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Students discover the rewards of helping others

The Community Relations 324 course syllabus states, "...most importantly (this class) informs students how to utilize community resources to promote strong community relations."

One might question its intrinsic value to formal education, but Audra Myerchin, assistant professor, sees it as an ideal way to cross-pollinate the knowledge and skills acquired in many of the communication arts classes students take before graduating.

"The class is designed so students learn how to become 'the neighbor of choice,'" Myerchin said. "Even bad processes are part of learning. The key is to be able to reflect, adapt and contribute."

In her research, Myerchin discovered that public relations students often lacked the necessary skills to appropriately navigate and utilize community resources or represent an organization's communications goals. In other words, academia often fell short of real-world fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-PR-expectations.

This semester's class chose a community program affectionately named "Voicebook-Reading for Rugrats."

Voicebook-Reading for Rugrats asks deployed military personnel to read a children's book and allow the broadcasting students to record it. They can bring a favorite book from home, or read one of the many donated by the community. Students mail the recorded CD and the book to the child to listen to when its parent is away. Parents are also encouraged to write a personal message inside the book for their son or daughter.

What started out as a small class component designed to employ teamwork, community organization, networking, logistics, promotion and marketing, has mushroomed into a full-scale mission mined with passion. Currently, the class is hunting for parents willing to read.

"We are learning how to get involved to benefit the community," said Mara Hintz, a communications senior. "From a public relations standpoint, that's valuable because we are communicating in a way the benefits a company that we might work for and the community we live in."

Ward Lamon agreed. "The project ties into community needs, but it also touches on personal desires," he said. "I have had to network and establish community connections that may help me in my career."

"This started out as a class project, but it has grown such that we have become facilitators within the community helping another community," Josh Sandy added. "It's almost become a responsibility."

The class discovered the upside to service learning is that it often benefits everyone.

"I don't really care about my grade," Will Feldman said. "In a Community Relations class such as this, if we're not here to help, then what the heck are we doing with our time?"