Two West Virginia University Reed College of Media students are dedicating their classtime to learn about how to generate positive social change through their respective undergraduate programs. The Advocacy and Public Interest Communication program merges various academic fields’ science-based insights about strategic communication for sustained behavioral change into one degree.
Maura Flynn and Julia Hillman took their first APIC course together, working toward criminal justice reform in West Virginia under the leadership of assistant professor Geah Pressgrove. While Flynn and Hillman are passionate about different social issues and have different undergraduate backgrounds – Flynn studying journalism and leadership, Hillman studying public relations and political science – the two found their niche in the advocacy class.
“Many of today’s students and those in the workforce want to contribute to more than the bottom line—they want to make the world a better place. But to be effective, their ideas and passion need to be communicated with diverse audiences in ways that resonate and prompt action. This degree uniquely prepares our graduates to use science-based research to inform ethical strategic communication for social change,” said assistant professor Julia Fraustino, who is co-director of the Public Interest Communication Research Laboratory and spearheaded the creation of the APIC AOE at the College of Media.
Hillman cited her proximity to the nation’s biggest advocacy movements while she grew up in Washington, D. C.
“The Women’s March was probably the one that inspired me to want to consider this field though,” said Hillman, who spent the summer in Milan, Italy, working for the U.S. Consulate. “Through our advocacy class, I gained a deeper understanding of how advocacy really works and got to study quite a few cases on advocacy within the LGBTQ+ community.”
Flynn also began her summer overseas, studying investigative journalism in Japan and South Korea before returning to the Mountain State for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy’s Summer Policy Institute.
“This program has opened my eyes to a completely new path that I didn’t even know existed,” Flynn said. “I’m able to explore and fight for the issues that mean the most to me—equal rights, intersectional leadership and community engagement. This degree connects all the dots.”
Students in the APIC specialization work one-on-one with faculty members, contributing to projects that pursue social science for social change and taking independent studies, electives and core courses in research methods, ethics, mass media and society, public interest communication, advocacy communication and crisis-emergency-risk communication.
“The APIC program is not only a part of my deep passion to help students and professionals pursue positive and sustained social change, but I also see APIC as an ethical imperative for the field of strategic communication,” Fraustino said.
The College of Media’s MSJ program has grown significantly over the past years, advancing alongside the media revolution. Five additional areas of emphasis were recently approved for the fall 2019 semester, including media innovation, television, reporting and writing, digital publishing and visual journalism.
The first undergraduate program of its kind, a full master’s program in APIC is also in development and will be available through the College of Media soon.