” Rodgers said.
His main advice to both C&IS students and alumni – listen and be willing to grow and surround yourself with great people to guide you along the way.
“When you get to that new city, find the Alabama alumni. There are Alabama alumni everywhere, and it’s a great avenue to connect with people who may have similar interests,” Rodgers said. “Get involved and get engaged because you’ll be surprised who you’ll find.”
Rodgers now serves as director of communications for the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association which runs the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. He began his role in August 2020 and was a part of the 85th Cotton Bowl Classic in December 2020. Due to the pandemic, his organization also had the opportunity to host the 2021 College Football Playoff Semifinal at the 107th Rose Bowl Game and made history by hosting only the second Rose Bowl Game ever to be played outside of Pasadena.
Rodgers said that the most rewarding part of his job is celebrating the student-athletes who make it to the postseason each year.
“It’s been a vehicle to help get the stories about the student-athletes, their programs and their universities out there. We’re not directly connected to the student-athletes like someone would be who is on campus, but when they do come to our game it is a celebratory time for them,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers’ experience in sports and journalism, his gratitude for the people and opportunities that led him to his career, and his passion for helping students has encouraged him to give back to C&IS. He hopes to provide students with the knowledge and resources that will set them up for success within their future careers.
“You have to pay it forward, and I wouldn’t be here if somebody didn’t do something for me. I feel like at this stage in my career I want to make a point to focus on giving back to those who gave to me in the places that gave to me,” Rodgers said.
2021 Holle Award for Excellence in Screenwriting winner, Megan Friend
2021 Holle Award for Excellence in Media Writing winner, Leah Goggins
The College of Communication and Information Sciences has announced the winners of the 2020-21 Holle Awards for Excellence in Creativity and Communication.
The awards are designed to celebrate and reward national student achievement in the areas of book arts, filmmaking, media writing, screenwriting and public speaking. Each of these awards include a $10,000 prize.
The Holle Award for Excellence in Book Arts was awarded to University of Alabama student Cheri Marks for her piece, “A Case of Equilibrium,” which explores the relationship between cyclical systems that occur, whether by deliberate choices or natural forces, to sustain balance.
The Holle Award for Excellence in Filmmaking was awarded August of The New School for his work, “Father.” The film was lauded by judges for its remarkable vulnerability and innovative, layered storytelling.
The Holle Award for Excellence in Media Writing was awarded to The University of Alabama’s Leah Goggins for her pieces titled, “Alabama Healthcare Fails Transgender Students,” “Tuscaloosa Locals Profile the Strip in New Documentary” and “INT. BIRMINGHAM – Film Industry.”
The Holle Award for Excellence in Public Speaking was awarded to The University of Alabama’s Andrea Lawley, for her persuasive speech describing the science and evolutionary history behind human thinking, and why positive thinking is a better option than negativity.
The Holle Award for Excellence in Screenwriting was awarded to University of Alabama student, Megan Friend for her work “Merry Chasers.” Judges praised Friend’s personality for bringing the story to life on every page in a brilliantly woven narrative.
“The 2021 Holle Award winners are bold and exceptional communicators from around the country,” said Dr. Mark Nelson, dean of the College of Communication and Information Sciences. “Their excellence as storytellers and creatives honors the legacy of Brigadier General Everett Holle and well represents the prestige of the awards that bear his name.”
In 2021, the Holle Family Foundation approved two new awards and funded their annual $10,000 prizes in perpetuity. Beginning in the 2021-22 academic year, the Holle Awards will include the Holle Award for Excellence in Forensic Competition and the Holle Award for Excellence in Sports Media.
The Holle Awards are named for Brigadier General Everett Hughes Holle, a 1950 graduate of The University of Alabama who served as an announcer, director, writer and producer during his 40-year career at NBC 13. Holle was a member of the College of Communication and Information Sciences’ board of visitors where he passionately invested in the success of University of Alabama students for years. For more information about the Holle Awards, visit cis.ua.ed/holle.
