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Service-Learning Capstone in Public Relations

Public Relations in the Public Interest

“We believe PR should be practiced to serve the public interest, to develop mutual understanding between organizations and their publics.” – James E. Grunig

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Photos: Lisa Fall’s Fall 2015 Public Relations Service-Learning Capstone class, now working with the Tennessee Clean Water Network.

Flexibility is key to working with external partners, says Dr. Lisa Fall, Associate Professor of Advertising and Public Relations. “Things change and the game plan you initially mapped out can take a very different turn – mid-project,” says Fall. “But I believe this is a definite advantage for our students because it is teaching them to think on their feet and to adapt quickly to change.”

With a focus on pairing students with real clients, public relation capstone course projects change from year to year based on the needs of partnering organizations.

Over the years, Fall’s students have developed communication campaigns that seek to educate, build awareness, and issue persuasive calls to action, such as calls to become a Big Brother/Sister. A number of external partners have implemented the students’ recommendations, while students are able to apply and sharpen the skills they have been learning throughout their public relations course of study.

This semester’s students are working with the Tennessee Clean Water Network on a fundraising project. Last year’s students worked with the Scarecrow Foundation, a local nonprofit organization that raises money for hunger-related organizations. The students’ charge was to develop a membership/volunteer recruitment program for the Foundation.

Fall has learned how important it is to meet ahead of time with a prospective community partner to determine what is expected of both the partner and of the students/faculty member during the project. “I share the learning outcomes with the client, review the syllabus and go over the model we use,” says Fall. “If the client is not clear about expectations, this can cause confusion and frustration for the students.”

Fall says it is essential to work with partners who can be accessible to the students throughout the semester to assure a consistent two-way flow of communication. In addition, says Fall, “I never lose sight of the fact that my number one goal is for the students to have a fruitful learning experience.” 

To Fall, “making a difference” means providing her students with an opportunity to work on a public relations campaign that has a clear and positive impact on society.  “I explain to them that I want them to feel like they are contributing to something beyond just their own personal tile on this very large dance floor of life. I love teaching this class because it does enable our students to make a difference – Volunteer style!”


Elizabeth Burman (865-974-8363,

The Service-Learning Capstone in the Public Relations Program was nominated as a Partnership that Makes a DifferenceClick here to read more.