Journalism Learning Community sets up freshmen journalism majors for success

Students in the 2016-17 Journalism Learning Community thank their peer mentor, Emily Barske on Peer Mentor Appreciation Day. Photo by Audrey Ward.

When a Greenlee freshman arrives on campus, the to-do list can feel daunting: Succeed in classes. Join student media and clubs. Begin thinking about internships. Make friends.

Throw in typical new-to-campus challenges like mastering CyRide and combating homesickness, and it becomes a tougher balance.

The Journalism Learning Community’s goal is to make that transition easier. Incoming freshman majoring in journalism and mass communication (who have transfer credit for or are exempt from ENGL 150) can sign up for the community during summer orientation. As one of the smaller learning communities at Iowa State University, the group fosters an environment in which up to 15 Greenlee students can get to know and help one other reach goals, along with support from Lecturer Lisa Oakes, the faculty coordinator, and a peer mentor.

Learning community members take Oakes’ JLMC 110 and JLMC 201 in fall and spring, respectively, so that they have a relationship with a faculty member right away as well as each other. ENGL 250 — another required course — focuses on written, oral, visual and electronic composition with a journalism emphasis. The students also take several of their other classes together, as selected by Oakes, so they form a smaller community of friends within the Iowa State and Greenlee family.

Haley Knudsen, freshman in journalism, says being part of the group has made her more confident in her choices. “College was very intimidating for me,” Knudsen said. “I wasn’t sure what classes to take or what classes would be good for me, but by being in the learning community, I was able to sign up for classes that will benefit [me during] my time at Iowa State and my career. We talk about our interests within journalism … and the kinds of jobs available to us.”

Emily Barske, senior in journalism and mass communication and Editor in Chief of the Iowa State Daily, is the group’s peer mentor this year. Oakes tapped Barske — a student she’s instructed in several classes and one of her advisees — because of Barske’s commitment to academics, membership in the University Honor’s Program and involvement in student media.

“Emily was my first and best choice, I’m so grateful she said yes,” Oakes said. “She is highly organized, talented as a journalist and a wonderful mentor. I gave her near total freedom to arrange the kinds of activities she thought would benefit first-year students.”

Barske meets with the students for an informal dinner once a week and always has a topic prepared for them. They’ve done everything from brainstorming ideas for JL MC 201 assignments to doing strengths assessment tests and talking about how that affects their leadership styles. They’ve done “dream resumes” to help with goal setting, job shadows, field trips and other fun activities to build camaraderie. They also turn to her for advice.

“Whether it be telling us stories about her internship experiences or helping us prepare for the career fair, Emily has always put our needs at the forefront,” Knudsen said. “There have been times when Emily has taken the time out of her busy day to meet with each of us individually to address questions we had about classes and internship interviews. She has created a sense of togetherness among us and we cannot thank her enough for that."

All members are also encouraged to get involved with student media from Day One, and Oakes said many this year have done so. Because the members work for different publications, they can learn firsthand about all the opportunities available. Best of all, they begin to develop their professional networks.

“After the first few months, we all got to know each other and became friends,” Knudsen said. “We have helped each other with the shared classes that we are taking and that motivates each of us to do well in our classes. Having a smaller group makes me feel like I matter within the school. I know there are professors and peer mentors who are invested in me and care about my success."