PR students show seventh graders why college rocks

Darren D'Altorio

Blog helps young students identify passions early on

Tom Larkin, principal of Stanton Middle School in Kent, has a simple educational philosophy: It takes a village to raise a child.

So when five public relations students from Kent State approached the school’s administration about an initiative to educate seventh graders about the importance of planning for college, Larkin welcomed the idea whole-heartedly.

“This will be a very positive experience,” he said. “It will really help them think about their futures and creating opportunities.”

This collaborative opportunity between Kent State and Stanton arose when the Public Relations Student Society of America unveiled its annual Bateman case study competition for 2008-2009.

The Bateman competition is a national effort that encourages groups of five students to research, plan and implement a public relations campaign for a real-world client, said Rebecca Odell, junior public relations student at Kent State and member of the Bateman project team.

This year’s client is the Consumer Bankers Association, a leading retail bank trade association whose headquarters is located in Arlington, Va.

Operating under the Consumer Bankers Association’s public awareness program “Hit the Books Running.the more you know, the less you’ll owe,” Odell and four other team members crafted a campaign entitled “College: RockIt!”

The campaign focuses on allowing middle school students to think about their passions and use them as a launch pad for successful futures in college and beyond.

“We’re trying to reach kids on a grassroots level and get them to start thinking about college.” Odell said. “The middle school population is not being focused on.”

After extensive research and multiple focus groups with seventh graders, Odell said the team learned seventh-grade students have a definite desire to attend college and the question “What do I want to be when I grow up” is on their minds.

Moreover, the focus groups discovered nuances in the mindset of a seventh-grade student.

“The kids are very visual,” Odell said. “They love humor, YouTube videos and Kanye West.”

Based on these findings, the team developed a campaign to engage the students in a variety of ways, combining technology and interpersonal communication.

The campaign revolves around an ongoing blog featuring videos, stories and information from Kent State students about identifying passions at a young age, focusing on good grades and communicating with parents about the desire to attend college.

In addition to the blog, Odell said, students will craft a rap song about going to college and enter it in a competition to have it recorded.

Tuesday and Thursday, students from Kent State will speak at Stanton about their college experiences. Wednesday night, Stanton will host a financial planning seminar for parents, which is open to anyone in the community who wishes to attend. Friday, Stanton students are invited to the Ice Arena to skate, play games and win prizes like iTunes gift cards.

The guest speakers from Kent State, who range from music education majors to athletes, are pivotal to the message.

“College students are positive role models,” Gwyn Walcoff, public relations agent for Consumer Bankers Association, said. “They bring the message much closer to the community, making it more localized and effective.”

Monday, Kent State music education major Maurice Martin spoke for three groups of Stanton seventh graders about his life passion: music.

Carly Frey, guidance counselor at Stanton, said Martin was very excited and animated, engaging students with his message.

Frey said Martin told students about how he was criticized for being a “dreamer” his whole life. But he assured students that it’s okay to be a dreamer, as long as you do something you love and set goals for the future.

Under the surface of the “College: RockIt” campaign is the community involvement.

“The five of us could not have done this on our own,” Odell said. “The entire Kent State community helped.”

Contact College of Communication and Information reporter Darren D’Altorio at [email protected].