By Sarah Steighner
NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. — The Penn State New Kensington COMM 471 Public Relations Methods class has partnered with the local Valley Points Family YMCA for a real life hands on project.
The goal of this semester-long project is to focus on boosting membership recruitment and retention at the local YMCA through the class’s use of Public Relations (PR) which is being taught by Professor Rosemary Martinelli.
Mike Newell is the CEO of the Valley Points Family YMCA and spoke about his experience working with the class during a phone interview. “Professor Martinelli reached out to United Way for an idea of a local community agency that may benefit from PR work and in turn recommended that we speak with the class,” said Newell.
Cindy Elliott, Director of Associate Advancement at the YMCA, has also been working with Newell and the PR class on this project. “We had a great initial meeting with the class, talked through our goals and answered their questions,” said Elliott. “They also visited us at the YMCA and we tried to provide them with information that we wanted feedback on as to how we can better serve families in the communities.”
Newell explained that their YMCA offers a broad range of activities and programs. However, their main areas of focus include youth development and social responsibility. In addition to the Valley Points Family YMCA, they also operate the Kiski branch YMCA.
During an interview, Martinelli explained that the Public Relations classes she had taught in the past have always had her students take on real life projects and this class would be no different. “We’re technically in the classroom but I want and expect the students to think outside of the classroom and this project absolutely requires that,” said Martinelli.
Martinelli expressed that this semester-long project is much better than simply only using a textbook to teach. “This project has given the students an opportunity to network within the community, and gives them true ownership of the work they do,” said Martinelli.
Martinelli explained that by week 15 of the class, the course will come full circle as her class rolls out an entire campaign and all their ideas in the form of a presentation to the YMCA, communications department, and other faculty on campus.
Along with developing ways to boost PR for the YMCA, the class is in complete charge of planning the presentation. This has included finding funding for linens, food and beverages, as well as the printing costs for invitations, brochures and other print samples.
Senior Communications major and student in the Public Relations Methods course, Regina Cherish, described some of the class dynamics during an interview. “The class is very stressful and full of absolute chaotic planning,” Cherish said. “The experience relies heavily on learning as you go, and a type of thinking on your feet problem solving.”
Cherish explained that the class is graded very subjectively and that it requires a considerable amount of work to be done outside of the classroom. As to what the class has specifically been doing, Cherish explained that along with much additional research, they have been taking the information that the YMCA originally provided and have been working to organize and compile it into brochures.
Cherish has been working as the Project Manager and Graphic Designer producing and designing these brochures and other documents. “The main thing that I have learned from this class is how to manage,” said Cherish. Cherish explained that while she does not want to go into working in Public Relations after graduation, she does want to create things similar to what she has been doing for this project.
The rest of the class is broken up into three groups. Each group focuses on a specific target audience; Students of Higher Education, Family, and External and Internal Communication. “The class is a unique situation where all of us have a mutual respect,” Cherish said. “We have all been in COMM 371 together and worked together in the class. We know each other well enough to play at our strengths. It’s easier to get three people to communicate than 10 people to cooperate.”
Junior Communications major Evan Keener, is also a student in the Public Relations Methods course and offered up his perspective on the class during an interview. “Having groups and team leaders help to make this project more efficient. I think this class is a great opportunity for our students to provide a real life experience to help us after graduation,” said Keener.
Keener elaborated on how he believes this class will help him in the long run. “I think taking this class and doing this project will help me to be more well-rounded for Communications,” said Keener.
The COMM 471 Public Relations Methods class will be hosting the formal presentation on April 29 in the Art Gallery at Penn State New Kensington. Other than the class and staff from the YMCA, other members within the communications department and additional PSNK staff are invited.