A UGA public relations class is making a difference for Georgians.
Through a spring semester project with the University of Georgia Archway Partnership, the students in a UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication public relations class planned and implemented a full-scale public relations campaign to inform residents of Grady County, Ga. about the upcoming development of Tired Creek Lake.
To be completed within five years, Tired Creek Lake will be a recreational site that will fulfill the long-term fishing needs of the county. Visitors can boat, fish, hike, enjoy water sports and engage in countless other lakeside recreational activities.
Through the campaign, the class of 25 senior public relations students from the Grady College educated the community on the future of Tired Creek Lake and helped dispel misconceptions that years of numerous proposals, studies and development plans had created around the project. The partnership has provided students the benefit of professional experience, while at the same time fulfilling UGA's service mission.
"Working with the Archway Partnership has created a unique opportunity to serve a Georgia community with the skills we have gained during our academic career at UGA," said team leader Carly Nash, a public relations senior from Knoxville, Tenn.
Associate Professor Kaye Sweetser of the Grady College, who has been teaching this class since 2008, believes that at this point in their academic careers, students should know everything they need to know to execute a full and ethical public relations campaign.
"I look for clients that will provide real-world implementation," said Sweetser. "This particular client was a great opportunity because it also provided a wonderful service component. I love that as the students bring together all of the skills and strategies they have learned in the public relations curriculum, they are giving back to the state of Georgia with this type of service."
Since January, the class has worked with the Archway Partnership's Executive Committee in Grady County and Grady County Attorney Kevin Cauley to perform research and execute and evaluate the campaign.
"The students have done a great job of interacting with a large cross-section of the community over a short period of time through multiple sources and mediums," said Cauley. "The effectiveness of the group was much greater than I expected."
An allocated budget from Archway has greatly facilitated communication between the class and the residents of Grady County. Because it enabled travel between Athens and Grady County, class representatives could meet and speak with local leaders, clubs and organizations about the project.
The campaign concluded on March 6 when the class hosted a "Tired Creek Lake Fish Fry" and media day to educate more than 340 local residents and media about the project and the future of Tired Creek Lake. Several experts attended the event to answer questions from citizens, including Todd Rasmussen, professor of hydrology and water resources at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. He has been involved for several years in assessing the water quality impacts of the proposed lake in Grady County.
"Improving economic opportunities is very important in rural areas of the state where the loss of traditional industries has caused severe disruptions to local communities," said Rassmussen. "The students have mobilized an array of resources to gather the community together to identify how they can collaborate on developing new infrastructure and improve the county's quality of life."
During the event residents were informed about the lake's purpose, uses and timeline for construction. All but one of the 25 students were in attendance.
"We are giving back to the state that has given us our education," said campaign publicity manager Hannah Springston, a senior public relations student from Buford, Ga. "As a Georgia resident my entire life, this state and the university both hold a very special place in my heart. To go to Grady County and share with the people that this lake-the lake that their grandparents used to talk about-is finally happening is a great feeling. We are telling these people that the University of Georgia, despite being five hours away, cares about what is happening in their community."