RPCC gains communication help from Southeastern grad students
Contact: Rene Abadie
HAMMOND – When River Parishes Community College and Northshore Technical College-Ascension merged operations this year, RPCC Executive Vice Chancellor William Martin turned to a Southeastern Louisiana University professor for help in coordinating communications between the two campuses.
Professional communication audits and related studies are expensive and not feasible for state institutions now experiencing significant budget tightening. That’s why he asked colleague Claire Procopio, assistant professor of communication at Southeastern, who had done some work with RPCC previously, to assist.
The merger of the two institutions, he said, was approved by the Louisiana Board of Regents last spring and was seen as a win-win for both. RPCC offered only transfer degrees and had no career or technical courses to offer; NTC offered a process technology degree requiring 27 semester hours of general education credit.
“The merger made sense for our region,” he said. “Now one institution can offer a comprehensive program in our service area. In addition, there are many efficiencies that can be created with the merger that make sense financially.”
However, just because it made fiscal sense, there was no guarantee communications would flow smoothly during or after the merger.
Developing appropriate and effective communications between staff and faculty was a high priority, said Procopio, who was teaching a graduate course in communication training, assessment and development. She charged six of her graduate students to act as consultants by participating in a service-learning project to facilitate more effective communication in the newly merged institution.
Service-learning is becoming an increasingly popular teaching approach, wherein students tackle real-world situations and problems that relate directly to the content being taught in the class, she said.
“This was a real opportunity for the students to function as consultants, do the fundamental research necessary, then come up with potential solutions,” Procopio said. “They get the actual experience, while the ‘client’ – in this case RPCC/NTC – gains the result of their work at no charge.” Procopio said the students provided the equivalent of $10,000 worth of billable hours to the community college.
Julie Jackson, one of the graduate students participating in the project, explained that the team performed a comprehensive communications audit through surveys of faculty and staff at both institutions, focus groups, and an analysis of the most common communication channels used at each facility.
“The faculty and staff seemed as though they wanted to be heard, and they realized a communication audit could benefit the colleges during this merger,” Jackson added.
At the end of the semester, the team presented their results to Martin and other administrative members. Recommendations included training of employees on how each campus operates and the values placed on programs offered, techniques for more effective departmental meetings, team-building exercises with members from both campuses, protocol development for appropriate use of e-mails and written communications, and development of an updated procedure manual so that each unit operated in a similar manner.
Jackson said the team also recommended the initiation of a weekly merger update news briefs or similar documents so all parties would be informed as the merger proceeded.
“The students did a first-class job and presented their materials in a very professional way, both in writing and in their oral presentation to us,” Martin said. “In addition, I think they picked up some very valuable experience that will serve them well. Doing a communication audit is no small task; usually only reliable professional firms are asked to do them.”
From a personal view, Jackson said the experience was very helpful: “I learned how to conduct a communication audit from start to finish. Now I feel confident I would be able to conduct another one successfully.”
Other members of the team working on the project were Jordan Aliff, Erica Hancock, Katie Hope, Tracey Rhodes and Alicia Schulz.