Stories of How C&IS Met the Challenges Presented by COVID-19
Uncertainty filled the air as students left UA’s campus for spring break in March 2020. With other academic institutions already announcing a move to online learning, the announcement to halt classes, meetings and events seemed inevitable. In a University-wide email sent March 12, 2020, President Stuart Bell announced that classes would be suspended for an additional week to allow time for courses to be transitioned to alternative and remote learning methods for the remainder of the semester.
Within Bell’s email lay a hidden and hopeful charge to the entire University of Alabama extended family, “I call upon each of you—faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni and supporters—to model the creativity and strength of the campus community we have come to expect.” As the next several months would be some of the most challenging times many educators and staff had ever experienced, C&IS was determined to exceed the expectations of Dr. Bell’s challenge just as he requested—with creativity and strength.
Each semester, students in C&IS instructor Susan Daria’s class are split into groups of 5-7 students to organize an event or initiative to raise funds and awareness for local childhood food insecurity. Since 2011, this class has raised more than $213,000 for Secret Meals For Hungry Children (SMHC) which secures discreet, non-perishable food packs to feed more than 1,700 under-nourished and food-insecure children over the weekends during the school year.
Assignments in Daria’s class, APR 419: Public Relations Concepting and Implementation, include drafting communication plans and media releases, seeking out partnerships and sponsorships with community organizations, and creating an original visual look to support the students’ efforts with advertising and promotion. The project culminates in a short video documentary of the project and a client presentation at the semester’s end. This process ensures a comprehensive learning experience for all the students involved.
“At the beginning of a typical semester, students go out and find a venue and community partners—people who want to contribute by donating items for a silent auction or contributing sponsorships,” said Daria. “But it’s all pretty much based on physical interactions.”
In-person gatherings have been an essential component of the APR 419 projects for SMHC over the years, including events such as percentage nights at local venues and restaurants. As the news of a campus-wide moratorium on events broke last spring, the SMHC fundraisers were in jeopardy for the first time in 18 semesters. Had the announcement come earlier, Daria’s students could have adjusted their plans with time to spare, but halfway through the semester the project groups were putting the finishing touches on their events logistics, advertising artwork and promotion plans.
“I sent an email to my students asking them to look into ways of doing their projects online,” said Daria. “One group was doing a pool tournament. You can’t really do something like that online…but this class didn’t let it stop them; they came together and they kept going.”
Perhaps given the extenuating circumstances, Daria could have lessened the class requirements for a semester and allowed her students to turn in a campaign without the required implementation. But crisis situations happen and preparing students to handle crises with poise and determination is essential to the quality of their education—even if it is not listed as a learning outcome in a particular course. Furthermore, Secret Meals For Hungry Children is not a hypothetical situation, or a project dreamed up as a prompt for theoretical instruction; it’s a real program with real children who rely on it to make it through the weekend well-fed. Daria understood this and so did her students.
“Outside factors always have the ability to change a PR plan drastically,” said PR student Katherine Poedtke (Naperville, Illinois). “You have to get the work done one way or the other. We were trying to help feed children during the pandemic, and that was all the motivation we needed to work as hard as we could to pull together as a team and as a class.”
The students had less than a week to shift their in-person fundraising and awareness events into suitable online alternatives. For most groups this meant new ideas, new graphics and new promotional tactics. One group held an online bingo game called “Backpack Bingo,” as another group launched a superhero social media campaign—complete with capes—titled, “Be a Hero.” One student even used her birthday fundraiser on Facebook to help raise money.
“Actually, moving online ended up being a positive because we were able to reach out to a lot more people that aren’t in the Tuscaloosa area,” said PR student Jackson Fuentes (Peachtree City, Georgia). “The previous events were going to be confined to the Tuscaloosa community and not as much to the online spheres. When we transitioned, the target audience grew substantially.”
Collecting funds however they could, the students became the true heroes. They rose to the challenge with creativity and determination, raising more than $8,000 to feed hungry children in a few short weeks.
“I was extremely proud of these seniors,” said Daria. “These remarkable students used their professional skills to better the lives of others—even in the face of a global crisis. Being there to witness it and to guide them has been my proudest achievement in 18 years of collegiate instruction.”
