Public Relations Students Feed the Hungry, Fight the Flu, and Find Funds

Hands-on project teaches strategic planning and execution

by Suzanne Lowery Mims

Mustaches, buffalo wings, live tweets and persistence helped George Mason University students generate results in a hands-on course project in public relations during fall semester.  Six teams executed strategic communication plans for worthy causes including St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Community Immunity, Movember and Operation School Bell.  In less than 28 days, they raised nearly $3,500, boosted campus flu shot numbers, produced 250 food packs for hungry children and turned out record attendance for an annual HIV/AIDS event.

"I've never worked so hard nor learned so much," said junior Claire Goodwin, whose group created Feed A Child to fund weekend food packs for children who rely on school meal programs during the week.  "We asked coffee shop patrons if they would contribute $4 -- about the cost of a pumpkin spice latte -- to feed a child," she explained. Their cause won the attention of WRC-TV's Angie Goff, who helped spread awareness to her 24,000 Facebook followers.

The Mason Strides for Hope team partnered with Buffalo Wings University for a special event to raise funds for St. Jude's annual charity walk. WMZQ-FM featured the team on-air and online, helping to raise their team total to $850.

Social media helped the Community Immunity team urge students, faculty and staff to get the flu shot. GMU President Angel Cabrera extended their message to his 10,000 followers when he re-tweeted "I have" to their tweet "Hey Mason:  RT if you've gotten your flu shot already?"

"I gained a lot of experience from this project," said junior Alexis Baker, "but seeing real results was so rewarding."  During the Community Immunity weeklong promotion, the student health center administered 100 flu shots, more than twice the weekly average.  

Team Mustache sold mustaches in a variety of sizes and colors as part of the national campaign to raise awareness of men's health issues.  The Love Week team promoted their Facebook page to raise awareness of sex trafficking and became the top result on Google searches.  Social media tactics also helped turn out a capacity 700-person attendance for the team promoting the Red Alert HIV/AIDS Fashion Show.

"Anyone who thinks millenials are lazy and self-indulgent should meet these students," said Suzanne Lowery Mims who teaches Principles of Public Relations (COMM 330).  The course is the junior-level pre-requisite for upper level public relations courses and provides a foundation in the theories and practices of public relations.