What happens when junior and senior Business Writing students take on writing the copy for a university website? They help the rest of us see what has been happening all around us.
Throughout the summer of 2012, writing instructor Heidi Nobles explored ideas for her upcoming ENGL 326 Business and Professional Writing courses.
“I like pairing the classroom with practical learning as often as possible,” Nobles says. “When a colleague told me about the work at Dallas CitySquare, I knew I had to learn more.”
The goal of ENGL 326 is to prepare students to write in business and professional settings; they prepare their own professional portfolios, including resumes, cover letters, reference lists, and writing samples, then move on to professional documents including memos, formal emails, reports, and more. By working in a real-world project, the students learn business writing in real time. They learn to write professional emails as they have to actually email contacts to secure information and negotiate document revisions; they also have to write memos that are relevant to the project; and so on.
After meeting with Stephen Johnson and John Siburt, the central forces propelling ACU at CitySqure, Nobles learned that there were eight major projects taking place across campus. These spanned from departments of Information Technology and Computing to Social Work, all partnering to connect ACU majors to the work being done at CitySquare in Dallas, Texas. But with so many new projects developing at once, it was difficult to capture and document the work for publication on the website. Johnson and Siburt agreed that the ENGL 326 students would be good candidates for tracking down and writing up information about all the many projects and people involved on campus.
Throughout the Fall 2012 semester, the 36 students worked in eight teams, each assigned to one campus project. Team leaders kept information organized and served as primary contacts as the groups reached out to the faculty heading up each project. They conducted formal interviews with faculty members and students involved in the project, while simultaneously engaging in their own research into issues of urban poverty, to gain better understanding of the projects’ context.
The range of majors in the course allowed groups to draw on members’ individual strengths. For example, one of the teams had students majoring in English, Computer Science, Accounting—requiring them to integrate their skills in order to conduct research, perform computer tasks, and write as a real team. The students found it challenging to research programs still in development, and they learned a great deal about being resourceful to write in real-time, as opposed to writing about established research and events.
“Researching urban poverty,” says Julia Pierce, a junior accounting major, “allowed us to fully understand the poverty situation in Dallas and how much CitySquare is needed to help combat the issue.”
As a result, the ENGL 326 students ended up with a strong understanding of the work taking place both across campus and in Dallas. They forged new connections and were able to learn about classes and projects beyond their own, while enriching the knowledge of others, as well. They also learned interview techniques and etiquette, methods of writing in different genres—from the formality of business memos to the conversational style of PR copy—and strategies for group writing, editing, and revision.
“For me, getting to learn about creating press releases and promoting a business was especially rewarding,” said Baylee Brown, a senior marketing major. “I was able to apply what I had learned in my business classes and combine my love for language all in one project.”
The students in ENGL 326 say they’re glad to know these great things are happening, and their professor is glad they’re able to help get the word out to others. Also, since the teams were doing similar work but with different projects, they each had a piece of the puzzle—it was fun to watch all those pieces take shape in the larger portfolio of copy to go on the website.
Across the board, the most rewarding aspect of the project has been the connection to the real world. Completing work that would actually be used outside the classroom provided students with a sense of professionalism and a drive to deliver high-quality material.
“It’s not just some theoretical project,” says Ryan Pinson senior Physics major. “It’s actually something that will help a real company and real people.”
And that, of course, is what ACU at CitySquare is all about.