As the pandemic continued into the Fall 2020 semester, so did the efforts of advertising and public relations students to creatively raise funds and awareness to benefit Secret Meals For Hungry Children. Daria’s fall class hosted an online ‘Backpack Bingo’ event, a ‘Paw-Parazzi’ pet photo contest, an online auction titled ‘Auctions for Action,’ and a ‘Taste of T-Town’ online cookbook sale. Through all these creative ideas, these students raised another $8,000 for the community. With perseverance and resolve, Daria’s students overcame countless challenges to provide much-needed meals for dozens of West Alabama children.
Online courses in higher education existed for decades prior to the global COVID-19 outbreak, but never before had the demand for remote access to online education been so high and so immediate. Seemingly overnight, students all across the world were unable to gather on their respective campuses for face-to-face instruction. As faculty made course transitions to asynchronous online or A/V interactive instructional methods, it was a challenge to implement interactive elements of a course or experiential learning practices.
C&IS faculty and researchers Dr. Jennifer Becker and Dr. Anneliese Bolland are working hard to improve the overall effectiveness of online education by incorporating experiential learning in their online teaching methodology and by leading conversations about effective online teaching methods for instructors and faculty across the United States.
“We are promoting a culture of excellence in online pedagogy. Exemplary online courses and instructors facilitate engaged and meaningful student learning that is deep and sustained,” said Becker. “This is possible, and one of the most powerful ways to do this is through high-impact practices.”
High-impact practices (HIPS) are teaching and learning methods such as experiential learning, internships, collaborative assignments and undergraduate research, that have been widely tested and have been shown to be beneficial for college students from many backgrounds. Experiential learning requires direct, hands-on experience in real-world contexts, focused reflection, and drawing connections to academic work, life experience and future applications.
“Experiential learning is often challenging to do inside the classroom, although there can certainly be fruitful discussions within the classroom about experiences had outside the classroom,” said Bolland. “In some ways, remote learning has opened doors to faculty thinking about additional ways to use experiential learning as a means of meeting learning objectives. Especially because some students may be living in different cities, states, perhaps even different countries right now, asking students to leave Zoom and have an intentional academic experience where they apply course material is possible.”
In Bolland’s course COM 550: Qualitative Research Methods in Communication, she utilizes various experiential learning activities as a way to bring key concepts home. For example, one assignment calls for students to observe something—interactions at the DMV, the dog park, the farmer’s market, etc.—as both a participant and a non-participant. While students observe, they are thinking through a qualitative research study and applying concepts such as ethics of observing, objectivity in observation or positionality in a study. Then, they proceed to analyze their fieldnotes and write up a mini-study. The experience is the lesson, and these learning practices have been shown to increase student engagement and retention.
C&IS professors aren’t just applying these practices to their own online courses, they’re impacting virtual campuses all across the country by leading new conversations in online education. In October 2020, Becker, Bolland and Dr. Coral Bender of LSU hosted a 60-minute session titled “Integrating Experiential Learning into Online Education” and moderated an interactive workshop at the national HIPS in the States 2020 Conference, an informal community of college and university educators working to improve the applications, tracking, and assessments of high-impact educational practices at public and private institutions.
“Our conference session was designed to spark creative applications of experiential learning in online courses,” said Becker. “When participants left the session, they left with some concrete ideas about what they could take away and apply in multiple courses of their own.”
This conversation has never been more essential for the future of higher education. Even before the pandemic, universities were seeing dramatic increases in online and distance education opportunities and decreases in main-campus enrollment. If the future of education is trending toward the online environment, it’s imperative that educators understand how to enhance their courses with high-impact practices to ensure a quality education for those enrolled. For Becker, this is a question of access.
“Everyone deserves excellent education,” said Becker. “There are so many working adults who, whether it’s a master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree, can further their education only through a distance learning program. And they deserve to have the same excellent experience
as a student who attends an on-campus class.” At C&IS, our faculty aren’t just implementing these practices, they are teaching and leading the way across the nation.
