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SOC’s Communication Collaborative for Change highlights diverse Gen Z voices with fourth cohort

The integrated communications agency spent the spring semester working with ALDI

American University’s Communication Collaborative for Change — also known as SOC3 — is addressing a lack of diversity in the communications field by introducing diverse Gen Z voices to the industry with hands-on experience.

The integrated communications agency has provided experiential learning opportunities for its past three cohorts, allowing students to tell clients’ stories and manage the agency's operations. The program, offered by AU’s School of Communication, is both a three-credit class and a paid position. 

This semester, SOC3’s fourth cohort undertook paid work for supermarket chain ALDI and is engaging in pro bono work for the League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia, a nonprofit women-led organization working to empower voters.

Following a $500,000 gift from AU Board of Trustees member Michael Kempner, Hurst senior professorial lecturer Pallavi Kumar established SOC3 in fall 2022. With over 20 years of public relations experience, Kumar said she started SOC3 so she could address the lack of diversity in communications. 

“The truth is communications needs to be more diverse because if you look at America, America is diverse,” Kumar said. “And if you look at the [communications] industry, it's not reflective of what America looks like. So therefore, how can those people in those agencies tell the stories of America if they themselves don't have that experience?”

When launching SOC3, Kumar said she also thought about her own experience of balancing a job and an unpaid internship in college. 

“I don’t want students to struggle like that,” Kumar said. “SOC3 is a way that you get experience while being on campus and also you get compensated. It’s also for so many of these students, especially first-generation students, the first thing that they can put on their resume.”

SOC3 welcomes students from all SOC majors, including film and media arts, public relations & strategic communications and journalism. The agency comprises four groups: brand development directors, creative strategists, community and engagement directors and research, innovation and outreach analysts.

Creative strategists focus on SOC3’s website, videos and case studies. Community engagement directors promote SOC3 on AU’s campus and beyond. Brand development directors seek donors and new clients. Research, innovation and outreach analysts conduct field research on clients and reach out to potential donors. The internal agency work is complemented by projects that tell clients’ stories.

Members of SOC3 undertake various tasks, such as managing the agency’s social media pages and reaching out to potential donors. They each receive a $1,000 stipend for running the agency. The client work is considered coursework for SOC3’s class, Storytelling for Changemakers Experience.

This semester, each group worked on a content deliverable that supermarket chain ALDI can use to connect with consumers and convey their values, such as social media content and promotional videos. Earlier in the semester, SOC3 conducted a client briefing with ALDI and carried out field research at ALDI’s locations in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

On April 9, the four groups presented their finished deliverables to ALDI. Following the conclusion of its work with ALDI, the agency will dedicate an activation day to its pro bono client, The League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia. On April 16, the cohort will develop voting related content that they brainstormed earlier in the semester.

SOC3 emphasizes the Gen Z perspectives of its members, which companies value in engaging Gen Z consumers. Kumar said that promoting ALDI’s commitment to sustainability is one of SOC3’s main objectives related to Gen Z.

“Sustainability is really the focus,” Kumar said. “We're communicating something that deeply resonates with Gen Z, and they think about it in a way different than my generation or the generation before me. It's embedded in how they think about how the world should function.”

In addition to lending their perspectives to ALDI, working with the company has given SOC3 members a hands-on look into the inner workings of the communications industry. 

Lucas Torregrossa, a junior in the School of Communication, said he appreciates the experiential learning aspect of SOC3’s client work. 

“I've mostly just done hypotheticals in other classes like projects, but not for an actual client. So, to be able to do it for an actual client is really cool,” Torregrossa said. “Obviously, there is a little bridge to getting to that level and we're still working through that, but that's what the whole purpose of the course is.”

As a research, innovation and outreach analyst, Torregrossa said he has reached out to potential donors and conducted field research related to ALDI. He ensured that his group's deliverables adhered to ALDI’s brand guidelines and has embraced the responsibilities that come with working with a large company like ALDI.

“With my other classes, I could sort of just find what I think would work best for a client,” Torregrossa said. “Now I need to actually identify what would work best for clients. So, being able to actually dive into research helps a lot.”

Chase Vincent, a senior in SOC and the Kogod School of Business, has embraced the challenge of helping run the agency while also completing the client work. As a community engagement director, Vincent has reached out to affinity groups and students of color at AU, as part of SOC3's mission to promote diversity. She also coordinates recruitment events for SOC3. 

As part of her client work for ALDI, Vincent is collaborating with her group to attract college students to the supermarket. In March, SOC3 had a meeting with Kempner, the CEO of PR firm MikeWorldWide, and MikeWorldWide Chief of Staff Amy McGee. 

Kempner used his background in public relations to give the cohort feedback on their deliverables. Vincent said she appreciated the honest and detailed feedback that she received from Kempner during the meeting.

“He was like, ‘Alright, y’all need to change this. This doesn't make sense. This is not connecting,” Vincent said. “So, it's like you have someone who owns a very successful PR agency. He knows what he's doing and he's an AU alum. So, it's like, kind of not taking things personally.”

Vincent added, “I think as at least PR people, in my experience, it tends to be very creative at times. So, people get very sensitive about their ideas. So, I kind of had to learn to be like ‘Chase, you have to let that roll off your back. It's not personal.’” 

Destiny Maguta, a junior in SOC and a brand development director, said that SOC3’s internal and client work has taught her about the high level of creativity required in the communications field. 

“That's something that Kumar really threw at us. Like yes, think big. Be creative with what you’re trying to do with your projects,” Maguta said. “It takes a lot. Each person has to pull their weight in these types of projects.”

Allison Schnur, a senior in SOC, said she enjoys the creative aspect of SOC3. The brand development director recalled an early brainstorming session where Kumar provided the cohort with playdough, crayons and other creative materials as they generated ideas for their ALDI projects.  

“People came up with some cool stuff that was just completely original,” Schnur said. “It felt really good, and I think it reminded me to just put myself out there and be more imaginative in my career. And not worry about people not liking my ideas, because who cares? It might make you think of something else better.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the SOC3 stipend amounted to $1,000 monthly. The article has been updated to reflect that the stipend is $1,000 for the semester. 

This article was edited by Kathryn Squyres, Zoe Bell, Tyler Davis and Abigail Turner. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis and Ariana Kavoossi. 

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