Joining the world of Twitter Chats!

Here's a screenshot of my #PRStudChat!

On November 16, I decided it was time to explore what everyone was talking about when it came to Twitter chats. Being a public relations student at the University of South Florida, I thought the #PRStudChat would be the best fit for me.  The chat is mostly for PR students to interact with PR professionals and help them learn more about the industry as well as connect with respected professionals in the field.

I enjoyed participating in the chat. I felt like there were a large amount of people tweeting and that is a major player in keeping the conversation going. It was great to be able to talk to not only students who are in the same position as I am, but also to professionals who have already been through school and are working in the field. Those PR professionals can pass down tips and bits of information that might help me later in my career.

During the chat I participated in, there was a lot of discussion on social media: how to monitor social media, who should be using it to represent a company, how to use it to interact with consumers, etc. Social media is growing so rapidly that soon, if not already, it will be the major focus of the public relations industry. Because of this, it is important that we who are studying to be a part of that industry understand how to use it, monitor it, and even control it.

I enjoyed my experience on the #PRStudChat overall. It was an exciting way to learn a lot about the field I am working towards as well as get in touch with those who are already there. I will try my best to make it to more #PRStudChats as much as possible!

Volunteering for the 2011 Tampa Bay Heart Walk

On November 6, 2011, I arrived at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa to volunteer for the Heart Walk. However, I had no idea where I was going, what I would be doing, or really even what time I needed to be there.

I registered online for the event and I was given an account to use to raise money for the event and spread the word about it to my family and friends. There was no information linked from this account, however, that told me what I might be doing as a volunteer or when and where I needed to go when I arrived at the event. When I arrived, I just walked around all the tents and booths set up until I found one that had a “Volunteers” sign. The lady at the booth had a long list of names of, I am assuming, volunteers, but my name was not on the list even though I had signed up online. She just wrote my name down, gave me a map of the event, and sent me to a welcome booth to find something to do. That is where I stayed for the majority of the event and passed out maps and answered any questions that people had as they arrived.

The were several companies and other organizations that had booths set up at the Heart Walk, such as Regions Bank, Walgreen’s, and Subway, which also provided sandwiches for everyone after the walk. There were large, colorful maps which outlined where each booth was set up around field on which the event was held, which I was partly in charge of passing out to people and using to show people where to go. I felt like they did a great job of encouraging people to go around to the different booths. They even had one booth set up with breakfast food items, like juice and fruit, and placed bins of chilled water bottles in front of every booth along with bowls of dog treats for all the canine walkers.  During the event, there were a lot of ways they recognized the attendees who had been personally affected by heart disease. There was a wall to write loved ones’ names on and free hats who dealt with heart disease themselves. Overall, there was a lot going on to involve the walkers as well as promote the vendors and other companies who were there.

At the event itself, the American Heart Association was working to encourage people to follow them on social media sites. They encouraged the volunteers to hand out cards with their social media information on it, such as their Twitter and Facebook accounts. They also had information about this on the maps that were handed out to every person. They put a lot of work into encouraging social media. The American Heart Association’s Twitter account (@American_Heart) now has over 15,000 followers and their Facebook page has over 117,000 likes. I do not know what these numbers were before the Heart Walk, but I would say these are pretty large numbers.

Throughout the event, each booth set up was designed to educate the people about some aspect of heart disease and how to prevent it. There was a lot of information given out to people about the disease itself as well as information on how to improve their lifestyle to help prevent it. These steps definitely helped raise awareness about heart disease. Overall, I would say the Tampa Heart Walk was a successful event. They could have done more planning to coordinate the volunteers, but everything else was well planned and executed.

USF ROTC programs grow in size and competition

This story was originally posted in the Digital Bullpen.

All three divisions of the University of South Florida’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) have noticed a new trend this semester: competition.

The Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC programs have had an increase in the number of students interested in their programs. The recruiters say the poor economy and current lack of jobs has created more traffic to military careers. As the number of students applying increases, recruiting officers can be more selective as to whom they accept.Picture taken from Wikipedia

“We have seen an up shoot in the amount of interest, especially with the economy the way it is right now. People are taking a closer look at military service,” said Lt. Steven Durst of the Navy ROTC. “But on the flip side, what has happened now is that we are much more selective. When so many people are applying, we can afford to be more selective on who gets in and who doesn’t. The quality of our applicants, I think, has definitely gone up.”

The Navy ROTC at USF is not the only one growing. When the U.S Army Cadet Command, which oversees all the Army ROTC battalions across the country, deemed USF as a “Super Host” in March 2007, they set out to grow the program to twice its size. It had about 100 cadets. Now it has 260.

