Here at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, many hopeful graduates must fulfill a capstone requirement. From engineering to education, capstone courses are a culmination and application of everything students have learned during their college careers. For Department of Life Sciences Communication (LSC) undergraduates, one of their capstones offers the chance to develop a marketing communication campaign for a real-world nonprofit client working in a science, health, or environmental area.
LSC 515: Public Information Campaigns and Programs focuses on marketing strategies: how to research a problem and target audience, decide which communication methods to use, and evaluate the effectiveness of an implemented strategy. Not only does the course allow students to apply the strategic communication knowledge they’ve gained over their academic careers, but it also comes with the chance to see their final product actually put to use by a client. This semester, LSC’s newest faculty member, assistant professor Neil Stenhouse, is teaching the course.
“The main thing I hope students take away is not just how to combine skills and theories they’ve learned so far, but really get to see how they are applicable and learn to juggle all the ways they can be combined,” Stenhouse said. “Real world projects force students to think about how to do a campaign not just in general, but in a specific environment with the challenges of that environment.”
Senior Erica Tessmann wants to work for a news outlet like BuzzFeed one day, and said the class gives her a good perspective on what working in communications will really be like in her career.
“I think it’s really extraordinary to be able to work for a real client as a student,” she said. “It shows that the department and professors trust their students enough to put a campaign pitch together and present it to a real organization.”
This year’s client was Residents for Environmental Sustainability (RES), a new organization started through the Office of Sustainability and their partners at University Housing aimed at increasing student awareness and involvement in sustainability. “RES was a good fit because they had a clear and precise goal, but one that could be approached in a number of strategic ways,” Stenhouse explained.
Twelve teams of LSC 515 students rose to the occasion, each meticulously creating a unique and creative campaign strategy to help RES in their efforts to encourage better recycling habits in the residence halls. From campaign themes and messages to poster content, campaign implementation, and even post-campaign evaluations, students were responsible for all aspects of their campaign strategies.
This year’s teams pitched a wide range of unique campaign plans to their client. Ideas ranged from Snapchat geo-filters to teaming up with local businesses to an advertisement on Spotify. RES representatives Laura Shere, Michelle Kamke, and Mike Henry were highly impressed with the quality and creativity of all the groups, however one campaign pitch stood out from the rest.
Winning teammates Olivia Riedel, Jessie Gartzke, Ryan O’donnell, and Brandon Kappel titled their campaign “Which bin is it in?” The cornerstone of their campaign was a recycling and composting poll, which would encourage students to show support for their favorite campus location by composting or recycling in a specific bin that corresponds with their favorite locale. The campaign strategy also included a month-long media contest to draw attention to the poll.
“What we really loved about this particular campaign was how easy it would be to implement, yet how effective we think it could be,” said Kamke of the winning campaign. She added that she was very excited about the possibility of using ideas from all the campaign pitches in the future.
Along with LSC 515, LSC has another capstone option, a class where students are placed in internships in the technology and life sciences industries to practices principles they’ve learned.
“Capstone courses are an important and strategic part of the LSC undergraduate curriculum,” said LSC chair Dominique Brossard. “They help students bring together all of the knowledge they’ve learned throughout LSC into a real-world experience in the service of an actual company or organization that will open up doors for employment in their desired fields.”
Story by Gina Lehner, Department of Life Sciences Communication 2015-16 Lenore Landry Scholar