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About this blog

Students in Dr. Rita Colistra’s Public Relations Writing and Applications class are putting their newfound PR skills to work by helping a rural West Virginia county create and promote a “Buy Local” initiative to educate residents about the importance of buying local and to encourage them to support their local businesses. This blog will chronicle the students’ journey in education through service learning, creating and applying real-world PR tactics, building and maintaining client and community relations, and giving back to the state.

The class also extends its reach across institutions by working, in part, with a nonprofit class at Glenville State College. Although the Glenville students will focus on a different area of the initiative, the classes will work together toward a common goal: helping the businesses and communities of Ritchie County. The classes also plan to collaborate on at least one area of the project.

The project is made possible by a $5,000 Campus-Community LINK grant that Colistra obtained for the course. The Campus-Community LINK Project is a statewide service-learning initiative funded by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and coordinated in partnership with the West Virginia Community Development Hub. The grant was awarded to WVU’s Center for Civic Engagement through the West Virginia Campus Compact.

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20 May

Buy Local Video

Authored By Rita | May 20th, 2011

The semester is now over, but, really, the Buy Local Initiative has just started. Although my class is no longer formally involved, some students plan to assist Buy Local Committee members Dave Scott and Linda Bowlby with a couple of PR pieces over the summer, as needed.

At the beginning of the semester, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Since the LINK Grant Project was new (this was the inaugural semester), there were no set guidelines in place. This fact led to much flexibility and a little anxiety on my part. One thing I did know, however, is that I wanted to chronicle this journey upon which my class was about to embark. I thought the best way to do this was through the skills of a talented student producing a short video documentary piece. I wanted to use a public relations student for the project because I wanted to show that students in our major have the ability to gain these multimedia and storytelling skills and to produce quality work. That’s when I brought public relations senior Lindsay Kenders on board as an independent study student (she was not a member of our class because she had already taken the course in a previous semester). Lindsay spent countless hours traveling with different students and I to Ritchie County to shoot footage for the video. She also conducted student interviews in the studio and even traveled to Fairmont with us for the West Virginia Campus Community Compact Conference to present our work. After she obtained the footage, that’s when the real work began with telling the story of our journey, editing video and sound, and adding images and music.

Before I get to the final video product, I just want to say that this project truly touched all of us. I cannot stress enough how thankful I am for this experience. I put more work into planning and conducting this class than any other, and I believe that many of my students put an equal amount of hard work into the class. This project taught me to be more flexible, and it allowed my class to work together in a real-world setting on a single focus: the Ritchie County Buy Local Initiative. I was so involved and passionate about the project, and after that first site visit, my students were too. They genuinely cared about the Buy Local Initiative, the business owners, and the residents of Ritchie County. I could not be more proud of a group of students. Class, you really inspired me this semester. You have bright futures ahead of you!

Below, you will find the end product of Lindsay’s work. She did an outstanding job capturing our story! Lindsay told me that she still needs to export it in HD format, but I didn’t want to wait to share it. Enjoy, and feel free to share!

3 May

Lauren Sandberg: Reflection

Authored By Lauren | May 3rd, 2011

At the beginning of this class, I was nervous. I had no idea what was to come or what to expect. It feels like I have been sucked through a whirlwind, but as the semester comes to an end, I’ve realized how much I have actually leaned and gained from this experience.

I have learned so much this past semester. Not only have I learned the proper and professional way to write news releases, fact sheet, public service announcements and other public relations pieces, I have also learned what it takes to be a true public relations professional. Working with an actual client defiantly helped the communication part of public relations. Up until this semester, the only thing I knew about PR was the writing aspect. This semester, I have learned hat communication with your client is just as important.

Working with the Ritchie County Progress Alliance and their Buy Local Initiative was not only educational, but rewarding as well. As we learned different aspects of public relations throughout the semester, we got to see all of our hard work pay off. Helping people of rural West Virginia seems unreal. Looking back, I can see how much progress we made as a class, how much progress I have made as a public relations student and how much progress the Ritchie County Buy Local Initiative has made. Not only are we helping ourselves grow as PR professionals, we are also helping an area of West Virginia that truly needed our help.

The most valuable part of my experience was applying my PR skills to benefit an entity outside of our campus. Seeing the progress made as a class at the Campus Compact conference was very rewarding. We could all speak with confidence about what we have accomplished so far as well as what we plan to do in the future. To see the immense progress we have made for Ritchie County was amazing. I am so proud to have been a part of creating their Buy Local campaign, as well as seeing the logo I designed everywhere in Ritchie County as well as seeing it on every public relations piece we have worked on. I can see that we have made a difference in their community, which is a large part of public relations-giving back.

