Preparing Students to Work in Communications

A recent post focused on big ideas to save journalism. What about changing the university curriculum so that students are prepared to work in this ever-changing environment?

That was what Ron Bennett spoke about during the Media Network Idaho’s workshop on “Communicating in a Changing World.” During Ron’s tenure as Communication Department chair at Brigham Young University — Idaho, the department went through a major curriculum revision.

While the University of Colorado discontinued its School of Journalism and Mass Communications and is moving toward a curriculum focused on information and communication technology, Ron said Bringham Young University thought a different approach would work.

So a group was convened that interviewed CEOs around the country in major cities. The major criteria that all asked for was to teach students to write. Ron said too often today’s students “only write with their two thumbs” referring to texting.

The CEOs also wanted graduates who had interpersonal skills. “They want to know that the people they hire can get along with others,” Ron said. Other desired skills include speaking and presentation skills, lack of entitlement and a good work ethic.

The CEOs “valued breadth, not depth,” Ron said.

The result of the research was a new academic plan for the communication department. It features 31-credit core, 15-credit emphasis and a 9-credit module. “There is an emphasis in new media in all instructions yet it teaches core skills and values,” Ron said.

The program offers strict requirements along with flexibility and integrates well with minors from other departments.

Reviewing the course offerings made me want to return to school.  I’m learning on the job now, but to be able to take a module in video or new ventures would be beneficial. I would have enjoyed the core classes and selected an emphasis in either news/journalism or public relations. That would have still left me the opportunity to select a module in the opposite so that I had a well-rounded approach to communications.

As someone who often hires, it’s encouraging to see a curriculum that truly prepares students for the reality of life outside academia.