The recently launched Partner Program is empowering students at Comm Lead to collaborate with communities beyond the classroom. This new program streamlined a system that matches MCDM and MCCN students with organizations facing challenges, or offering opportunities, that are well suited to students’ expertise. The program provides students with project-based, peer-to-peer learning experiences, and provides financial support, enabling students to execute the work in paid fellowship and internship positions. Moreover, these community collaborations give graduates the edge they need to excel in industries that continue to evolve as rapidly as the technologies that drive them.
Adrian MacDonald, a Cohort 14 student pursuing a MCCN degree, said that the Partner Program was “a critical missing piece from the curriculum that allowed me to apply my academic training in pitching a prospective client, and connecting me with my first important lead as a professional entrepreneur.”
Through the program, MacDonald was matched with the King County Executive Office, which was seeking an analysis of its strategic communications plan for the “Best Run Government” campaign. Targeting an internal workforce audience of 14,000 and an external constituent audience of 2 million county residents, the campaign attempted to illustrate King County’s goal “to be the best-run government in the nation.”
Initially, MacDonald and his team—Antonio Herrera, Cohort 16, and Angie Lyons, Cohort 14—were tasked with creating a video to solve this challenge. However, upon meeting with the client, the students determined that King County’s needs were “much less defined and more open-ended.”
“Talking about government in an engaging and meaningful way is not always easy,” observed Lyons, “but the King County Executive Office encouraged us to push our boundaries in order to tell important stories about issues that affect all of us.”
MacDonald relished the challenge. He felt the new direction the project was taking could become a showcase of the management skills he developed as a MCCN student. Drawing on lessons he learned during his classes, he led the team in creating a proposal for a digital communications strategy.
“Working with a small team drawn from the Comm Lead program was ideal in applying collaboration and leadership skills,” MacDonald explained, “we were able to effectively pool our collective learning from different courses in the program.”
That collaboration led to much more than a one-off video. In the end, the team’s final deliverable included substantive research, competitive analysis, and a blueprint for executing their recommended strategy.
The Partner Program is also an excellent avenue for non-profit and underserved community clients to gain access to top-notch communication strategy by connecting to qualified Comm Lead students who can address their needs.
Take Northwest Community Bail Fund. The organization is dedicated to posting bail for people charged with misdemeanor crimes, in order to reduce the individual’s financial burden. Organizers contacted the program because they were in need of an integrated advocacy campaign strategy, a new logo (which was ultimately designed by Comm Lead student, Cristiana Ventura, Cohort 16), and the establishment of a social media presence. Cohort 16’s Rosa Beyene and Jordan Melograna were tasked with the job.
Beyene stated that “working with Northwest Community Bail Fund has been such an enriching experience. I have learned so much about non-profits, social justice, bail reform and how to tackle real communication challenges.”
Melograna, too, said the project gave him the chance to apply his storytelling skills to an issue he cares deeply about. “The issue of [monetary] bail is poorly understood by the general population. My hope is that we are able to get the story of the fund and their clients in front of this new mass of people who seem motivated to work for a better world and are looking for places to direct their energy.”
The fund posts bail for low-income defendants without charging them the—often financially crippling—fees they’d pay through private bond companies. According to messaging developed by Beyene and Melograna, this allows people to defend themselves without sacrificing their freedom, jobs, housing, or child custody while awaiting trial.
“We connected with Comm Lead at a critical juncture in our development,” explained Mary Lonien, Executive Director of the Northwest Community Bail Fund. “As a newly formed organization, we were working to address economic and racial disparities in our justice system. The component that was missing was a consistent branding and communication strategy. Rosa and Jordan provided a comprehensive, professional communications plan and continue to help the organization with implementation. We’ve been extremely impressed with the high quality and thorough work the students have produced.”
In addition to providing a stage upon which students can execute their current communication expertise, the Partner Program creates a dynamic environment where students can experiment with and hone new skills. For example, a team of budding, Cohort 16 filmmakers—Rachel Lee, Yan Liu , and Xingzhou Wang—have partnered with The Accelerator YMCA to create a new video. The project will communicate the organization’s mission to “provide crucial programs and services to more than 10,000 people every year, including safe, stable housing for more than 350 homeless young people, crisis intervention for 3,500 young people and their families, and 115,000 healthy meals to school-age kids.” Having only produced one video each prior to this endeavor, the students are excited by the chance to grow as visual storytellers.
“This experience was a great opportunity to enhance my interview and video production skills, and to work with a client who has a clear goal,” Wang said. “I also have a deeper understanding of how the YMCA builds supportive communities for young people. It is empowering to tell a story about an organization that is transforming lives.”
Communication Leadership’s Partner Program has celebrated many successes in its first year – enumerated in its 2017 Community Impact Report – and is devoted to expanding its efforts and giving more students transformational learning experiences. These collaborations are made possible by the generosity of those alumni and friends who invest in the program. To support future Partner Program projects, donate today. A recurring monthly gift of $50 will fund one new student experience for Cohort 18!
“I truly believe that storytelling has changed the world, and will continue to do so,” Jordan Melograna reflected when asked about the importance of the Partner Program. “I am privileged to work on these issues professionally and academically, and I am looking forward to contributing to a new era of positive change that I believe we are now entering.”