“My goal is to build the next generation of service-oriented communicators who can lead in nonprofits and corporate social responsibility once they graduate,” part-time faculty member Zack Langway said, speaking about the Master of Communication and Media (MCM) course he teaches at SC&I called “Service, Advocacy, and Impact”.
Langway, who is the communication leader for the Office of the Chief Medical Officer at Johnson & Johnson, said the course applies a combination of strategic communications for the common good and lessons in issue advocacy, team development, and management to real-world settings.
Graduate students taking Service, Advocacy, and Impact work hands-on with various nonprofits and community organizations using the “socially responsible” communication principles they study in class. The course also covers communications skills which can be used to strengthen and empower both grassroots voices as well as local and global nonprofit organizations.
“The course is about connecting our practice as communicators to the good we can do in our world,” Langway said.
Service, Advocacy, and Impact also connects the theories, concepts, and strategies students need to understand for the work they undertake with nonprofit organizations as part of the class. Because the course applies theories to the work students do in the field, working directly with a nonprofit organization on a key communication challenge, students taking the course can build their portfolios and also get a true sense of what a career in service is like.
“It’s not just the abstract or how students can theoretically do this after graduation. It’s about taking the lessons from the classroom and practicing them in a real-world context that immediately helps our nonprofit partners,” said Langway.
Since SC&I has offered Service,Advocacy, and Impact, students have worked with nearly a dozen nonprofit organizations in New Jersey and around the world. Working with these nonprofits has enabled the graduate students to reach and make a positive difference in the lives of tens of thousands of people.
One student team recently worked with the Kupona Foundation, a global nonprofit that aims to improve access to high-quality healthcare for people and communities in Tanzania. To assist the foundation, students provided new perspectives on the organization’s previously limited communication resources. They analyzed the Kupona Foundation’s social media platforms and strategies, offering recommendations and tools to strengthen the organization’s global social media strategy.
Langway says the Kupona Foundation reported back that Rutgers students gave them a different perspective on global social media messaging, enabling them to raise more money to support their vital work helping mothers, children, and families in Tanzania.
Another student group worked with the Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, New Jersey’s largest and first HIV service provider, and a partner of the course since its inception. To assist this foundation, the students created a press playbook to help increase Hyacinth’s visibility by attaining media coverage from reputable media outlets. Their press playbook for Hyacinth promotes awareness for events, announcements, and policy-related initiatives to secure funding that strengthens service communities.
Students who worked with Hyacinth ultimately helped elevate the voices of and experiences of people living with or affected by HIV in New Jersey through new thinking on engaging media.
While Service, Advocacy, and Impact was held virtually last semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Langway says the switch to remote learning gave students the opportunity to seek out nonprofits outside of New Jersey to assist through class projects. He said the course strives to collaborate with at least one New Jersey-based organization, while also inviting students to choose nonprofits outside of the state that align with their passion.
“This is a great course for folks who want to get a feel for what it’s like to work either inside a service-oriented organization, or to understand what social impact communications consulting looks and feels like,” said Langway.
Richard Dool, director of the MCM and Master of Health Communication and Information (MHCI) programs at SC&I, created the MCM’s Corporate Purpose and Social Impact specialization. He said it incorporates aspects of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) with sustainability and organizational purpose to help MCM students understand the role of business in society. The only degree of its kind in the Northeast U.S., this specialization provides students with a way to differentiate themselves in this fast emerging profession.
“We saw an opportunity to seize this and create a unique degree that goes even further,” said Dool, adding that one of the program’s main focuses is on social impact, which teaches students how to make a positive difference while grappling with challenging social issues.
The Service, Advocacy and Impact course ties into the specialization by giving students the opportunity to practice social impact with nonprofit and community organizations.
“It is a terrific opportunity for students to apply what they are learning and discussing in class to an actual challenge,” says Dool.
Photo: Courtesy of Zack Langway