HETRICK: Lapsed entrepreneur finds higher education a class act

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I have a new life.

Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, I pack my briefcase, hop in the car, and drive the 52 miles from Indianapolis to Bloomington.

When I arrive, I park behind the Theta house, walk down Woodlawn and cross Seventh Street. There, I open the door and climb the stairs to a second-floor classroom inside Ernie Pyle Hall, home of the journalism school that shaped my life and career 30 years ago.

Now, I’m the professor.

On other days, I work from the IU School of Journalism’s Indianapolis branch at IUPUI. Between the two locations, I teach graduate and undergraduate students from around the nation and world, engage them in real-life professional experiences, and share whatever wisdom I can muster or research in the hope that they might emulate what’s worked, avoid what’s failed, and conjure solutions never imagined.

I’ve entered the academy at a time higher education is hailed by many as the panacea of our ailing economy and the saving grace of civil society.

I’ve entered the academy at a time higher education is maligned by some for its high cost, its failure to serve every employer’s every need, its inability to instantly place every graduate in a meaningful job, its sometimes esoteric research endeavors, and its alleged insistence on indoctrinating feeble young minds with leftist leanings.

I’ve entered the traditional classroom at a time online learning is all the rage.

I’ve entered journalism education at a time the profession seems in peril and its practitioners are scrambling to adapt to new ways of being and doing.

Lest you think me crazy, the early signs show that, despite the burden and obstacles, this gig, this teacher, this profession and—most important—these students are going to be just fine. To wit:

The other day, while doing some research, I found a 2012 job outlook survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

It listed the top-10 skills/qualities employers want:

• Ability to work in a team structure.

• Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization.

• Ability to make decisions and solve problems.

• Ability to obtain and process information.

• Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work.

• Ability to analyze quantitative data.

• Technical knowledge related to the job.

• Proficiency with computer software programs.

• Ability to create and/or edit written reports.

• Ability to sell or influence others.

With the possible exception of No. 7 (which is job-specific), journalism and public relations students (and many liberal arts students, too) are honing these skills every day.

Teamwork? It’s why we employ group projects.

Communicating, writing, editing, influencing? It’s why we teach visual and verbal storytelling—as well as traditional media, social media and public relations.

Finding, analyzing and organizing information? In my business, that’s called reporting or strategic planning.

Prioritizing? Every tweet. Every Facebook post. Every story. Every image. Every headline. Every newspaper. Every newscast. Every minute. Every day.

Technical knowledge and software? Hey, Steve Jobs didn’t invent Apple for nothing.

With these kinds of versatile skills at the core of what I learned and what I teach in college, the most rewarding part of my work—seeing young people landing jobs and doing them well—is not surprising.

“I am on my fifth day of my new job in D.C. and I love it so far,” wrote one recent graduate. “I have a three-week training process and then I will be signed off and ready to work! (Exciting.) Although my company is health care-based, I can already tell that my public relations and communications skills will come in handy.”

“I got the job offer last night and negotiated a reasonable salary, including benefits!” wrote another May graduate. “I’m officially a public relations account coordinator! Yay!”

“Boston was great!” wrote one student following a summer internship. “The agency experience was wonderful. I was put on an account, which they have never let an intern do in the past. It’s the company’s first big national (and actually international) client.”

“I got an internship in Chicago that starts next week,” wrote another student. “Looking forward to using our class experiences in the real world.”

“I’m happy to inform you they offered me the job,” wrote another student, who finished his master’s degree in May and landed a new, higher-paying job a month later. “I want to let you know that your encouragement really spearheaded me to pursue this opportunity. This position will be a welcome challenge and I’m eager to start making a difference.” 

So am I, young man, so am I. Which is why messages like these make teaching, and college, and face-to-face classrooms, and versatile liberal learning, and communication skills in particular worth every dime and every hour my parents, my wife, my sons and I ever invested in higher education.•


Hetrick is an Indianapolis-based writer, speaker and public relations consultant. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.

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