Point Park student agency to help nonprofits connect

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In more than a decade teaching communications classes at Point Park University, Heather Starr Fiedler, an associate professor, has tried to assign real-world type projects such as designing a new logo for Microsoft or the Walt Disney Co.

But she always lamented that students still were completing “pretend work” that never reached the point of being utilized by actual clients.

That’s about to change with the Tuesday launch of Wood Street Communications, a student-run agency at Point Park that will provide public relations, advertising, social media solutions, graphic design, photography and other communications services.

The school won’t be selling the students’ expertise, however. Wood Street will offer its services on a pro bono basis to nonprofits that don’t have an in-house communications staff or can’t afford to outsource work such as brochures, branding campaigns or videos.

The payoff for students in the Downtown university’s School of Communication is they get professional experience in a for-credit class.

“It’s a real win-win,” said Ms. Fiedler. “We won’t accept money. This is a community service, and one of Point Park’s missions is to serve the community.”

Before the university formalized the idea for an actual agency, students completed some work for nonprofits such as email upgrades and graphic design, said Ms. Fiedler. For the International Association of Business Communications Heritage Region, the students designed a marketing plan and brochure for an annual conference; and the Pine Community Center got needed research and a branding analysis.

When she realized how well the students’ work was received, Ms. Fiedler, who chairs the School of Communication faculty, asked Camille Downing, a public relations course instructor, to have her students develop a business plan for an agency that could deliver communications services to nonprofits.

The class ran with the idea and not only created the agency’s structure but organized next week's launch event including sending invitations, ordering food and preparing the space.

Wood Street Communications will be offered as an integrated marketing course for juniors and seniors each semester. For students seeking practicums or freelance opportunities, the agency can provide projects and client work.

“I think we will get more nonprofits than we can handle because the projects we’ve done quietly have gotten traction,” said Ms. Fiedler.

Besides providing hands-on, professional experience for the students, she believes the agency will boost their sense of giving back. “If we can instill the service mind-set, they can learn that getting to know a nonprofit and helping it can feel good.”

“This is a much-needed service,” said Deb Hopkins, executive director of Pittsburgh Cares, a Lawrenceville organization that matches companies and individuals with nonprofit projects that need volunteers.

“When budgets get tight, marketing and communications is typically one of the first places where cuts are made. … It becomes hard for agencies to sustain themselves and grow when they don’t have strong messaging. So this is really valuable.”

Joyce Gannon: jgannon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1580.

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