Community engagement sometimes means getting out of the office

Macomb Intermediate School District students work on their Global Trade Mission proposals.

Macomb Intermediate School District students work on their Global Trade Mission proposals.

As part of my relatively new position as director of community engagement and editorial training for 21st Century Media’s Michigan Group, and in my role as director of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, I occasionally get the opportunity to leave our media labs and newsrooms, and immerse myself in the community. Yesterday was one of those days.

Karen Johnston, career education specialist at the Macomb Intermediate School District, called me last month about volunteering as a business coach at their annual Global Trade Mission. I had met Karen a few weeks earlier through the new Macomb Regional Community Media Lab, which I helped launch with media lab Director Maryanne MacLeod, who also serves as community engagement editor at The Macomb Daily. Karen was enthusiastic about furthering the MISD’s partnership with The Macomb Daily through the media lab, where we offer to train the public in new media and social media as we seek to develop more news-sharing partnerships.

The Global Trade Mission provides an opportunity for students to participate in a simulated trade mission. “GTM is an outstanding model of business, government, and education working together to address 21st century student skills,” according to the Macomb Intermediate School District website. “With collaboration from business, education and government, and working in cross-district teams of four, students are presented with a real-world case study on how to best market and sell a Macomb County company’s product, service, or technology overseas based on the opportunities, challenges and unique characteristics of doing business in a particular country. Student teams create a unique business export plan, and present their findings to a panel of business executives who will evaluate them on content, quality, originality and feasibility of their business proposals.”

Among the companies that industry and cultural experts represented were Ford, Department of Homeland Security Investigations, DTE Energy and U.S. Department of Commerce. I represented 21st Century Media, while Macomb Community College, Henry Ford Macomb Hospitals, Identity Graphic Design, Sensi Change and General Motors sent volunteers, as well.

I came in on the second day of the three-day project, and offered help to students in social media, public relations, marketing and PowerPoint. MISD-1 Students were working in small groups associated with a global region, such as Europe, Africa/the Middle East, Asia, North America and Latin America. Coaches were encouraged to approach each group, ask the students about their products and companies, and offer advice and assistance. For instance, I helped a group bringing purified water to the Middle East by brainstorming names for their company. They liked my suggestion of Puri-fection, a play on the words promoting their purified water as perfection.

I helped another group create its company logo. While I didn’t have experience with the graphics program they were using — and neither did they — we were able to use PowerPoint to create something that met their vision.

A third group asked for my suggestions in marketing their product. We chatted about the product, and I recommended a website, a drop-down menu featuring a blog or section for product news and updates, Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube channel to host their product demonstration videos. I also suggested becoming an expert on their subject and share their blog posts on LinkedIn with peer business groups and with their connections.

A highlight of the afternoon was a video presentation by Don Ritzenhein, professor of communication and vice president for academic personnel at Eastern Michigan University.

While he has attended in person in the past, his busy schedule prevented it this year, so he created a dynamic video presentation on using PowerPoint.

Donald Ritzenhein, assistant vice president of academic personnel and contract administration at Eastern Michigan University, taught students how to create a polished PowerPoint

Donald Ritzenhein, assistant vice president of academic personnel and contract administration at Eastern Michigan University, taught students how to create a polished PowerPoint

I found it particularly interesting because I create PowerPoints for teaching new digital storytelling tools and social media tools for staff and our media lab workshops, and I’ve never been formally trained on PowerPoint. I learned about a lot I was doing wrong, such as adding to much text to my slides. He also provided helpful tips on using infographics, choosing color schemes and presenting in front of an audience.

Today is the big day for the students. They will present at 6:45 p.m. at the MISD to various “investors.” Certificates will be awarded by teachers and coaches, and an awards presentation and closing remarks will take place 8 p.m. in Global Hall.

While some of our interactions as community engagement editors involve reaching out to our audience on social media, using such tools as polls and surveys, and running contests and stimulating conversations behind a computer, the job also involves getting out of the office and interacting live and in person. The Macomb Intermediate School District afforded me that opportunity and in the coming weeks I have been invited by the new mayor of Milan, Michael Armitage, to train city officials and staff on social media, writing news releases and public relations. Both of these opportunities have inspired me to reach out even more to schools, chambers of commerce, business groups and nonprofits to lend my expertise through this position. After all, what’s more engaging than face-to-face interaction?

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