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Communication students team with Fidelity for unique project-based learning collaboration

July 13, 2022

Students in the Community College of Rhode Island’s Communication and Film/Media program experienced the opportunity of a lifetime this past spring thanks to a first-of-its-kind project-based learning collaboration with Fidelity Investments.

With the goal of expanding student participation in work-based learning, CCRI teamed with Fidelity, a longtime partner through the college’s Division of Workforce Partnerships, to develop semester-long writing projects woven into the curriculum of three separate courses – Media Writing, Multimedia Reporting, and Social Media Communication.

The projects implemented a variety of communication skills – from writing video scripts and news articles to creating blogs and social media posts – with students in each class working alongside Fidelity employees, all of whom volunteered to participate. The collaboration allowed the students to gain real-world experience in the communication field and solicit important feedback from industry professionals.

Stacy Sullivan, CCRI’s Director of Industry Partnerships, considered this inaugural cohort an overwhelming success and is hopeful the college will have the opportunity to launch similar collaborations between other industry partners and programs.

“The original idea was, ‘How can we come together for students so they can have a hands-on learning experience and have this exposure to the types of jobs that are out there and what companies are hiring?’” Sullivan said.

“What was helpful for us was the Division of Workforce Partnerships already has relationships with a lot of these companies, and as the only community college in the state with a stellar reputation, a lot of companies want to engage with our students. It provides the company with exposure to a potential future workforce with the idea that down the road a lot of these students might want to work there.”

“Through our College Engagement Program, we were able to partner with CCRI to brainstorm, design and build real-world communication-based projects. In addition to expanding their communications skills, students gained knowledge in financial wellness," said Frank D’Ercole, Vice-President at Fidelity Investments. "We were simply thrilled with the continued partnership and the outcomes. Special thanks goes to the Fidelity associates who volunteered to share their time and talents with CCRI’s students. We are looking forward to the next semester.”

Sullivan began working on the collaboration as far back as September and in early January brought the framework of the project to English Department Chair Sandy Sneesby, who suggested teaming with the college’s Communication and Film/Media program. Sneesby and English Professor Kathleen Beauchene targeted professors whom they felt would work best within the scope of the project – Holly Susi (Media Writing), Stephanie Cabral (Multimedia Reporting), and Lydia Rogers (Social Media Communications) – and then tweaked the proposals based on Fidelity’s standards and their own course outcomes, which was especially challenging considering the curriculum for each class had already been written.

“We jumped at the opportunity to participate in this project,” Sneesby said. “It’s so critical for our students to leave with this experience, and it’s a model for what we can do for anyone else who wants to partner with us. Fidelity has been so conscientious and such a good partner – so professional, so prepared. This was a great first model to build on.”

“This kind of project gives our students an eye-opening experience about what it’s like to work with people in the business field,” Beauchene said.

Students were required to complete several small projects over the course of the semester, each of which were graded separately. The projects were based on a fictitious financial services company seeking marketing and communication help to educate youth on financial literacy, including creating social posts, outlining questions for a podcast, filming videos, and writing news articles on the need for younger people to keep track of their finances.

“It was incredible to watch my students grasp this opportunity and apply content learned in class to a ‘real-world’ scenario. Every student in my class said they were so appreciative of this experience, and they learned more from it than they could have ever imagined,” Cabral said. “Allowing students to experiment through work-based learning exposes them to the industry while also solidifying crucial concepts and giving them confidence for future endeavors."

Students interviewed Fidelity employees as part of the project and enjoyed hands-on experience learning the inner-workings of a professional social media and communications team. The scope of each assignment compelled students to develop an understanding of the key elements of effective communication, among them knowing your target audience, properly framing messages, producing concise yet visually-stimulating content, and drafting interview questions.

“My students were assigned Fidelity employees to interview and then wrote a profile piece on that person,” Susi said. “They had to research the company and this person, prepare interview questions, conduct a professional interview, and then write an engaging profile. The experience felt very authentic.

“For college students who may not have an opportunity to do an internship, this kind of work-based learning as part of their coursework is invaluable. My students appreciated that they had an experience like this to add to their resumes. This is the kind of project-based learning that can make a student stand out.”

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