5 insights gained from attending a professional conference … connecting classroom learning with career expectations

An important element to effective teaching and learning is having students recognize the personal value of what they are learning in your class. Sometimes we need to state the connection in class because the connection that is obvious to us as teachers may not be evident to the students. What we hope is that they can make those connections themselves – both in the courses they take and in their professional experiences (attending conferences or holding internships).

I asked Keira Thompson, a student in Multimedia Writing, to consider what connections she found between our class and the frank conference she attended and also what insights she gained from the conference. frank was sponsored by the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications.

by Keira Thompson

As a goal for the conference guests, we were challenged to create a new definition, a new moniker, for the social change field.

We were unable to do that. But I gained many insights that I feel are going to stay with me as I continue my academic career and as I enter in to my career.

Insight #1 – Everything is about storytelling.

David Fenton speaking at frank conference 2014

A leader in the social change communications, David Fenton talks about environmental awareness at the frank conference. Photos by Keira Thompson

I know that many of the students in Multimedia Writing are intending to go in to public relations work. Public relations is the field that many social change communicators have come from. They tell stories that connect or create relationships with their causes.

Social change communications mixes public relations language with marketing techniques to see a valuable change in society. The goal is to tell a compelling story that can change someone’s world view — or even get them engaged enough to make a change. This is the public relations field that communicates closer to the public and, therefore, uses journalistic techniques in writing to make the information easier to consume. One speaker addressed how a video for a nonprofit can either be engaging and eye-opening or boring with many different facts that don’t relate to the audience. Creating a personal story connects and engages.

Insight #2 – Social media is your best friend.

As discussed in Multimedia Writing, social media is an amazing tool to use in connecting with possible future employers, peers and professors — if you’ve done it right. Personally, I’ve had a LinkedIn account for several years without use, but finally found its purpose when connecting in this way.

frank utilized Twitter hashtags as well as accounts on most social media outlets. While some attendees were posting on their respective social networks about the gathering, others were able to create relationships through social media with those that they had not yet met in person.

This is not to say that this would work for groups of people who are not communications professionals, but social media became very important to me very fast. I now follow professionals on most social media outlets and regularly have contact with them. I was able to build relationships with people that I was unable to meet in person yet, set up a time to speak with individuals about things that I was interested in. I also was able to build my professional network on LinkedIn and other networks.

But one speaker at frank addressed how the general public is not engaging through social media for causes as much as communications professionals, and, therefore, social media is not the way to reach an audience for change — yet.

Insight #3 – Networking is key.

Participants at frank conference 2014

Participants in the frank conference leave the Hippodrome in downtown Gainesville to move into small discussion groups.

I never before realized how important a physical business card was. As I mentioned above, social media is an amazing tool to have in a room full of like-minded individuals with smartphones glued to their hands. But this is not the easiest if the individual does not have a phone at their immediate disposal.

Set the scene: frank cocktail hour. I had a discussion with an account coordinator at a company that I was hoping to intern with. We’re both smiling and talking about how I hoped to apply to her company and how excited I would be to be back in Washington, D.C. She offers to hand my résumé to the HR department if I can email it to her. But my phone had died after a long day. What commenced was a 10-minute search for a clean napkin. Business cards are something my friends had told me to invest in that I did not.

Insight #4 – Look to the FUTURE, mostly.

frank was all about the next big thing — NBT. Where is social change going from here? What are we doing to make this new field more understandable? And how can we change the world? Social Change Communications is set on changing the world. Professionals at frank have created a field that hopes to represent all cultures and socio-economic positions. Writing without bias or intention in Multimedia Writing has helped me cultivate this open mind that helped to make frank make sense.

Insight # 5 – Have fun!

Ann Christiano, professor of public relations and a steering committee member of frank, knew Frank Karel personally. She said she hoped to bring his spirit for jokes, laughter and charity to all things related to frank.

At every turn there will be a point in your life that you must make a choice between the things that excite you and the money you might make somewhere else. frank reignited in me the need to always search for the field that will ignite my passion and sense of adventure. In finding work in the coming years, I hope to be half as enthusiastic as these professionals.

Thanks, Keira. Keira is a Political Science and Media & Society double-major. You can follow Keira on Twitter @kanthompson



  1. This would be a great post to reblog on Mentoring Matters so that mentors could share it with mentees!


  2. Kay – I always appreciate your feedback and ideas of how to further spread information.


  3. […] Read one of my college student’s insights from attending frank, a national conference for professionals in social change communications. […]


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