College students sometimes wonder if and how their work will have an important and lasting impact beyond their own lives. The undergraduate students in Associate Professor of Communication Itzhak Yanovitzky’s Persuasive Communication class, however, know with certainty that their course work is helping others. Yanovitzky assigned them the task of developing communication plans for the New Jersey State Cancer Registry-Cancer Surveillance Research Program (NJSCR-CSRP) at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, and through this assignment, they are now helping to assist cancer survivors and their families.
To develop three plans for NJSCR-CSRP to choose from, Yanovitzky divided his students into three teams, and they worked throughout the fall 2018 semester to research and develop the plans. At the end of the semester, the students presented their plans to two representatives of NJSCR-CSRP, Lisa Paddock, MPH, Ph.D., Deputy Director, and Natalia Herman, MPH, Research Teaching Specialist 1. Paddock and Herman are both part of NJSCR-CSRP. SC&I’s Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science Charles Senteio who connected Paddock and Herman to Yanovitzky through his collaboration with the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, also reviewed the proposals.
Paddock said, “We were very impressed with the students’ quality of work- from their initial lines of questioning through their final presentations. As we work to improve both our study communications and communications regarding NJSCR-CSRP, we will be using the suggestions from all three groups. They provided us with actionable items for the short and long term.”
Before the students began to present their communication plans, Yanovitzky explained to the class that their presentations would be evaluated on critical thinking, the evidence they provided to explain why they chose the strategies and tactics they did, and how well they were able to put together a coherent plan.
“You need to become the expert,” Yanovitsky said. “You don’t need to ask me if NJSCR-CSRP should use social media, you tell me what they should do. You did not choose this client but you often don’t choose clients in real life.”
The three teams were each given 10 minutes to present on December sixth. Each team summarized the NJSCR-CSRP’s goals and challenges, their various audiences, and suggested strategies and tactics NJSCR-CSRP should use to meet their over-arching goal of increased visibility.
Following the presentations, Yanovitzky said, “I am impressed. The students used the entire toolbox – all the tools they were taught in the class, such as trust, branding, segmentation, attitudes and beliefs. They came to class with a basic knowledge and used evidence to find answers. They thought about the packaging and the use of statistics – policy makers want numbers, not photos. As communicators, our power lies in simplifying complex problems.”
After Yanovitzky spoke, Paddock and Herman critiqued and commented on the three presentations. They said the students were thoughtful of their budget, and timetables they can use to roll out the plans. They also remarked that they were very impressed that every team relied on market research, and that each group showed a significant change NJSCR-CSRP can make to improve their current communications strategies.
Of group one’s plan, Paddock and Herman liked the suggestion to produce a video, and the idea to ask cancer survivors to explain the benefits of clinical trials to potential participants. They appreciated group three’s idea of using a flyer instead of a brochure. In the end, however, Paddock, Herman and Senteio chose group two as the winner, due to the group’s understanding of social judgement theory and how it applies to their audiences.
“At the top of our list for immediate improvements are creating a short video about NJSCR, updating our brochure into an easier to read flyer, and looking for opportunities to introduce ourselves to our target audience (cancer survivors and their families) to bring a ‘face to the name’ of CSRP,” Paddock said. “We would be happy to work with SC&I again on this or future projects!”
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