New Kids on the Block

4 female professors standing in hallway

In 2015, a study published in the Journal of Applied Communications recognized Texas Tech as the No. 1 agricultural communications program in the nation.

The Texas Tech ACOM program faculty took this No. 1 accomplishment as a challenge; how could they continue to produce top-tier graduates while staying up-to-date with the demands of the industry? As a result, they began brainstorming about innovative ways to keep their program on top. Thus, the idea of a “block” structure was born.

Building the Block

The faculty of the ACOM program came together and decided this block structure would be the best way to help transition students from college life into a career. Four ACOM faculty members teach the block: Courtney Meyers, Associate Professor, Erica Irlbeck, Associate Professor, Courtney Gibson, Assistant Professor and Lindsay Kennedy, Instructor.

Modeled after the agricultural education structure, the ACOM block is a unique and innovative learning experience through a combined course structure of four classes that includes campaign development, magazine production, advanced layout and advanced web design.

“The block is a set of four courses that the students have to co-enroll in,” Irlbeck said. “We have integrated our courses to make it feel like the students are communicating for an organization, and we try to make it as true to the industry as possible.”

After working in the agricultural industry for 10 years, Lindsay Kennedy joined the Texas Tech ACOM faculty in September 2015. Kennedy was able to provide her industry experience and perspective into the new course structure as well as an understanding of what employers are looking for in recent graduates.

“We wanted to put students in that real-world environment before they were actually in that environment,” Kennedy said. “When they go through the hiring process, they can speak from experience more-so than just having the basic classes.”

Kennedy said a goal of this course structure is to help students understand the “big picture” concepts and how all these skills can be used when developing strategic, cohesive communications initiatives.

What is the Block

The four ACOM faculty members teach the block, each using their unique skill set and expertise. Each course is meant to complement the others, just as it would be in a work setting environment.

Advanced Design Principles for Agricultural Communications is taught by Dr. Courtney Gibson. This class provides an in-depth examination of design principles and theories, design applications and design topics relevant to the agricultural industry. Students learn how to create effective design pieces for agricultural audiences and further utilize the Adobe Creative Cloud software.

Agricultural Communications Campaigns is taught by Dr. Erica Irlbeck. This course, better known as “campaigns,” covers the principles, practices, and applications of general marketing as it pertains to developing communication campaigns for a company or organization. This is a service-learning course where students work with an actual client to create and implement an integrated marketing campaign.

Convergence is Agricultural Media is taught by Dr. Courtney Meyers. This course is designed to focus on creating a real-world, practical working experience using computer-based electronic production tools to prepare students for a career in agricultural communications.

Development of Agricultural Publications is taught by Kennedy who is a doctoral candidate. This course examines each student’s ability to integrate various skills obtained in previous courses into one product with an emphasis on the computer software applications commonly used in agricultural publishing. To produce The Agriculturist magazine, the course is designed to provide all students the opportunity to have their writing, advertisements, photographs, and artwork published in The Agriculturist.

The Advanced Design Principles for Agricultural Communications course works closely with the Development of Agricultural Publications course by creating and designing layouts and creative components for the stories that make up the publication, The Agriculturist. The Agricultural Communications Campaigns course works closely with the Convergence in Agricultural Media course by teaching students how to utilize certain media tools to help create and examine a communications campaign.

Students in the block are required to work together for multiple group projects throughout the course of the semester to simulate a real-world working environment.

Gibson explained how each class in the block works together and the benefit this structure gives to students.

“Writing skills tie in with your design skills that tie into your web and video skills, and you can use all of those to do effective messaging in reaching your audiences,” Gibson said. “We want you to be these truly prepared employees, going out into the world with this really cool skill set and experience.”

Going Forward

Jim Bret Campbell is the executive director at the National Ranching Heritage Center and a ’96 ACOM Texas Tech alum. He explained in a career, students must be prepared for a wide variety of environments. He said the transition from college life is hard but with this new block experience, it will be an intense application of the skills that students have been leaning for the past four years, getting them ready for the real world. This last semester for students now notches up the intensity, which will be beneficial to students when they begin their careers.

“It’s really an advantage giving students an experience that combines all classes together,” Campbell said. “It’s something that employers will take into consideration.”

It’s really an advantage giving students an experience that combines all classes together.

Campbell said employers in the industry are looking for people to contribute to their specific organization. With students who have been through this agricultural communications block, they are ready to bring fresh ideas to any company and have the willingness to learn in any situation.

Throughout the semester, students in the block are required to work together in different teams for various assignments and projects. Although some say it is overwhelming at times, there is a method to this madness. Irlbeck worked in the industry for eight years before joining the ACOM faculty at Texas Tech. She said this block experience gives students a realistic expectation of what the real-world is like.

“Knowing that people are depending on you is an important factor,” Irlbeck said. “Students are able to see first-hand working relationships.”

Meyers has been on the ACOM faculty at Texas Tech for 10 years. She explained how each professor expects a lot from students in this block structure and how the block is truly preparing students for the 21st-century workforce.

“I hope our students who go through the block become the leaders in the organizations who hire them,” Meyers said.

Dr. Scott Burris, professor and associate chair of the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications, said Texas Tech’s ACOM program has always been on the leading edge.

“The agricultural communications program is really a jewel of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources,” Burris said. “This program is absolutely something that has bolstered the reputation of the university.”

Texas Tech University has always had a strong, innovative agricultural communications program since the 90s, and it seems there is no slowing down. By keeping up with the demands of the industry, the new ACOM block seeks to produce graduates who are ready to face the transition from college into their careers.

“I continue to be excited about the growth of the program,” Campbell said. “The admiration and respect I see all across the country speaks volumes about not only the instructors, but also about the students as well.”