Dr. Katherine Kinnick, an associate professor of communication, helps her students get a taste of the real world by working with various community groups in COM 4465, Public Relations Campaigns. Kinnick is the 2003 winner of the Distinguished Teaching Award.    

Teacher of the Year recipient brings real-world experience to her classroom

by Rick Woodall

Long before Dr. Katherine Kinnick became an associate professor of communication at Kennesaw State University, she learned first-hand that not everything public relations students need to know about their career field was being taught in the classroom. The experience she gained during 10 years as a PR professional in Atlanta is paying dividends today, as she helps prepare a new generation of students to enter the workforce.

"I felt like I had something to offer, because I had all of this real-world experience," said Kinnick, a full-time faculty member for nearly eight years. "And there are so many things that I wish somebody had told me as a young professional, everything from business etiquette to what it’s really like handling the rejection of reporters as a PR person; they never taught me those things in classrooms."

Kinnick, the 2003 recipient of Kennesaw State’s Distinguished Teaching Award, endeavors to give her students the "inside scoop" through courses such as COM 4465, Public Relations Campaigns, which provides senior communication majors on the PR track with a taste of the real world by allowing them to adopt a client (usually a local non-profit agency) and develop a promotional campaign geared to its specific needs.

"That course is really our showcase for service learning in the PR track," Kinnick explained. "It’s the capstone course that students can take when they’re a senior."

Each group of COM 4465 students is divided into teams, simulating agencies competing for the business of the organization in question. This spring, that organization was Cobb Christmas, a volunteer group that collects enough toys for about 4,000 children, as well as food for their families, each holiday season. Past clients have included MUST Ministries, the city of Smyrna and Cobb Family Resources.

"I think there’s a lot of value in having the students work together in a team, rather than doing only individual assignments in that class," Kinnick said. "It really is much closer to what happens in the real world.

"Classes like this and the internship program, which I also supervise, I’m really passionate about," she explained, "because this is the kind of hands-on, real-world training I think students need to be prepared for an entry-level job."

If outside feedback is any indication, that’s just the sort of education Kinnick and her colleagues in the communication department are providing.

"My goal has been to make our graduates every bit as prepared and marketable as the schools that have these long-standing reputations in the business community, and I think we’re really making some headway," she said. "The feedback that we have heard from internship supervisors and from the clients for the PR campaigns class is that these students are prepared and that they are just as competent, if not more competent, as students that they get as interns coming out of some of the bigger programs.

"That makes me feel really good," she added, "that we are doing our job in getting them prepared for the expectations that employers are going to have."