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Communication class teaches essential skills with client projects

Business Communications ClassStudents who take Sharon Cannon’s business communication class often leave with more than just a grade on their transcript.

She gives students the opportunity to act as consultants for the likes of UNC Campus Health Services, UNC Housing and Residential Education, and now, The Hershey Company.

“For the students, it’s like getting a mini-internship,” Cannon said. “Students learn more about not just how to write and present an idea, but actually how to interact with a client.”

Though Cannon is one of a few professors who teach “Management and Corporate Communication,” hers is unique in its focus on client projects.

Cannon has taught “Management and Corporate Communication” — a required course for Undergraduate Business students — since she returned to UNC Kenan-Flagler last fall.

While a lecturer at Washington University in St. Louis, Cannon set out to create a course that would make her students competitive with graduates of top-10 business schools. The result was “Management Communication” — a course that placed students in the role of outside consultants for different organizations and businesses.

The client project in her class was such a success that when Cannon returned to Chapel Hill, she embedded a client-based project into the “Management and Corporate Communication” sections that she teaches at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Cannon first reached out to Campus Health and they quickly formed a partnership. In her inaugural fall 2012 class, she directed the students to help Campus Health determine how to best inform students about the services it offers.

In the process of answering that question, students learned how to write proposals, present ideas, hold effective meetings and more.

“It highlights that in almost anything we do in business, communication is what makes it an effective process. Some people say it’s a soft skill, I would say it’s an essential skill,” she said. “Many problems in business go back to communication.”

In return, Campus Health had direct access to the very group they were targeting — UNC students.

Sara Stahlman, coordinator for marketing and communications at Campus Health, said the recommendations they heard were so impressive that they implemented several of them.

“They helped us see our blind spots,” Stahlman said.

Campus Health improved its website, integrated social media into the site, and even set up Instagram and Vine accounts — all recommendations from Cannon’s students.

“What’s been really great about the partnership with Campus Health is that they’ve used more of my students’ recommendations than any other client,” said Cannon. “The bonus for my students is that when they go to talk to employers, they can say ‘I was a consultant for UNC Campus Health,’ and they have actual results.”

Zach Fitzpatrick (BSBA ’15) agrees. “I enjoyed working with the Campus Health staff very much, and I appreciated the hands-on experience,” he said “It’s also a nice touch to have on my resume as well!”

This semester Cannon’s three class sections are again consulting for Campus Housing and Campus Health. But this time, they’ve added a new company to the list: Hershey’s.

Students are working with the Pennsylvania-based candy company to improve on-campus recruiting for its business-to-business sales program.

One of Cannon’s favorite times of the semester is when her students present their recommendations to their clients, she said. “They’re using what they’ve learned in class and applying it to a real project.”