This academic year has brought a good amount of success for Illinois State University's School of Communication faculty, staff and students as classes and interactions have returned to being in person.
Now, COM Week is approaching, but there is a lot more for the School of Communication to celebrate than solely this tradition.
After an entire semester of hard work and preparation, students and faculty from the School of Communication will host the annual COM Week event.
COM Week will take place from April 4 to 8 with events being held both virtually and in person. These events include panelists and keynote speakers who will help students learn more about their career options and professional development.
Sophomore public relations major Kyah Joseph creates graphics for COM Week and posts them on social media. Joseph is in charge of making sure that the School of Communication's Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook are all updated with COM Week information.
“It’s been really interesting creating captions, visuals and even scheduling when to post them,” Joseph said. “There was a lot of pressure because COM Week is an all-day and all-week event.”
Joseph said that advice from speakers and information from panels will not be exclusive to communication students.
“People think that just because it’s called COM Week, the event is only for communications majors,” Joseph said. “But COM Week is meant to be for helping students of all majors get jobs, prep for interviews and explain how people get the jobs that they received. We cover a wide range of topics like fashion, political communication and all sorts of other fun majors.”
Joseph spoke about the hard work and stress that was put in by the entire School of Communication for the event.
“We have been figuring out COM Week since first semester,” Joseph said. “It was really stressful finding panels, finding enough topics and then spreading it out throughout the week. Finding panelists was specifically very difficult because nobody put their social media anywhere.”
Although demanding, the ultimate turnout of COM Week was rewarding for everyone involved.
“I’m really looking forward to my panel, which is the social media panel,” Joseph said. “As someone who runs the social media accounts, I’m looking forward to seeing people hopefully tagging the School of COM when they visit. It’s been a lot of work for this, but we’ve all been pulling it off so far and I’m very proud of that.”
Birds Give Back
This year’s Birds Give Back fundraiser was ISU’s second most successful year in terms of the number of donations ISU alumni gave.
Senior Director of Annual Giving Jillian Nelson coordinates the Birds Give Back event and has served in her position for the last four years. For all of ISU, this year’s fundraiser was the second-largest giving day ever in terms of the number of gifts, totaling at 2,919 gifts.
Nelson said the Annual Giving team was pleased with this year’s turnout, especially because the Russia-Ukraine invasion was capturing many people’s attention.
“This is primarily a social media and digital communication effort, and obviously, the nation had their eyes on a lot of really important things that day,” Nelson said. “So, given the fact that we were dealing with all that ... we felt like it was a really good turnout. The Redbird community came together despite a lot of things vying for their attention that day and had a great outpouring of support.”
Nelson said a big reason she believes ISU was so successful during the Birds Give Back fundraiser is because even when situations are tough, Redbirds tend to show up.
“Birds Give Back is really a day when Redbirds get to show the university and show each other how much we mean together as a community, how much impact we can make together as a group. That’s my favorite thing about Birds Give Back. You don’t have to be able to give $10,000,” Nelson said.
“I think it’s just a really beautiful day to showcase that everybody [and] truly every gift matters when we come together. A lot of people gave $10 or $25 or $100, and together we raised more than $960,000 on Birds Give Back," Nelson continued.
Specifically for School of Communication faculty, staff and students, the Birds Give Back fundraiser was “a great and wild day.” The School of Communication was the number one recipient of Birds Give Back donations, earning 328 gifts and a total dollar amount of $211,126.
Executive Director of the School of Communication Steve Hunt said the School of Communication preplanned the day on social media with a teaser video and interactive posts online. Additionally, social media ambassadors, made up of mostly alumni, informed their peers about the fundraiser.
Hunt said the donations from Birds Give Back will provide more opportunities for communication students now and in the future through scholarships, support, lowering the financial burden of college, providing cutting-edge instruction and technology.
Hunt said these donations also will go toward improving resources for faculty and staff, even in an environment where state funding is declining, and the operating budget is stagnant.
“Ultimately, it means that the degrees that we can [give] to students are worth more because the better our facilities, the better opportunities we provide, the better technology we give to our students, the more that degree is valuable,” Hunt said. “So, not only for students in the future, but students that already graduated, that degree means more. It’s worth more.”
Hunt said the school alumni advisory board members are a big piece in the puzzle for supporting students through Birds Give Back and scholarships. He said they care tremendously about the student experience.
“Those opportunities mean a better shot at a job when they [students] graduate, so our alumni are amazing and committed to what’s going on in the school. That speaks volumes about their dedication,” Hunt said.
Internships have always been a big part of the four-year experience for communication students. The COVID-19 pandemic interfered greatly with students’ ability to have in person-internships, which discouraged a lot of people from applying in 2020 and 2021.
Director of Field Experiences and Internships Tom Lamonica said in spring 2020, over 175 people began a communication-related internship. In 2021, the number sank to 112.
This year, the number of students taking on internships is still lower than non-pandemic years, but Lamonica said this semester has also served as a recovery period from COVID-19.
“With fewer people actively on campus, there’s less opportunities for people to engage each other. One of the big reasons the School of Communication’s internship program has been so successful is that students have told other students,” Lamonica said. “So, the peer-to-peer relationships have been suppressed a bit as classes were remote.”
Lamonica said this semester and beyond, his focus has been one-on-one conversations with students about internships.
He continued by saying students who are curious and simply do not know which opportunities are out there, they should seek conversations with him and other internship program staff members because the benefits of doing an internship are large.
“Frequently, what students say is, ‘Well, I want to get a job, but I don’t have the experience they’re asking for.’ What’s happening nationwide is, I’ve been doing this for 15 years now, and during that time, the numbers have gone from below 30% to the upper 40% of all students having some professional practice experience, whether it’s student teaching or clinical experiences for healthcare people,” Lamonica said.
“It’s one of those things that if you want to find the job that you want, you have to compete for it. The way you compete is you have more experiences, more contacts, networking, a bigger portfolio if that’s applicable. Just more knowledge than you can get from the classroom," Lamonica continued.
Lamonica said the earlier students are involved in internships, the more they make of their college experience.
“When you think you’re ready to do an internship, come and talk to us. If you even suspect you’re ready, come talk to us. We don’t have the kind of program where you have to have a certain number of hours. It’s when they’re ready,” Lamonica said.
Lamonica said when students have doubts, they should immediately come talk to him about potential possibilities and what they want to be doing in the next two to three years.
“Another message we send is your career actually starts here, and it can start while you’re a student. You can become a professional by deciding you want to work, act and associate with professionals. We can facilitate that,” Lamonica said. “Students who initiate contact with us almost always are able to find something that they’re interested in and happy about.”
Lamonica said one’s college experience is what they make it. So, building connections and seeking opportunities now, especially moving away from the virtual classes and internships, puts students ahead.
“In regular situations, in a non-pandemic situation, and we’re still impacted by the pandemic, 75 to 80% of School of Communication graduating seniors have at least one internship for credit,” Lamonica said. “A little less than half have at least two internships for credit. So, the question becomes, professionally and academically, what do you want to be part of?”