In 2017, the agricultural communications program at Texas Tech University introduced a new high-impact learning experience called the “ACOM Block”. The Block is a series of four courses designed to mimic a comprehensive, real-world workplace experience for students before they graduate from the program.
The classes consist of Agricultural Communication Campaigns, Advanced Design Principles for Agricultural Media, Convergence in Agricultural Media and Development of Agricultural Publications.
Throughout the semester, students improve their writing, photography, web design and layout skills while completing a range of assignments. In some assignments, students learn how to use new online programs while other assignments sharpen skills they already possess. Selling and designing advertisements for companies as well as working with a company or organization to develop a marketing campaign provides a real-world experience to the education.
The goal of the Block is to help students transition into their career after graduation. Over the last six years, many students have come through the Block and are now in successful careers across the U.S.
In the Starting Blocks
Abbie Lankitus, communications specialist for Certified Angus Beef, was in the first ACOM Block in 2017. Lankitus said being part of the first block was an adventure for everyone.
“I’m so proud to be from a department that continually strives to create real world scenarios for their students so when they come to a real job they’re not quite as blindsided,” Lankitus said.
The semester was meticulously planned, but there were still many unknowns with this new course structure. At the end of the semester, Lankitus said she was relieved the Block was over but, was also pleased with the amount of the materials she could add to her personal portfolio. She said she still includes her magazine story from the Block in her portfolio today.
“It did give me more of a real-world experience than I thought it did,” said Lankitus, who now manages social media, creates videos, and written content that often gets published in many different publications. She said a lot of the skills she learned in the block are still very beneficial to her today.
“I think there is always going to be a disconnect between college and the real world,” Lankitus said. “But I think they did their absolute best to prepare us.”
Blocking out a Campaign
Matthew Winterholler was a member of the third block in 2019 and is now the associate director of issues and reputation management for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. He said the campaigns class was one of his most rewarding experiences in the Block.
“I learned a lot that applies to my current job and position now,” said Winterholler, who now develops campaigns to increase the positive reputation of beef with consumers while also monitoring any issues that arise in the beef industry.
Developing timelines, identifying target audiences, and developing materials used in a campaign went from a class assignment to everyday work. Winterholler was his campaign’s team leader. He said being able to work with his peers and learn how to provide leadership in a successful campaign was one of the greatest lessons he took away from the Block.
“I think [coming to] Texas Tech was by far the best decision I made,” Winterholler said. “Because of the quality of education, they have classes like the Block where you get to learn hands on with your peers and that’s just not provided at other places.
There’s a reason that Texas Tech is so highly sought after.KENI REESE
A Potential Road Block
Once the ACOM Block begin to hit its stride, the unimaginable happened – COVID-19. No one was prepared for what was going to happen, but that was not going to hold the Block back.
Dylan Davidson, digital communications lead for Montana Farm Bureau, was in the Block in 2020 when COVID shut down campus.
“We were a really adaptive group and quickly shifted into the entire online environment,” Davidson said.
Even with the digital shift the world experienced, the 2020 Block finished the semester with completed projects and a strong sense of pride for everything they had accomplished.
“I think teaching with experience is worth more than just teaching to teach,” Davidson said.
Davidson credits the Block for providing real-world experience that helped him when interviewing for jobs beyond college. He left the Block with content that showed employers he knows how to write, produce video, and take quality pictures. These skills are used in his job daily with social media management and email marketing.
On Top of the Block
“There’s a reason that Texas Tech is so highly sought after,” said Keni Reese, director of marketing and communications for the Montana Stockgrowers Association and member of the 2018 Block. “It’s because of the Block.”
Although commonly seen in agricultural education, the block course structure is the only one of its kind in the country in agricultural communications. According to a study by the University of Arkansas, the Texas Tech ACOM program has earned its place as a leading program in the country. The hard work and dedication of the professors is a huge part of student’s success beyond the classroom.