What started as a class project in W. Sierra Hoffman’s graduate course, PR 665 Public Relations Campaigns, is now a live social media campaign for Down Syndrome Indiana (DSI), a nonprofit organization that provides services to families touched by Down syndrome.
A student in Ball State’s master’s degree in public relations and a self-employed photographer, Hoffman developed DSI’s Get to Know Me campaign, with her gripping photographs and stories, to fight negative stereotypes of children and adults with Down syndrome.
The stories hit close to home for Hoffman. Before the campaign and six months into graduate study, Hoffman gave birth to a son, Rush, with Down syndrome.
Short comments, shares, and likes on the DSI Facebook page show support from people around Indiana. But the campaign has had an impact on Hoffman as much as anyone.
"I've gone from being hopeful about my son's future to knowing without a shadow of a doubt that, like those we've highlighted in this campaign, he will be able to accomplish anything he sets his mind to,” Hoffman says.
She graduated from Ball State with a photojournalism degree in 2008 and always knew she would pursue an advanced degree. At first, she considered communication studies or media law. Then she got a flier in the mail that piqued her interest.
“The more I learned about public relations and Ball State’s online master’s degree program, the more I fell in love with the idea of earning my advanced degree in PR,” Hoffman says.
Pursuing the master’s degree in an online and accelerated format has allowed Hoffman to gain real-world experience while maintaining her lifestyle as a full-time mother and freelancer. On the accelerated track, students can complete the degree in 18 months, or three semesters, instead of a five-semester track, which most students follow.
About a year into the program, Hoffman shared her concepts for a social media campaign and class project with the executive director of DSI, who liked her ideas so much she offered Hoffman an internship to implement the campaign. The campaign, which appears on the DSI home page and Facebook page, will run through the end of 2013.
“I can say with certainty now that I will use my degree to work for a nonprofit after graduation—hopefully one that advocates for the inclusion and acceptance of people with disabilities,” says Hoffman, who will graduate in December 2013.
Hoffman says the online classes are engaging because they encourage discussion with peers across the country.
“I think I know more about many of my fellow classmates in this program than I ever did when I was in a physical classroom,” she says, “many of whom are currently working in the PR field all over the country.”
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