During the early days of the quarantine period, confusion and misinformation were rampant throughout the country, so breaking news was more important than ever. While many operations at The University of Alabama went fully remote in the middle of March 2020, WVUA 23—the University-owned commercial news station based in the Digital Media Center (DMC)—continued its operations.
The WVUA 23 team pressed forward through the spring semester, during the summer and into the fall, providing available, much-needed information to residents of West Alabama. They knew that, despite losing two-thirds of the news staff as their 40 undergraduate student interns returned home after spring break, they had a duty to their viewers and to their community. The news team kept running. The remaining 18 full-time staff members of WVUA 23 and four part-time master’s students shifted and took on various new roles in the newsroom.
We adjusted and filled in areas where we heavily rely on students,” said Steve Diorio, general manager for WVUA 23. “During a newscast, we would typically have seven people in the newsroom, and suddenly we had three. Anybody and everybody had to step up.”
Thanks to Zoom, story production actually increased last summer. New resources and efficient means of interviewing sources led to an ability for the shortened staff to put out more information to the community, especially in a partnership with the University Medical Center (UMC).
The staff understood the duty they had to inform their viewers on the latest developments with the virus, not to mention the other unprecedented news stories that broke over the summer. Every Friday afternoon, WVUA 23 shoots a virtual town hall, which is shared via Facebook Live on the UMC’s Facebook page. Topics range from timely Center for Disease Control reports to testing concerns in rural Alabama.
“We are working to keep our patients and the West Alabama community informed with the most up-to-date, factual and relevant information about ways to stay healthy and safe during this COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Richard Friend, Dean of the College of Community Health Sciences. “WVUA has been an important and vital partner in this endeavor.”
The partnership between WVUA 23 and the UMC extends beyond the Facebook Live town halls. Another tool WVUA 23 used is a long-running weekly segment called “Health Matters,” featuring staff from the UMC. Dr. Thomas Weida, the Chief Medical Officer for the UMC, became affectionately nicknamed “Captain Covid” because of his appearances on the UMC town halls and his regular segments on “Health Matters.”
In the past, these segments would hit on topics like diet, heart health and hygiene, but after the COVID-19 outbreak, the segments shifted to the various effects of the virus. WVUA 23 and the UMC recognized the importance of topics like mental health, sleep health and stress relief in a time when many people are dealing with anxiety in a way they have never experienced before.
In addition to addressing the sometimes-unrecognized side effects of the virus outbreak, useful information like preventative measures that parents could take as their children return to school and food preparation tips to avoid COVID-19 exposure were also covered. These segments continue to run every Wednesday with re-runs airing on Sunday nights. The full-length interviews, usually around eight minutes, are immediately available on WVUA 23’s website.
Now, the WVUA 23 students are back in action and are a large part of the continued mission to keep the West Alabama community informed during these uncertain times. Student interns are learning a great deal about the ever-changing nature of a functioning newsroom and will carry the unique lessons of the last year into their future careers.
Challenges provide unique opportunities to find strengths in hidden places and let them shine, because people committed to doing their best are strengthened by adversity, and so they press on. The dedicated work of faculty, staff and students during the COVID-19 outbreak proves that even during difficult circumstances, C&IS strives to develop global leaders who do the extraordinary across the full communication, media and information spectrum. We see this in the creative resilience of APR 419 students fundraising to provide meals for hungry children after their plans and events were no longer operational. We see this in the progressive curiosity of C&IS faculty challenging the status quo of online learning and teaching the nation their tactics. And we see this in the informative determination of a campus news station putting in the extra hours to guard their community with truth. Looking ahead, we know that challenges will continue to abound and, as an academic community who is persevering during difficulties such as the COVID-19 pandemic, we expect to meet these challenges with the same strength and creativity.
COMMUNICATOR, ISSUE 41
Communicator is published by the Capstone Communication Society and The University of Alabama’s College of Communication and Information Sciences. Its purpose is to keep alumni and supporters informed about the programs, services and activities of the College, as well as developments in the fields of communication and information. To read the latest issue of Communicator, click here.