The most challenging aspect of this project was keeping with the deadlines. After getting off to a rocky start, I began to slowly come around and get my pieces done on time. However, I believe that the strictness of the deadlines helped me in the long run. In the PR world, deadlines are important and always present. If you don’t meet a deadline, you don’t get published which can be a huge hindrance to the cause o organization you are working for. I believe I will need some more time to appreciate deadlines, but experiencing them in the atmosphere of our classroom was very real-life applicable and it has helped me realize what I must do to meet a deadline.

My recommendations for Ritchie County’s Buy Local public relations efforts would be to keep up with what we have started for them. They have all the necessary tools they need to keep the Buy Local Initiative running for years to come. Keep up with the public service announcements on the radio as well as the placemats in restaurants. The bumper sticker logos supporting the initiative are also important to keep in circulation. The logo centralizes the message of buying local. This logo will hopefully serve to remind individuals living in Ritchie County to buy locally rather than travel out of the county for years to come.

I have learned so much this semester, and for that I am very grateful. I feel like with the experiences I have had in this class will be beneficial when it is time for me to join the real world of public relations. I feel like I have not only learned or my benefit, but also have helped others in giving back to the community. I am very proud of the progress Ritchie County has made the progress we have made as a class and most importantly, the progress I have made as an individual. I am very grateful for this experience and I couldn’t have learned it anywhere else.

28 Apr

Jared Lathrop-Reflection

Authored By Jared | April 28th, 2011

Hello All,

Most of my friends could tell you that when I start a project, I tend to submerse myself in it. Whether I am creating a new recipe or I start watching a new television show when I have a taste of something it’s hard for me to step away. The BuyLocal Initiative was no different. Once I got a taste of the work we were doing I was addicted. So now I find myself facing a dilemma. My time with BuyLocal Initiative is ending, and I’m not really sure where to go from here. I’ve already agreed to stay on and help Dave Scott with writing press releases and other projects. I still plan to finish a few projects that I started within the course. So this project won’t end with this reflection. However, this project has always been more to me than fact sheets and media releases. This class was my journey into finding out who I am as a writer. It was through this class, I was able to answer myself when I ask, “Who am I as a young PR professional trying to make it in public relations?”

When we started working with this project I was insanely nervous. I wasn’t sure how I would measure up to some of my classmates, especially those with years of internship experience. I barely had any knowledge of press releases or fact sheets, honestly I barely could deal with commas and semicolons. However, as I write my final reflection on this course I cannot help but quickly remember everything that has happened since my first day in class. I do not think that I will ever forget our Skype call with Linda and Dave, my trips with Taylor and Kelly, the LINK conference and finally eating at Nana’s Ice Cream Barn and Grille.

In many ways I feel that I am indebted to the concept of BuyLocal. The skills that I learned and conquered through this course are things that have shaped me into the a young PR professional that I am today. It was through this course that I learned perseverance, strategy and for the most part where to place a comma. Through this class and the guidance of Dr. Colistra I have been able to see myself as more than a student, but as a publicist. It is through this class that I found out that public relations has one bottom line: make a difference.

Through all my life experiences, I can honestly say that I have never felt more accomplished than seeing my placemat sit on a table inside The Pizza House. That placemat represented more than just an advertisement; it was tangible proof of me making a difference inside Ritchie County. I was able to see that those restaurant patrons would finally be able to see and start to grasp a concept that was so near and dear to my heart. I was also able to create a feature release that represented more than just eating local, it represented one person’s struggle to aid his ailing community. It is because of that news release, I have been given the honor as serving as the PR Director of PRSSA at West Virginia University this fall. I was able to put the compassion that I feel for these residents into words, that alone is one of the greatest honors I’ve ever had.

So my question is where do I go from here? How do I leave a class that has allowed me to become so successful within my major? How do I continue on into my education with the fear that I won’t be able to connect with my classes like I did with this one? I’ll tell you how. Every time that I get a bad grade on a test, or find that I didn’t get the job that I applied for; I am going to remember the residents of Ritchie County. I am going to remember their perseverance when they faced economic struggle, I’m going to remember that I am where I am today is because of Ritchie County and I’m going to remember that I owe it to the people that believed in me before I believe in myself.

