by Catherine Halbmaier
Special to The Leaven
ATCHISON — Nothing suits the Advent season more than helping the local community. This semester, students at Benedictine College here are doing just that through a new service learning program.
In many departments, students are required to complete a senior project or internship before graduation. For the first time, the departments of journalism and mass communication, along with the department of graphic design, have partnered with Catholic schools in the archdiocese to fulfill this requirement.
Felicia Holcomb, marketing consultant for the Catholic schools office of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, saw an opportunity for mutual benefit. According to Holcomb, Catholic schools do not always have the budget for media and design-related tasks. By bringing in the Benedictine students, schools can take care of projects that may have gone neglected otherwise, and students get to test out their skills and gain resume experience.
For Kathryn Pluta, a senior journalism and mass communications student at Benedictine, this project has been a rewarding capstone.
“This is the first year that the journalism department is partnering with the schools of the archdiocese,” said Pluta. “I thought that sounded really cool, like a bit of a challenge.”
Pluta worked with several schools in the archdiocese and visited each of them near the beginning of the semester.
“It was so cool to see how different each one was from the other,” said Pluta. “Each has its own unique challenges and needs, its own brand. Or maybe the school didn’t have a brand and that’s what needed to be cultivated.”
Throughout her time with the project, Pluta worked on various assignments for multiple schools, ranging from design to website copy.
“One thing that was really fun to do was that I got to design a brochure for St. Rose [School], Garnett,” said Pluta. “Even though I’m not a graphic design major, I got to use skills from my classes to create a marketing piece for them that can be used from year to year and updated as needed.”
Other students in the program said similar things about their experience. Emma Stockman, a senior graphic design and music major, looks forward to the lessons this project will leave her with.
“My school didn’t have much budget to put toward logo design,” said Stockman. “I asked if they wanted to do something with Our Lady of Guadalupe, since they have such a great Hispanic presence at the school, and they were very excited about that.”
Stockman was tasked with designing a new logo for Our Lady of Unity School in Kansas City, Kansas, and she rose to the challenge.
“Something I’ve learned is the pressure that comes with working for a real client, someone you’ve never met,” said Stockman. “They don’t know what kind of person you are, that you’re going to give it your all. I wanted to show them that I was ready to make their logo the best it could be.”
The project has not been without its challenges. According to Stockman, she had to learn to communicate with busy school executives in clear and straightforward ways, while also delivering the best creative project that she could.
“It’s really cool how graphic design combines the stability of being able to bring in income and also my creative side that brings me so much joy,” said Stockman. “I get so much joy from just presenting ideas and trying to find the middle ground. I think it takes a lot of people skills to be able to do that well.”
Students like Stockman and Pluta are reaping the benefits of a professional experience that does good for local schools. According to Dr. Kevin Page, head of the journalism and mass communications department at Benedictine, this project is just the latest in a series of service learning opportunities that the college has facilitated.
“It’s really driven by the community partners,” said Page. “They say, ‘These are the needs we have,’ and they usually have to do with a promotion of some kind.”
According to Page, this was the first year that the department decided to partner with Catholic schools in the archdiocese.
“I let the students sort of pick and choose what organization they work with,” he said, “and several chose the Catholic schools, so it all kind of worked out.”
Page is familiar with the budget constraints of Catholic schools, and he was eager to accept a partnership that might benefit their branding.
“Having a long association with parochial schools, I know that they don’t always have the funding to get their message out, not like a public school,” said Page. “I thought it would be a good way for our students to get some good experience, but also to help out the Catholic schools. Even a small help to get their message out — who they are, what they do — is extremely beneficial.”
With the success of this year’s program, Page confirmed that he hopes to continue the partnership for years to come.
“Once you get a good community partner, you like to hang on to them,” said Page. “Everybody I’ve talked to has given me positive feedback, so I’d love to continue to work with the Catholic schools.”