When interviewing professors across campus, faculty members respond differently when asked what they most enjoy about teaching at UT Knoxville. Some adore leading research projects, while others have mentioned gaining insight from their students or simply getting to know their students as things they most enjoy. For Moonhee Cho, assistant professor of public relations in the College of Communication & Information, her favorite part of the job is seeing her students step outside their comfort zones in her PBRL 470S Public Relations Campaigns course.
“PBRL 470S is our program’s capstone course, so students are taking everything they’ve learned from the public relations major and putting it into practice for a real-world client,” Cho said. “This course is when I have the opportunity to see students have those big ‘ah-ha’ moments. They’re not simply hearing about concepts in the classroom anymore, they’re fully experiencing and practicing within the field.”
The program’s capstone course, PBRL 470S, is one of 17 courses across the university with a service-learning designation. Courses that receive the service-learning (S) designation have met the university’s standards for what is considered to be an effective, rewarding service-learning opportunity for students, faculty and community partners. Students in PBRL 470S conduct strategic communication campaigns for local community organizations. Campaigns may focus on fundraising efforts, recruitment, building awareness of an organization, and much more. Cho believes that incorporating service-learning into the capstone course helps students better understand the impacts that public relations can have within society.
“Public relations always gets this bad reputation that we spin the truth, or don’t add much value, but this course reinforces that the opposite is true. My students discover that PR can apply to any moment and any discipline,” Cho said. “My students also learn how to communicate the value of PR to real-world clients, because so many local businesses and nonprofits don’t understand certain strategies or return-of-investment from a communications campaign.”
Cho wants her students to learn that public relations can be used as a tool to help the society at large. Many of the course clients involve local nonprofits, such as Keep Knoxville Beautiful or UT Recycling. Once students complete the campaign projects, they share ideas with the clients and are able to have quality portfolio pieces to share with employers upon graduation.
“This course helps give students the confidence they need to advocate for the importance of PR to a nonprofit or business, and it also gives them a taste for the real world. Not every client is going to have a large budget or man power to implement large-scale campaigns,” Cho said. “Service-learning allows my students to think strategically, and our clients walk away with some great ideas to help their organization. And it’s all so much fun to watch.”
Faculty interested in applying for the service-learning (S) course designation should check out teaching.utk.edu/servicelearning. The application deadline is October 15, 2019.