In closing, I want to bring this reflection full circle. I ended my first blog post with the following statement, “Every day when I walk into the Mountainlair, I see the mural by the grand staircase that says what will you start?” At the time of my first post, I wasn’t sure what that would be, but that whatever it was I knew that it would start with this project. I was correct. In many ways my new life started with this project as it breathed new meaning into me in a time that I needed it the most. I now know what I didn’t know four months ago. Only I can be sure of where I’m going to end up, only I choose my destiny. I now know that it is because of Tim Webber, Tracy Freed, Judy Riser, Dave Scott, Linda Bowlby and Dr. Rita Colistra that I will know where to go from here.

From my heart,
Jared Tyler Lathrop

28 Apr

Brittney Nuckols: Reflection

Authored By Brittney | April 28th, 2011

This semester has been one of the most challenging, frustrating and rewarding of my collegiate career. I had no idea when I signed up for Public Relations 324 that I was signing up for a writing class, a job and a few road trips.
The two main things I have gotten out of this class that will contribute to my real world success are a massive improvement in my ability to write in AP Style, and confidence. In other SOJ classes, teachers were either lenient when it came to taking points off for style errors, or did not explain why certain rules exist. I had never received grades as low as I did in the beginning of this class. Especially in a writing-based course. At first I was a little freaked out, but when I saw that my classmates were getting similar scores, I calmed down. Then I began to give my style book the attention it deserves. Never again will it go underappreciated by Brittney Nuckols.
The confidence I have gained comes from the hands-on way I learned throughout the semester. I met with public officials and had client contacts. I was reprimanded, along with the rest of the class, for practicing bad media relations when we bombarded the Ritchie County newspapers with telephone calls and news releases. I had a news release published in not one, but both of the county newspapers. I spoke at a conference where my class was well-received by the professionals attending. I worked with others in my group to achieve individual and collective goals. I have gained a great deal of real world experience and, through that, confidence in my skills and ability as a public relations practitioner.
For the past week and a half, I have been saying how I cannot wait for this semester to be over. And while I will not necessarily miss the stress that comes along with conflicting school and work schedules, I will certainly miss laughing with my classmates, meeting the friendly people of Ritchie County, and the feeling of accomplishment I get when I think of how much we are truly helping improve the local economy and way of life in Ritchie County.

28 Apr

Ashley Riffle Reflection Essay

Authored By Ashley | April 28th, 2011

Throughout my spring semester at West Virginia University, I was privileged enough to have the opportunity to help the people of Ritchie County. Dr. Colistra’s class was given the responsibility to make efforts to encourage the residents of Ritchie County to shop from their local businesses instead of travelling somewhere else to shop.
With the county only having two grocery stores you think those two stores would do well and produce enough revenue from providing the food for their whole county. However with the growing amount of residents choosing to travel elsewhere to do their shopping, the businesses are failing.
This experience contributed significantly to my education. It allowed me to have a real hands-on experience with real people and real efforts. This experience will help me in the real world because it taught me that awareness is everything. Working with my classmates and the people of Ritchie County allowed me to gain knowledge on how to prioritize ideas and efforts.
The most valuable part of my experience was the residents. I just wanted to help them succeed like they did at one time. Many of the residents were born and raised there. It’s hard to me to see them unhappy in what their local community has become. I can relate to them because my aunts store is suffering in Taylor County from the same reason. I think this project hit home with a lot of my classmates.
The most difficult and challenging part of this project was control. I just wanted the residents to shop locally. It’s a simple idea but takes huge efforts to get across and for people to adapt to it. It required a lot of hard work.
The least valuable part of this experience to me was difficult to pinpoint. I felt like every aspect was important. We learned to video chat and blog online. My classmates and I were able to experience several fundamental aspects of public relations.
I would recommend the people of Ritchie County to support one another. Several of our public relations efforts were raising awareness about the issue. I think keeping the awareness is the most important idea for the Buy Local Initiative.
I’m so glad I had this opportunity. It was a lot of work but everyone learned a lot. The knowledge we learned had to be experienced not taught to understand. I hope our efforts help these people and they don’t forget us!

28 Apr

Breanne Hill: Final Reflection

Authored By Breanne | April 28th, 2011

Making the decision to become a journalism student at West Virginia University was the easy part. However, deciding which area of journalism to go into was difficult. What would I be happy doing for the rest of my life? After working for the Ritchie County Buy Local Initiative this semester, I have realized that I made the right choice.

