Turning Real-Life Experiences into Learning Opportunities
“Learning should never end, and it’s a privilege to be part of a student’s education.”
Tamara Wandel, PhD
Associate Professor of Communication
Real-life Lessons become Lesson Plans
The best lesson plans are grounded in real life lessons, and Professor Tamara Wandel has many experiences she brings to the classroom. She has worked in various aspects of journalism and public relations – writing for a Scripps Howard newspaper in New York and conducting media research with several sports teams, including the Boston Red Sox, Denver Broncos, and Utah Jazz.
What drew Wandel to UE was the reputation of the faculty and academically strong and well-rounded students. “I was finishing my doctorate and knew I wanted to work at a place where learning comes first, and it does here. I had an opportunity to jump right in and work with a grant that encouraged collaborative learning and assessments on teaching.”
Solving Real-World Problems in the Classroom
The supportive atmosphere within the Department of Communication is something Wandel appreciates. “The faculty work together exceedingly well to modify courses based on industry trends,” she explained. “And we customize cognates based on student needs and interests.” This means that students have the opportunity to personalize their curriculum based on special interests in certain areas, like sports communication or technical writing. Other times it is simply a matter of creatively approaching an experience. One of Wandel’s favorite memories is taking a group of students, a contingency that was interested in public relations within the music industry, to Nashville. She and the students spent a day on Music Row meeting with executives.
“Lunch at the Hard Rock Café was pretty fun as well,” said Wandel. “We take our work seriously, but we manage to enjoy ourselves along the way.”
Endless Opportunities for Communication Majors
Communication majors at UE have opportunities that not all students at other colleges have, and one of these is due to the practicum sequence. Wandel serves as the director of the practicum program. “The sequence provides an excellent way for experiential learning to occur,” explained Wandel. “Students are working in communicative capacities getting at least a hundred hours of real-time work on campus even before their first internship. Some are designing websites, others are on air for athletic events or playing music on WUEV 91.5, and some write copy and produce video for major University activities. These work situations allow for a type of ‘safety blanket’ concept, meaning they’re conducted in a fully supportive environment where everyone involved wants to see the student succeed and grow professionally.”
Through the practicum, students gain exposure within the communication field at numerous stages of their college career. “Basically, by the time they graduate, they’ve honed their skill set, employability is increased, and they’re more confident about approaching the challenges faced in an exciting, ever-changing field,” said Wandel.
A Practical and Creative Education Experience
In the classroom, Wandel brings practicality and creativity together to create a lesson plan that is both instructive and exciting. “Academic rigor, creativity, and positivity are the name of the game in my classes,” said Wandel. “I’ll give feedback on 10 drafts of the same work if a student is doing his or her part to improve it.”
Recognizing the importance of communication theories, Wandel wanted her students to see the real-life application of these theories, including providing opportunities for her writing students to publish their works in magazines and newspapers around the world. She holds the same principles for both her sports communication and public relations classes. Recently, her strategic public relations students worked on a large-scale campaign for Toyota’s fuel-cell vehicle, complete with billboards, a PSA on environmentalism, and advanced assessment measures. A sports promotion class of hers is working in tandem with a professional hockey team on branding, ticket sales, and market segmentation analyses.
“And if you heard the rumor that my public speaking class stood on top of their desks and spoke in an effort to both destroy the fear of heights and fear of public speaking all in one fell swoop, let’s just keep that to ourselves,” joked Wandel. “I like my job, so I’d prefer to keep it.”