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April 7, 2011
MARYVILLE, Mo. - Students in Northwest Missouri State University's Department of Mass Communications participated recently in a unique experience that was as much a learning opportunity for them as it was for their interview subjects - members of the United States military.
Twenty-five officers, who are students in the Command and General Staff College (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth, visited Northwest April 1 and spent the day being interviewed by student-journalists in the University's introductory reporting and broadcast journalism courses. The interviews took place in mass communications department's recently completed Student Media Converged Newsroom.
"It's incredibly valuable for our students," said Doug Sudhoff, an assistant professor who also is chair of the mass communications department. "It gets them out of their comfort zone. Most Americans know very little or nothing about the military, its culture and how it operates. So we're putting our students into a position where they have to study and come in, and they're interviewing people who have had experiences that our students can't imagine. This is what they're going to do when they get in the real world, but they are doing it right now."
The 10-month CGSC course mixes officers from all branches of the military and requires that the student-officers engage in at least one interview with a member of the news media, in addition to writing and community relations components.
CGSC has a history with Northwest's mass communications department that dates back nearly a decade when the student-journalists traveled to Fort Leavenworth and played the roles of embedded reporters.
Funds for that exercise eventually dried up, but Northwest and CGSC are hoping this new initiative has a sustained future. Janet Wray, outreach program coordinator at Fort Leavenworth, called the opportunity a win-win for both schools.
"It was absolutely fantastic," Wray said. "The feedback that I'm getting from our students is that it was very worthwhile because a lot of the journalism students are the kind of people the military officers will be working with."
Prior to the exercise the students from Northwest and CGSC were given a recent article from The New York Times that depicted military officers' experiences during battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the student-journalists were instructed to formulate questions based on the article and their own research, the CGSC students reviewed the article and talking points to prepare for questions the student media might ask.
The student-journalists had the option of playing reporters in a newspaper-style interview, a television-style interview or operating a camera for the television interview. Students were required to participate in at least one option, but many tried their hand at all three. Eventually, their written and filmed stories will be sent to CGSC so the military officers can see how they were portrayed.
Student-journalists admitted being slightly intimidated initially, but the military officers were eager to share their experiences.
"I was honestly expecting it to be a little bit awkward because I didn't know how comfortable they would feel," said Chad Stephens, a senior broadcast major from Kansas City. "The interview went really well. Things didn't feel awkward, the questions rolled and I gained some knowledge."
For the military officers, part of their task is to improve strategic communications.
"We go out and do great things, but unfortunately our enemy gets a message out that we're doing horrible things," said Major Aristotle Rabanal, a member of the Air Force for 15 years. "We're always on our heels trying to correct that, so this is an initiative to improve that."
Emily DeMarea, a junior journalism major from Kansas City, said hands-on experiences such as the one students participated in Friday was a big reason she chose to attend Northwest instead of a larger university.
"(At Northwest) my freshman year I was already on TV, and it's experiences like these that I really appreciate that are going to help me when I graduate," DeMarea said.
Stephens added: "It doesn't get any more hands-on than this. This is as close to real life as it can get."
The military officers also saw a demonstration of the multi-touch technology that students in Northwest's computer science and information systems department are developing. During the afternoon, the military officers took questions from students during a series of panel discussions focused on topics of social media, news media and virtual environments.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468