This project has allowed me to explore new territories of public relations journalism I had not previously undertaken. There were several publicity pieces that I never knew existed before now. At the beginning of the semester, things like Broadcast News Releases, Fact Sheets and Communication Audits were a mystery to me. However, after completing them and feeling satisfied with how much I learned from them, I feel more prepared for a career in public relations.

The most valuable part of my experience was visiting and interacting with the people of Ritchie County. It taught me that the work I have been doing is more important than just completing assignments for college credit. Our clients rely on our expertise to help preserve their livelihoods. Without our help, the people of Ritchie County might never have thought about the impact they can have on their own community.

My advice to the Buy Local Committee and anyone else from Ritchie County who wants to aid their community is to always remain aware of different opportunities that may arise for continuing the work my class started. With a collection of trained volunteers aiding the Buy Local Committee, there is still much that can be accomplished to reach the committee’s goals.

This class has transformed me from a public relations student into a public relations professional. I am confident that the Buy Local Initiative can transform its community, as well.

28 Apr

Jacqueline Manley - Reflection Essay

Authored By Jacqueline | April 28th, 2011

This experience contributed to my education and future in the real world a great amount. Before this class I can honestly say that I had never had any real public relations experience. I’ve never had an internship and I had not learned anything that I felt would be worthwhile in my previous classes. The first day of class was nothing but pure fear. I thought there was no way possible for me to be able to do all the work required and actually get good grades. I felt like my writing skills were poor and I was self conscious of my work. As I sit here and I write this I’m so proud of myself I can’t even explain! Dr. Colistra’s class has improved my knowledge of the PR world monumentally and has helped give me the confidence to know that I can succeed.

I think the most valuable part of this experience is just the real life experience in general that I’ve learned. Not only the interactions with the client, but creating a resume, a portfolio, and having pieces to show a future possible employer. The most challenging experience was probably time management. Although it was difficult and a challenge, it was valuable as well because it helped me improve skills in that area. I don’t think there was any part of this class that was not somewhat valuable to my public relations knowledge and future.

For the client, I recommend that they keep the Buy Local Initiative going forward. Our class has provided them with lots of media outlets that can be used in the future. I recommend that they try to get more people involved and to volunteer to help keep the Initiative publicized. The people of Ritchie County have helped make a class of young adults passionate about their county and I hope they can help spread that passion to other people in the area.

Overall, I’m thankful for Dr. Colistra and this class. I’m happy that I got to have this experience and opportunity to not only help my future, but to help change other lives and make an impact. I’ve gained confidence in myself and my abilities and I have Dr. Colistra to thank for that.

28 Apr

Kelly Dodds: Final Reflection

Authored By Kelly | April 28th, 2011

Hello everyone! While in this Public Relations Writing and Applications class, I have learned and experienced many different things that will benefit me in my professional career. The skills that I have learned during the semester will help me get through the rest of my education successfully. I feel as if I am more prepared for the real world and the public relations professional workplace.

At first, I was nervous to begin this class because it sounded like a good amount of difficult work. I knew I had some basic skills that I had learned from previous classes, but I did not think I was going to be able to keep up with everyone else. After a few weeks, I started to realize that this class was more about working together to accomplish our goals. Once I completed the first few pieces, I realized that the main goal of this class was to notice an improvement in my writing and professional skills. I also noticed that through out the semester I would become more comfortable in the professional world because this opportunity was basically an internship.

In this class I learned how to be a better writer and how to write as a public relations professional rather than a student. AP style was something I barely knew before, and now I automatically write using it. I thought that learning how to write in AP style was very challenging because I had been writing in MLA style my whole life. Another challenging part of the class was keeping up with all of the different deadlines. I know that this is a big part of being a public relations specialist, but it was hard at first to get used to.

Once we began the project and I started traveling to Ritchie County, I realized the importance of what our class was doing. Ritchie County’s locals were very helpful and accepting of our class. They were never rude and were always appreciative of our efforts even when we would make trips down there un-announced. My last trip to Ritchie County was my most memorable one because I really saw how our work had inspired people. The locals I met and saw were so excited that we were taking the time to help their town gain support.

Overall, I felt that I learned a lot about public relations and the skills needed to be successful. I think that the Buy Local project was successful and worth putting time and effort into. The business conference that we just attended proved that our class has accomplished more then expected, and that we have truly made a difference in Ritchie County. Hopefully, this class’ mission will continue on with other classes because there is a lot more to get done.

