While many students are restricted to the doldrums of lecture halls, other University of Rhode Island students have taken on the challenge of both regular coursework and outside charity work.
The UnClassroom Project is an alternative structure to ordinary courses in which students are given as close to a real-life experience as possible. Each classroom selects a different purpose or organization which they, as a group, will volunteer their time for.
“It allows all of us, student and the instructor, to take the concept in the book and make it really come alive with our project,” Regina Bell, a public relations professor at URI, said. “So I find it to be really rewarding, it’s fun, it’s more fun having PR happen right in front of us in our own classroom.”
This is Bell’s third semester involved with UnClassroom, and she prefers it over traditional classrooms because it provides students with a real client and problems to solve. The UnClassroom project has been intertwined with the PR Strategies (PRS 340) curriculum. For each part of the course, they have pulled in real life examples using their work with their chosen project: Goodwill Industries.
“This project has just been basically tucked into different elements of the content we cover in the class,” Bell said. “For example, when we talked about public opinion, of course we talked about ‘Well what is the public perception of goodwill?’ [and] ‘what’s the public opinion associated with clothing drives?’ So for nearly every topic covered in the course we have related it to our Goodwill project.”
As a class, they have worked to create their very own PR agency for the UnClassroom work. The group has also divided up the workload for Goodwill Industries by delegating different areas to specific sets of students. Â According to Bell, students are working as media relations, event planners, videographers, promoters and researchers.
“We will [present] all of our tactics and our different efforts, and we will reveal the impact of the clothing drive; in other words, how much clothing we collected, how many bins, what was the impact, [and] did it make a difference,” Bell said.
Students are working together in order to create a clothing drive on campus for Goodwill Industries, beginning Nov. 15.
“The students are handling all facets of event management, media relations [and] bringing in a local celebrity,” Bell said. “We are really excited, we have [country singer] Billy Gilman who will be on campus Nov. 21 in the Union to help create a little added sizzle to our clothing drive.”
There will be bins set up for clothing donations at the Memorial Union, Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, Mackal Field House and Davis Hall. Bins will be marked with a “Goodwill” sign, and students and faculty can donate their clothing by placing them in these bins, which will be emptied throughout the week. The donated clothes will then be given to the project.
“The goal is [to get] the entire URI community, students and staff, to consider bringing in slightly used clothing, which will be donated to Goodwill Industries,” Bell said. “In turn, Goodwill will sell the clothes and generate revenue to sustain their own organization.”
Goodwill Industries has their own stores from which they sell donated or used clothing, with locations in Pawtucket and Providence.
Students of UnClassroom classes must be dedicated to their work, as the classes are generally much more time consuming than average courses.
“Because we have a project, and we have deadlines and we’re meeting three times a week [for class], it’s very busy and the students have to keep up with their reading and required assignments, but then in addition we have this big thing called the ‘Goodwill Industries Project’ so it’s really a lot going on,” Bell said.
Though this activism and additional work may be different from a traditionally structured classroom, Bell said that the students generally have very positive feedback. However, not all students are prepared for the many challenges involved.
“I warn them at the beginning of this semester that this is not your typical course,” Bell said. “So while we will have lectures, there will be many days where we are just knee deep in planning and problem solving. This will not be a typical course and it will get messy, there will be days when we don’t really feel like we are moving too far; but really what we are doing is solving problems and brainstorming. So I’m not sure that UnClassroom is for every student because it’s really a very different approach than a normal classroom.”