Temple University students and administrators have a long history of forming mutually beneficial partnerships that help both parties involved, as well as the wider Temple community. The most recent of these partnerships comes in the form of Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Advertising and Public Relations (PR) Department David Brown's (he/him) capstone course partnering with the Dean of Students Office to understand and encourage vaccination rates at the university.
"It helps us as administrators learn what is going to resonate with students and then it helps the students involved get some real-life experience and put their coursework into practice in a very real way," said Senior Associate Dean of Students Chris Carey (he/him).
In a typical year, students who take PR 4501: Public Relations Capstone with Brown are given a real client that has a real problem for which they must create a hypothetical campaign. Students come up with real solutions and recommendations to help the client, but the semester usually doesn't allow sufficient time to implement their tactics.
This year, however, students are pulling together their campaigns and tactics to execute them in real time with the Dean of Students Office as their client.
"I think this is a good challenge and I think even if it gets one extra person vaccinated, our work is still doing something," said student in the class and Resident Assistant (RA) on campus Wendy Lam (she/her). Lam noted that capstones aren't supposed to be easy, and that they are a way to get your feet wet before going into the workforce. This course is giving her that opportunity. In addition to the course, her experience as an RA requires her to think about vaccination in a different way as well.
"One thing that's making this project unique is it's a very fluid situation," Brown said. Until August 13, 2021, vaccines weren't even mandated for Temple students, and Brown didn't reach out to Carey until August 19, 2021. He had an entirely different client prepared for the course, but when he saw a need in the Temple community, Brown offered his and his students' support.
Carey noted that the students moved very quickly once the semester began. They mobilized a survey for students who got vaccinated on campus in fall 2021 to take at the clinic asking why they waited so long to get it. The most popular answer: because of the mandate.
This data is useful for the Dean of Students Office as they consider the spring 2022 semester and the potential for mandated booster shots. By using students to understand students, Carey said, they can better prepare for the best ways to communicate deadlines and motivate those who might be less willing to get their booster shot. "This class has particular insights and expertise that can be really valuable," he said.
Originally, the deadline to be fully vaccinated was October 15, 2021. However, on October 6, the City of Philadelphia announced that the deadline would be extended to November 15.
In the meantime, the students have broken into four teams that are each developing their own campaign and recommendations for the Dean of Students Office going forward. Lam's group is conducting a focus group of freshman and sophomore students that are unvaccinated or just recently vaccinated in order to try to understand that population in their own way.
The students have also made recommendations for communicating deadlines and instructions for uploading their vaccine cards to the Student Health Services portal such as providing student organizations and professors with information to distribute to students and using TUportal to provide deadline information.
The final assignment for the capstone is a campaign presentation for Carey. This, Brown said, simulates an agency environment with some friendly competition but also gives Carey the opportunity to see what the campaigns all have in common and, perhaps more importantly, the unique tactics that each team came up with that can be executed in spring 2022.
This isn't the first time Brown and Carey have worked together, though. In fall 2020, Brown's capstone course helped with the Temple Votes campaign to encourage voter registration and participation for the presidential election.
Carey, Lam and Brown are all excited to see what the capstone students come up with. Lam noted that while mid-semester burnout is very prevalent among her and her peers, they are still motivated to get the job done. Luckily, she said, Brown is supportive; he even gave them a mental wellness day a few weeks ago.
"The groups are going to produce really cool campaigns and it will be a really cool end to the course," Lam said.