LSC 515 students campaign to “Clean the Stream” at Union South

Story by Sarah Krier. Sarah is an undergraduate student majoring in LSC and the Department of Life Sciences Communication 2016-17 Lenore Landry Scholar

As the fall semester came to a close, students in LSC 515: Public Information Campaigns and Programs presented their semester’s work in front of a room full of professors, Union South employees, and peers. Four separate teams competed to determine whose campaign to clean the waste stream at Union South was most thorough, well communicated, and cohesive.

LSC 515 is a capstone course focusing on understanding the principles of social marketing and utilizing these principles to plan a strategic communications campaign to promote issues of public interest like environmental conservation and health conscious behavior.

“The curriculum provides the opportunity to bring together communication methods and theory, all that students have learned during their time with LSC, and develop a real-world social marketing campaign,” said Associate Professor Bret Shaw who taught the course last semester.

Students conducted a trash audit of the waste stream at Union South as a part of their project. Pictured here are (left to right) Shelby Kuenzli, Nikki Rasmussen, Sam Marquardt, Madeline Fischer, Bret Shaw, Maria Castillo.

Students conducted a trash audit of the waste stream at Union South as a part of their project. Pictured here are (left to right) Shelby Kuenzli, Nikki Rasmussen, Sam Marquardt, Madeline Fischer, Bret Shaw, and Maria Castillo.

Students were tasked with finding creative marketing communication strategies to enhance Union South’s recycling initiatives. “Clean the Stream” was the students’ slogan, stemming from the idea that waste becomes contaminated because of the lack of proper sorting measures—recycling trash items or vice versa. After conducting both observational reports and interviews with students at the Union, it was observed that an overwhelmingly high number of students reported that they generally felt confused about what items were recyclable, compostable, and what should ultimately go in the trash. Items that are most problematic include plastic straws, silverware, and coffee sleeves.

Students in LSC 515 were divided into four teams, each of which devised a campaign strategy based on the classes’ qualitative findings. Each team then presented their strategy and plan in a final report to important stakeholders at Union South.

“This was an especially meaningful project because we were working with a client,” says Rhianna Miles, a senior in LSC. “I know that the experience of creating this campaign and presenting it to a client will benefit me in the future because it allowed me to work with a team to create a polished final campaign project with specific goals in mind.”

The capstone was also an opportunity to collaborate with other LSC classes.  Students in last semester’s LSC 432: Social Media in the Life Sciences class helped create a social media strategy for the campaign and students in LSC 314: Introduction to Digital Video Production created promotional videos for the teams.

The teams’ proposed solutions were each creative, but many settled on some of the same ideas—a testament to the quality of the research the class did. Their solutions ranged from increased signage near trash receptacles, individual labeling on disposable items describing where to throw them, social media campaigns designed to inform students about recycling practices, and shadow boxes containing items sold at Union South placed over the appropriate bin.

While students were busy gaining experience working with a client to solve a real world problem, the staff at Union South were excited to collaborate on a solution for their waste challenges.

“There are some interesting opportunities here to figure out how to reach students with these campaigns. Trying to task [our staff] with the nuances of how to communicate this process was really beyond the scope of our resources. We needed to understand the core insights of what the barriers were among students with sustainability initiatives,” says Carl Korz, Assistant Director of Dining Services at Union South. “At the end of the day we are much further along in understanding how we can change this.”

This course is a unique opportunity for students because it combines a classroom setting with real-world experience—and it generates actionable results. While many of the capstone students graduated this December, their work will continue into the new year at the Union.

“Plans are already underway with our partners — Union South and the Office of Sustainability — to selectively pick the best ideas from all the student teams and implement these strategies in 2017,” says Shaw.