For students in Communication Professor Nancy Kerr’s COM 400: Public Relations Campaign Development & Management class, they know hands-on learning happens as much out of the classroom as it does inside. This fall, her students rolled up their sleeves to get to work with two local businesses, for which they developed and pitched full public relations campaigns. Throughout the semester, students worked closely with Offshore Greens and Dragonheart Vermont, applying their communication skills to real-life scenarios and giving back to the local community.  

Offshore Greens, founded by former pro-skier Willis Brown, is an innovative business specializing in nutritional supplement packets made from dried kelp. Brown’s passion for sustainability and community involvement ignited students’ enthusiasm. Peyton Hicks ’23, a senior Communication major expressed, “Especially as just a startup, Offshore Greens is a super cool company. It was fun to work with someone who’s local and involved with the community right now.”

Dragonheart Vermont, on the other hand, focuses on empowering breast cancer survivors through dragon boat racing and raising money for breast cancer research. If the name sounds familiar to you, that’s because Champlain participates in Dragonheart Vermont’s annual dragon boat race on Lake Champlain. Working on a campaign for this nonprofit organization came with some perks. “Firstly, it was very hands-on. I got to actually go dragon boating,” said senior Communications student Abbey Berger-Knorr ’24. This helped her and her teammates learn about the many facets of the organization through a more personal and intimate lens.

“We’ve worked with many nonprofits and small businesses in Burlington. They come in and share their story and what they need,” explained Kerr. “For most of the clients, it’s gaining awareness and getting known by the public.” 

On December 11, 2023, representatives from Dragonheart Vermont visited Professor Kerr’s public relations class to hear a campaign pitch from students who studied the organization and its goals.

A Swimming Success

The projects were comprehensive, encompassing extensive research, social media strategies, event planning, and more. Kerr’s students credit the Upside-Down Curriculum and former classes, including  COM 311: Writing for Public Relations and  COM 110: Public Speaking, for their success in presenting more than one hundred slides to their clients at the conclusion of the semester. “In some classes, you are learning about the concepts, but here you get to apply it. And, not only apply it, but then take ownership of it,” said Berger-Knorr.

Shannon Cunniff, from Dragonheart Vermont, commended the students for their insightful demographic perspective, which was developed through surveys and focus groups targeting a younger audience—a demographic with which the organization has previously struggled to engage. “It was really helpful to get the younger perspective, and not only from the class themselves but from the work they did,” she said. Brown of Offshore Greens expressed eagerness to continue engaging with Champlain students due to their work ethic.  

Both organizations acknowledged the fresh perspectives and robust ideas offered by all of Kerr’s students. Cuniff highlighted the dedication and skill of Berger-Knorr and her team, while Brown looks forward to more collaborations with Champlain students.

Similarly, Kerr’s students also presented public relations campaigns to representatives from Offshore Greens, a nutrition startup based in the Hula co-working building near Champlain’s Lakeside campus.

A Boatload of Impact 

Reflecting on the experience, Berger-Knorr and Hicks felt empowered, recognizing Champlain students’ career readiness through internships and real-world skill-building in the classroom. “We’re gonna be the next generation working for all these people—we’re going to be running these businesses someday,” said Hicks. 

These collaborations not only enhanced students’ professional skills but also underscored the significance of community impact. For years, Kerr has taught classes that incorporate the partnership of real business.

“The impacts for students are immense because they can walk away having done this incredibly hands-on project that they can turn right into a working environment,” said Kerr. “For the community members, I think it’s really nice for them to be able to work with Champlain students, to be a part of our community. And for our students to be a part of their community.”

Meet Abbey Berger-Knorr ’24 and hear what she has to say about communications classes at Champlain!

Alyssa Fabrizio '26
Professional Writing

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