CommonSense Blog

Making it Real: Preparing the Next Generation of Professionals

By Gary Grates | Mar 20, 2017

Syracuse University’s Newhouse, W2O Center for Social Commerce, and the Future of Public Relations/Communications Education in a Digital World

Last Thursday (March 16) Syracuse University’ S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications (includes the W2O Center for Social Commerce) took top honors for the second year in a row as the Outstanding Education Program in the industry by PRWeek at its annual awards dinner!

This is significant not only because it recognizes Newhouse for its continued outstanding commitment to academic excellence in a constantly changing environment – the number of institutions offering communications, PR, digital and marketing curricula has grown significantly over the last ten years as have the number of educational formats. Most importantly, amid those shifts some 80% of Newhouse undergraduates have a full-time job six months after graduation. An equally impressive statistic is the diversity of the study body: 25% of undergraduates and 30% of graduates being minorities and 36% of faculty are minorities.

Keeping ahead of such a dynamic environment means experimentation and innovation become the norm under the leadership of Dean Lorraine Branham. One such program is keeping professors, students, executives, and global organizations immersed in the digital transformation engulfing industry and our lives and is a major component in Newhouse’s success.

The 2017 Center for Social Commerce team at W2O Group’s SXSW events.

In 2012, a major gift from Jim and Audra Weiss, both Syracuse graduates (Jim = Newhouse; Audra = Whitman School of Management) established the W2O Center for Social Commerce, kicking off what has become the premier academic-industry partnership in the profession.   Now five years in the making, the Center has achieved some very impressive milestones:

  • Over 1,000 students and professors have been immersed in the digital/social models and methodologies giving rise to the age of influence that is transforming perspective, perception, and purchase
  • Notable client executives from Chevron, Medtronic, General Motors, Verizon, Harley-Davidson, Delphi, among other have shared their insights, experiences on business and the profession
  • Eight Newhouse students have participated in a year-long Ambassadorship that included paid summer internships at W2O offices gaining valuable training and experience
  • Three Research Studies have been published in the areas of organizational communications, social excellence, and change
  • Several students have been hired by W2O or one of its clients
  • A novel internship program between W2O Group and Medtronic to develop both corporate and agency skills – students serve at both Medtronic and W2O on the Medtronic business
  • On-campus career counseling and development in the areas of resume writing, critical skills development, strategy and program planning, analytics, and insight formulation
  • A first-of-its-kind Certificate in the Social Commerce educational program for mid-to-senior professionals featuring W2O professionals along with industry experts in digital and social
  • Connections with other SU schools such as Whitman (Management), Maxwell (Public Affairs), and the School of Information Studies, expanding its influence and partnership across the University
  • Established a new course in the Newhouse curriculum on Analytics to be taught in Spring 2017 semester
  • On-going conversations and development sessions with faculty on the changing landscape of the industry and integrating the changes in the curriculum

“The partnership with W2O is by far one of the most important for Newhouse,” said Rochelle Ford, Ph.D., APR, Department Chair, Newhouse School.  “Students, faculty and the administration all gain a tremendous advantage from the knowledge, innovation, and commitment by the firm and its outstanding staff.”

Added Maria Russell, Co-Director, W2O Center for Social Commerce and Director of Executive Education at Newhouse, “Jim and Audra established a legacy of continuous learning for Newhouse students, ensuring they possess the confidence and capabilities to succeed in their careers.  The Center is a mix of ideas, practical skills, new thinking, strategic insights, tactical approaches, methods and methodologies, all challenging the status quo.  It is truly unique in its approach and execution.”

As Newhouse’s Department of Public Relations accepts this prestigious honor for the second consecutive year, assessing its formula for maintaining excellence can be summed up as follows:

  • Focus on Marketplace and Skills – Building and operating a globally renowned school of higher learning is akin to leading any major organization.  In Syracuse’s case, an incredible comprehension of the market – the market for talent.  What skills are companies looking for, needing, and developing based on their business expectations?
  • Connectivity to Students –  Bridging marketplace realities with student development is the basis for how successful job placement is upon graduation.  The right mix of course study, internships, mentorships, thought leadership, research, etc., determines one’s attractiveness in the marketplace.
  • Innovation and Experimentation – Given the pace of technology and the move toward individual, inclusive, and interactive, adopting and adapting to new forms of content, platforms, and formats in education is essential in acquiring mind share and developing thinking to today’s student.

All of us at W2O Group are proud and honored to be part of the Newhouse family and supporters of all institutions aimed at preparing the next generation of practitioners to conduct themselves with the highest levels of competence and integrity!

*A special thank you to W2O staffers Meriel McCaffrey and Lauryn Botterman (both SU Newhouse alums) for all their efforts in keeping the W2O Center for Social Commerce relevant and meaningful!