By Erika Watson
NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. – The “Communications Futures” panel at Penn State New Kensington taught students and community members about current trends in mass media and the outlook of future jobs in communications this April.
The “Communications Futures” program was a series of three panels put together by Kayla Smail as part of an independent study with Dr. Allen Larson. The panels featured four or five professionals from three different fields of communications (public relations, newspaper and radio) who talked with the community about the current condition of mass media and future careers in communications fields.
Smail, who is a Junior at Penn State New Kensington, was given other options to choose from for her independent study, but the panel idea was the one that she decided on.
“Dr. Larson and I thought it would be a good idea to educate the students on something that a lot of people are talking about but that they don’t necessarily have a lot of information about,” said Smail. “We thought it would be good to get these people who are actually working in the field, who probably know more than anybody, to explain to the students and the community what’s happening and what we can expect in the next five to ten years.”
The panels, which occurred on April 9, 15, and 16, attracted the attention of students and members of the community alike. Several students expressed interest in seeing the panels return to the campus in the future.
“They were really interesting,” said Mallory Mayer, a student who attended the public relations and newspaper panels, “and I think maybe now that they had it this year and people have gone to them, next year they’ll bring more people with them. And there will be a better turnout.”
Both Smail and Larson also expressed an interest in bringing the panels back in the future. They also feel that this is something that other majors could pick up. Larson talked about the overlap between the communications program and degree programs like IST, applied psychology and business and how it would be possible to structure the program in a way that pertained to all those majors.
“There could be potential for having a bunch of programs participate,” said Larson. “It would be nice overall if the degree programs on the campus were a little more integrated with each other in various ways.”
One student, Greg Zyhowski, expressed interest in learning about more communications fields.
“It’d be nice to have a TV station panel,” said Zyhowski, who went to the radio panel. “Like a broadcast television station. That would be very interesting; we could maybe even get connections with them.”
Smail said that she is happy with the way the panels turned out because they went “really well.”
“I’m most pleased with the amount of people that have come, but of course, you can always have more,” said Smail. “I was also really happy with the information that all the panelists gave. I learned a lot, and I know that other people did.”
Students who attended all or some of the panels agreed, stating that it was nice to hear the information from professional people who worked in each field of communications.
“There’s a lot to learn from these people because they’ve been in our shoes,” said Becky Ankeny, a student at the campus who attended the newspaper and radio panels.
“Communications Futures” required a lot of researching peoples’ names and contact information on the Internet, as well as many cold calls and e-mails. Smail said one of the main challenges involved with the panel was getting in touch with people.
“It was kind of difficult at first,” said Smail, “but you have to be persistent. You can’t just give up if there’s somebody you really want to come. You have to keep talking to them and trying to get a hold of them.”
Smail said she didn’t want the panelists to have the same job or all be from the same place. According to Larson, she drew upon the contacts she had within her family and from her job. He also said they looked for people with connections to Penn State.
“We started identifying the major organizations in the area, and then I encouraged her to look through the staff listing on the websites of those organizations,” said Larson. “It seemed like there was always a good possibility that some Penn State Alumni would pop up in any of those organizations, and we would prioritize those people first because we had a sense that they would probably say ‘yes.’
“It did turn out that quite a number of people that participated were Alumni of either this campus or the main campus,” he added.