28 Apr


Authored By Andria | April 28th, 2011

When I first signed up for this class, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I remember the first day like it was yesterday. Dr. Colistra walked into our classroom, introduced herself, and immediately began telling us about the journey we were about to embark on with her. At the time, I think we were all feeling a number of mixed emotions. I know I felt excited and very nervous. She made it sound like this was going to be an exciting class, but also told us she wasn’t going to be an easy teacher. I don’t expect my classes to be easy anymore, but I guess we all still secretly wish to get the easy teacher.

Throughout the semester, we were going to working on a Buy Local Initiative for Ritchie County. This meant we were going to work for a real client and create real public relations pieces. I thought this was a great opportunity. Not only were we going to be learning in this class but our work was going to a real cause. This made our work more meaningful because it was actually going to be helping a community.

Our first meeting with Linda and Dave was very exciting. I thought it was cool how we used Skype to talk with them for the first time. They were nice people and truly cared about their community. I felt like a real professional sitting in conference room while we were talking to them. I think talking with them really put our class’s purpose in perspective for us. We also got a lot of information that we would need to write the communication audit.

Of the four assignments we had to complete for this class, the communication audit was the hardest. There was so much information that needed to be included. It was very easy to become disorganized. I was also nervous about editing. Dr. Colistra made it clear that she would be taking off for any mistakes. When we got the communication audit back in our first meeting with Dr. Colistra, I was surprised to see I did fairly well on it.

I feel very lucky that I got to work on the Business Expo for the chamber of commerce. This made it very easy to create our client assignments, as well as my extra pieces. I understand what it takes to have a successful event. I tried to get this point across in my PR pieces by stressing the importance of participation from the public and the businesses. I also enjoyed working with Dave on this. He made me feel so welcome the first time I visited Ritchie County, and made me want to excel at this project. He is truly an asset to the Ritchie County community.

Overall, my experience in this class was the best I could have asked for. Dr. Colistra is an amazing teacher. I feel like I could join the workforce tomorrow because of everything I have learned from her, and I have only had her for a semester. Her energy in the classroom truly inspired me to want to exceed her expectations. The people in our class were also a part of this great experience. Normally in a class, you talk to the people around you but you don’t really get to know them. In this class, I feel like we all really got to know each other because we were all working toward a common goal. It was like we were our own little PR firm, and I thought we worked really well together. The project was the cherry on top of it all. The idea of encouraging people in small communities to buy locally is something we should all try and do more often. I think a lot of people take their small, family owned businesses for granted. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to work on the Buy Local Initiative, and I hope our efforts make a difference in Ritchie County.

28 Apr

Bridget Feeney: Reflection

Authored By Bridget | April 28th, 2011

Looking back at everything that I personally have accomplished this semester, I cannot qualify this course as a class. It really is more like an internship experience because we work so closely with several clients and meet a lot of people that you would not have the opportunity to experience in a classroom setting. It is really difficult to classify the Buy Local Initiative as a project I completed for a grade. It was more of a learning experience that I was provided and able to see grow beyond just thoughts.

Since I have not had a professional internship myself, I classify this class as one because everyday we are applying the Buy Local Initiative into our daily lives. We are not just meeting once a week, we are thinking of ways to improve and expose the initiative to residents in Ritchie County and even beyond that. I had a rough background of public relations skills before coming into this class; however, I was really pushed toward developing, applying, and mastering these skills outside of a typical classroom. For me, Dr. Colistra made me realize how much more I really wanted to pursue public relations. My writing and public speaking skills have improved dramatically since the beginning of the class.

I am more aware of the mistakes that make me a weaker writer and understand the importance of AP style and editing. Sometimes you do not get that pleasure in the real-world so having a lot of feedback the first time really prepared my writing skills to have a very minimal amount of mistakes. The criticism that I was given was never taken in a negative light because I wanted to push myself beyond what I knew was comfortable. In the classroom, there is room for error because you have a chance to revise work for another grade.

The most challenging part of this course was to not get discouraged. Public relations is a really tough world but you really have to be able to take that tough criticism in order to excel. If you believe that you can produce amazing work, then push yourself to do it. Some work may get published often more than your work but in the end, it is about the common goal, which is the Buy Local Initiative.

The advice that I have for our clients regarding its public relations efforts is to not give up on the Buy Local Initiative. The Buy Local Committee and Dr. Colistra’s class had put a lot of heart and effort into this initiative, so continuing it after the semester ends would be the best success. I know we enjoyed going down to Ritchie County as much as we did working with the committee. It really has been a pleasure being a part of the Buy Local Initiative and I will always buy locally.

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