Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Getting the Most from Your Public Relations Education

I spent most of yesterday in a Faculty Retreat planning not for the upcoming semester but for how Curry College's Communication Department would look in two-to-three years and beyond.

While some of the conversation was about "rubrics" and other academic-sounding things, we devoted a significant amount of time to end results of our education efforts...what do we want our students to come away with at the end of their four years of study?

This led me to thinking about what I want my public relations students to learn while they're with us. And it all led back to the age-old "get a solid liberal arts education."

While the future value of mathematics, fine arts, philosophy, and all the other wondrous courses available for study may not be readily apparent, think about it like this. Public relations is about understanding human behavior, about being able to analyze a situation and offer viable recommendations...about actually seeing both the individual trees and  the forest while you're in the midst of all of it.

Take fine arts, for example. My wife is an accomplished amateur painter. We once went to a Monet exhibit at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. While all the rest of us were standing back at a "dignified" distance "admiring" the overall beauty of a particular painting, Margaret practically had her nose in the painting, closely examining and appreciating how each individual brushstroke contributed to the finished work.

Liberal arts courses teach you to examine the individual brushstrokes that comprise effective communication. From mathematics and critical thinking ("How do I derive that sum?") to fine arts and appreciation of how a combination of efforts led to a pleasing end product ("How did the artist achieve that realistic depiction?") to philosophy, history, and the many other courses, each adds an extra level of understanding.

Which leads me back to my original thought...what will the Communication Department look like? I believe the content will continue to evolve to meet current communication capabilities and demands. But I don't think the context will change significantly; communication majors will still have to be able to communicate effectively.

A solid understanding of all that goes into that communication...the history, the psychology, the mathematics, the art...will remain a constant. And I will continue to expect my public relations students to gain that understanding.

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