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Archive for January, 2009

Since my last post, I’ve been preoccupied with getting ready for my four new spring semester classes. We’ve completed the first week now, so things will begin to settle down.

I’ve got good classes. All four are filled with bright, interesting people, and I look forward to working with them. I instructed all four classes to read my two posts below, the one on 2009 and “What exactly do you want?” They serve to set the stage for some serious, disciplined  learning in the coming weeks.

The timing is right. The economy continues to deteriorate. Job prospects for December 2008 and May 2009 graduates look grim. The economy moves in cycles, and we are in a down cycle right now and will be for months to come. I believe the best thing that recent and soon-to-be graduates can do is prepare themselves for job opportunities, methodically and thoughtfully pursue leads for viable opportunities, and stay positive. Things will get better.

For 35 years, I earned a living doing what I now teach. I have been through recessions and corporate layoffs and all the pain that accompanies economic cycles. You simply have to tough it out. There is always something positive you can do to help your situation.

If I have learned anything from the life events I’ve faced, I’ve learned that it is not so much what happens to you, but what you think about what happens to you, that really matters. For example, whining and moaning about what happens — economic turbulence, job loss, short-term diminished employment prospects, etc. — is a waste of time. You simply have to assess the situation, revisit your goals, and adjust your strategy to keep on track to goal attainment.

There will be setbacks in life. I broke my back in a traffic accident when I was 29 years old. As a result, I became paralyzed and a wheelchair user. I certainly did not plan that. The accident changed a great many things in my life, but not the essence of who I am and what I wish to accomplish. For example, I was still a husband and father and a dedicated and ambitious  integrated marketing communication professional. I wanted to live a meaningful life and accomplish many things. The fact that I could no longer walk made it more difficult to do some of the things I wanted to do, but I learned to focus on what I could do, not on what I could not do. That saved my life.

In life, we face many challenges. No matter what, you can overcome them. I do it, and so will you. Life is so precious.  Every day is a blessing, a gift. Our job here and now is to make the most and the best of this precious gift. That means dealing with setbacks and hurts and unforeseen situations while working toward our goals.

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In a comment to my previous post about 2008, Michael Clendenin sums up what we PR Types can do in 2009 — change things.

My friend Michael’s points, as usual, are wise and timely. In my current role as educator of future communication/PR/IMC professionals, I must make changes to my courses in order to help prepare students for the harsh realities of the job market. By all accounts for the foreseeable future, that job market is going to be an unwelcoming place.

Accordingly, I have been thinking about Michael’s suggestion. What must I change to reflect current market conditions and make my courses more valuable to students?

The time is right to consider this question. I have been preparing syllabi for my four spring semester classes. Three of the classes are on subjects I teach every semester — public relations writing (one section) and strategic communication planning and management (two sections). Also for this spring, I will be developing and teaching a new course in our Communication Leadership Master’s program, “The Practice of Public Relations and Organizational Communication.”

My professional experience includes training in continuous quality improvement, so I strive to improve my courses all along. I will be changing some things for spring semester, mainly, elevating the criteria for success. This is no time to tolerate student’s underachievement. Their prospective employers are going to be highly selective and terribly unforgiving about underachievement on the job. Only the best and the brightest have a chance at getting and keeping employment in today’s job market.

And it all begins here as an undergrad. Tough love? You bet. I won’t be helping anyone if I let them coast to an easy grade. If I give away good grades, then the students will graduate and the marketplace will kick them in the teeth. They’ll blame me.

That leads me to a question: I wonder if other Mass Communication/Public Relations departments are growing as rapidly as Towson’s? More and more undergrads want to major in Mass Comm/PR. My colleagues and I suspect that far too many of these individuals view the major as an easy one. If that is true, then it was mostly our fault.

But that was then, and this is now. We are steadily upgrading the qualifications for acceptance to the major. Among the steps we are taking is adding screening courses that require analytical thinking and the highest quality writing ability to pass. No passing grade, no acceptance to the major.

We restructured  “principles” class coursework along with all lower level classes to be much more difficult. We raised the GPA requirement for acceptance to the major.  But is it enough? We still get a boat load of folks who want to major in PR and be wedding planners.

There are PR programs worthy of emulation. My friend and excellent blogger/professor Bill Sledzik at Kent State University outlined his program in a hard-hitting post titled, “Let’s raise the bar for PR education, and let’s raise it really, really, really, really, really, really high.” I think what Bill wrote is priceless and should be read by everyone teaching PR.

The year 2009 is shaping up to be a tough one for us all. You know the saying: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Poll after poll shows that the American people hate the government bailouts because we Americans seek to reward achievement, not subsidize failure.

In preparing students for communication/PR/IMC careers, we can do no less than that.

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