St. Thomas students InnerCity Tennis.
Strategic communication majors partnered with the nonprofit InnerCity Tennis.

Clients for the Common Good

For the thousands of people diagnosed with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, life depends on bone marrow match and transplant.

In a capstone course directly tied to the University of St. Thomas’ mission to advance the common good, strategic communication majors were tasked with growing that bone marrow registry, an effort where success could be lifesaving and life-altering.

The National Marrow Donor Program, which manages the most diverse marrow registry in the world, was among the nonprofits the students took on as clients, Xiaowen Guan, PhD, professor in the Emerging Media Department and strategic communications program director, said.

St. Thomas also partnered with InnerCity Tennis, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that uses tennis to engage kids in no-fee programs meant to serve them on and off the court, and Keystone Community Services, which provides vital services like food or crisis support to community members in greatest need.

Classroom and career

Creating their own mini public relations and advertising agencies, two groups of six students were assigned to each client, hosting leaders from the nonprofit at the beginning of the project to learn about their assigned task and ask questions.

“The application, working with real clients, has always been a theme running through our strategic communication major courses because this is a very skill-based profession,” Guan said, explaining students begin working on smaller-scale projects in lower-level courses. “We teach principles and foundations and case studies, and the capstone accumulates all these ideas and these skills working with real clients.”

Throughout the semester, the students bring their creativity and vision to life, and do research, strategy, plan and tactic development before pitching their ideas back to their instructors, professors Paul Omodt and April Eichmeier, as well as their nonprofit partners.

“The students did an outstanding job and were completely professional,” Keesha Mason, Member Engagement, Enrollment and Experience at the National Marrow Donor Registry Program, said. “I work on several campuses across the nation, and these students left a lasting impression.”

Guan said having two student “agencies” assigned to each nonprofit was intentional, offering students a chance to see different approaches and perspectives to the same problem. Tasked with engaging new participants and community members, one group assigned to InnerCity Tennis focused on digital search engine optimization, while the other staged an activation for a summer event, designing games and a raffle.

“This class is one that I wish I could have experienced before starting my career,” said Emily Shern, communications and design manager at InnerCity Tennis, adding future employees will be impressed with their in-depth knowledge. “The students essentially created their own agency to help solve our real-life problem. Doing work to better the Twin Cities community for class credit is such a brilliant idea. I am grateful that InnerCity Tennis was able to benefit. We look forward to implementing the ideas presented by both groups.”

As Keystone Community Services prepared to renovate a new building for community rooms and space for food assistance services, students created video scripts, social media posts, a press release and webpage to build excitement and make sure Keystone’s clients were prepared for the location change.

“As we navigate through a large capital campaign project for a new community food site, it was so wonderful to have Dr. Eichmeier and her students creatively think through the steps for messaging this change to our program participants,” said Jen Winterfeldt, director of development and community engagement. “When we saw their final presentation, it was clear how much the students learned over the semester. They had a lot of wonderful suggestions that are going to be very helpful as we move through our campaign. We are incredibly grateful for the creativity, time and commitment everyone gave to this project.”

These partnerships meant students could be use their specialized skill set in strategic communications, developed over their time at St. Thomas, to positively impact the community.

“Bringing real clients from the community into the classroom, there’s beauty in that connection, and it’s what a St. Thomas education is all about,” Guan said. “Our university and our students want to be leaders and make an impact, so how do you do that? It’s easier said than done. So, these types of partnerships are about ‘how can we make the community better?’

“This is a great way of connecting what the program is trying to do to what the university is all about and our mission,” Guan added. “We're training the students so that they can become someone that can make a positive change. This project really showcases that.”