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University of Louisiana at Lafayette public relations, advertising and strategic communications students are generating business in the classroom through a student-run public relations agency.

The firm, which launched in January, is part of a strategic communications campaign course meant to teach graduating seniors what to expect when working with actual clients after graduation.

“Many institutes across the nation have student firms,” said Andre Williams, the public relations instructor who teaches the course. “It’s a way for students to get practical, real world experiences.”

Williams said he wanted to be able to give students more hands-on experiences because the internship capstone course is not enough of a preparation for everyday scenarios.

Unlike an alternative strategic communications campaign course already offered to students, where the requirement is to simply come up with a campaign idea and a pitch, this non-profit student firm will take it one step further by implementing those ideas by working with local businesses.

“One of the things I really want to highlight,” Williams remarked, “is that I want them to learn what it’s like to apply these (classroom-taught) strategies in a real-world setting.”

With business growth on the rise in Lafayette, he said he believes the student firm can collaborate with established local agencies.

Student firm discusses logo design“We’re in no way trying to compete with other firms,” Williams clarified. “We simply want to partner with them.”

The student firm’s first client is Project Front Yard, an ongoing effort organized by Lafayette Consolidated Government to clean up the city's public and private spaces, “one yard, playground and street at a time.”

“The organization has already passed its awareness stage,” explained Williams, “so this is the best time to work with Project Front Yard because the firm can really help them reach their goal.”

What has become a Lafayette-wide initiative is now expanding outside of the city’s boundaries and into other areas in Acadiana.

“One of the main objectives that Skyra Rideaux (Project Front Yard’s coordinator) wanted us to execute is to design a process for local businesses to get involved on beautifying the community by making Lafayette more green and eco-friendly,” explained senior PR major Joanna McKee.

“We want to incorporate a contemporary idea of getting the community to be involved by taking advantage of social media,” added fellow senior PR major Megan Baptiste. “We want to figure out exactly what it is that can bring them to the next level by using what we’re familiar with because we grew up with social media.”

Despite the firm’s infancy, Williams said he has already received some positive feedback, along with a list of clients who wish to work with the students.

“Public Relations Association of Louisiana was super excited about the idea,” Williams stated. “We want these firms and agencies to mentor these students because this will provide them with experiences in an agency setting. What we envision is to have two, possibly three, full-time clients per year.”

The student firm, which will serve as a capstone course — an all-encompassing and usually integrative experience of a student’s education — is being treated similarly to a real world job where students have to apply to be accepted into the class.

Williams said eventually he would like to offer internship positions to undergraduate students who will work alongside the seniors, exposing them to the PR field at an earlier stage in their education.

“Williams says the firm is in our hands, and I think it’s awesome that he believes in all of us as individuals,” McKee said. “It’s only going to push us harder to execute the (campaign) objective.”

Captions: (Top) Kelsey Chauvin, a senior advertising major, presents a logo design for the Project Front Yard campaign. (Above, pictured clockwise from left:) Senior PR majors Jha'da McKinney, Megan Baptiste and Joanna McKee look on as Chauvin presents a logo design. (Photo credit: Scotty Rachaphoumy)

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