Experiential Learning in the School of Communication Studies Benefits Students, Business Community

(part 2 of 3)
The coursework and faculty in the School of Communication Studies at Kent State University provide opportunities for students to participate in in-class experiential or service-learning projects to apply the knowledge and communication skills learned in a practical situation.

Lisa Waite’s Organizational Communication Training and Development
The Organizational Communication Training and Development class taught by COMM Associate Lecturer Lisa Waite at Kent State University at Stark worked with scitrain, ltd. of Canton, a leadership assessment and business solution firm, to create a training module for its employees.

In each rendition of this senior level course Waite partners with a local organization, usually a nonprofit, with the goal of the students creating a communication training seminar that they author and facilitate for the partnering organization. This is the first time Waite has used a for-profit company as the class client. Scitrain is led by CEO Chad Luxenburg, a graduate of Kent State at Stark.

The practical applications of this course set it apart, Waite says. “What distinguishes the course is that it prepares students for careers as corporate trainers but has a focus on what we call the need-centered model of training.”

scitrainRather than learning a one-size-fits-all approach, students conduct a needs assessment to determine the strengths and limitations that exist within the organization, Waite says.

“With that focus they build a training model and session. In this capacity they get to apply these classroom skills in a real situation,” Waite added.

Waite decided to take the course from a traditional lecture to a service-learning format to show students the reciprocal process of giving to their community.

“My hope is to inspire civil engagement and mutual influence. You don’t just take from a community; you have to learn to give back,” Waite said.

Waite said the young CEO of scitrain, who shared the idea of reducing ‘brain drain’ in their community, inspired her students. Brain drain is due to young, educated people leaving the area for better opportunities. In face-to-face visits to the company’s offices in Belden Village, students were exposed to a contemporary work environment while they conducted qualitative and quantitative research to learn about the company’s needs to guide their objectives and training materials.

“Limiting the scope of their communication training was a challenge for the students, as was learning the difference between facilitating and teaching,” Waite said. The students delivered their two-hour training session to the top leadership team at scitrain, which took overcoming some initial intimidation or anxiety and adjusting their communication to a professional audience.

“All of us at scitrain, ltd. enjoyed and appreciated very much the opportunity to work with Professor Waite and her talented students,” said Kelli Baxter, vice president of client relations at scitrain. “Their professional, consultative approach from the beginning afforded them the opportunity to present a customized, specific-to-scitrain training program.”

“They challenged us to think about our communications practices, providing real-time, appropriate suggestions,” Baxter added. “The students also presented a sales training module, suggesting that every scitrainer is a salesperson. The students facilitated us through an excellent customer-service exercise and shared many helpful tips.”

December 2013 graduate Courtney Kopache served as the graphics director for the group in Waite’s course. Kopache said she appreciated the opportunity to work with scitrain, noting that the people and atmosphere helped the group of students grow into better trainers and leaders and improve their communication and presentation skills.

“It was one of the more practical courses, meaning that I learned something hands-on that I will use in the future,” she said.

Justin Speight, also a student in Waite’s class, said the experience was “very rewarding due to the formal interaction that I received with scitrain employees. I felt as though the interaction within ‘Corporate America’ was good for many of us students.”

“Almost every organization has a training program. I envision myself being more influential in future training programs within the organization that I am currently serving,” Speight added.

After the training session was completed, the students met with Waite to reflect, and acknowledge that because they had to work through the problem on their own and were not handed any solutions, they were more competent moving forward.

“And that’s service learning,” Waite said. “You don’t go into teaching service learning because it’s easy… but the rewards for the student and the community are so tremendous. This course excites me because it in particular allows you to see such concrete results. The takeaways are obvious and immediate. Being part of the process is very, very rewarding.”

Waite added, “I find my success in helping my students find theirs.”


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