“We accomplished that in a little over four years. We actually almost tripled,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Stapel, the recruiting officer for the Army ROTC. “So now it’s becoming that, instead of just trying to find someone to be a part of our program that met those requirements, we are having to almost make it competitive, like if you were trying out for a team.”

At the Air Force ROTC, the competition is a little different. Students are not competing as hard to get into the program but to become an officer at the end of four years. Each year, the Department of Defense allocates how many students graduating from the program can become officers. For example, if 100 students are allowed to become officers one year, the top 100 students with the best GPA and physical fitness scores from all across the country will be made officers. These top nationwide spots are what USF students are finding themselves fighting for.

“The interest in the program is growing because when the economy is down, our business is up. We have a lot more interest coming into the program, but due to fiscal constraints we haven’t been able to produce as many officers as we have in the past,” said Maj. Michelle Moreno, instructor and recruiter for the Air Force ROTC. “The Department of Defense hands down the budget. Our fall out is instead of producing maybe 30 officers a year, we are cut down to maybe only producing 15 or 13. So it’s not that our program isn’t growing. The interest is there. It’s how many we are able to produce.”

According to Moreno, the semester started with 100 freshman students in the program, but they are now down to 50. For this year’s seniors, 18 spots have been allocated to USF for students to have the possibility to become officers. They have allocated only 12 for next year. Moreno said this number has been steadily going down, an indication of the growing competitiveness of the program.

Altogether, the ROTC department at USF has been growing in numbers and presence on the USF campus. With more and more students attending USF as a whole, it is only logical that these programs would be growing as well.

“I think USF really understands we are here because we are a very big ROTC program,” Stapel said. “Very big.”

USF Methodist organization increases interest with free food

This Story was originally posted in the Digital Bullpen.

Since Jennifer Smith was hired as the executive director of the University of South Florida’s Crosswinds Wesley Foundation in January 2007, she has developed the non-profit organization by transforming a dormant building into a place where students are reaching out to other students by offering free weekly meals.

The Crosswinds at USF on Sycamore Drive is a branch of the United Methodist Church and is just one of the several denominational groups on campus. It holds student-led groups every night of the week that study various things about the Bible, but the most popular event is the Monday night dinner that feeds anywhere from 80 to 100 people each week. Several Methodist churches in the area support Crosswinds by providing the food for the Monday night dinners. They all take turns to either prepare homemade meals or pay to have the dinner catered by a variety of local restaurants.

Not long after arriving at Crosswinds, Smith came up with the idea of a free dinner to get students in the door.

“When I got here, I kind of had to start from scratch,” Smith said. She and a small board composed of student leaders are in charge of coming up with new ways to reach out.

“When you walk in this place, our desire is that you are treated with such hospitality and such love and kindness that you can’t help but to know that this place is different,” Smith said. “We are showing students that God cares about them on a practical level by giving them free food with no obligation, no strings attached. It’s just a place to bring your friends, come hang out, and just do something fun.”

Jennifer Bruce, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, is one of three interns working at Crosswinds this semester. As an intern, Bruce is responsible for cleaning up the facility before and after events as well as promoting the upcoming events around campus.

“Every Monday at 7:15, we all eat dinner,” said Bruce. “It’s a warm, home cooked meal. We’ve had anything from baked ziti to BBQ chicken to breakfast to, well, anything. I like the fact that we have almost a steady stream of new students at least trying Crosswinds, at least coming in and listening to worship, even if it’s just once. We are here to feed you and show you love that way.”

Danielle King, a junior mass communications major, started faithfully attending events at Crosswinds a year and a half ago when one of her roommates invited her.

“I love the community and hearing God’s word spoken,” King said. “It’s such a loving and friendly environment.”

Smith and the student board at Crosswinds are constantly coming up with new ideas to reach out on campus. She now plans to expand the free dinner operation by bringing food to students instead of waiting for the students come to her.

“In a couple weeks, we are actually going to one of the dorms and bringing over homemade lasagna just to meet some other new students and show them kindness in a practical way,” Smith said, “so keep an eye out for that.”

Tampa Bay Strong Dogs use wheelchairs to put new spin on basketball for USF students

This story was originally posted in the Digital Bullpen.
 
The Tampa Bay Strong Dogs wheelchair basketball team allowed USF students to experience playing the game from a new perspective.

The team, which is one of about 200 that compete in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, held an exhibition Sept. 27 in the USF Campus Recreation Center to promote disability awareness.

Several USF students went to Campus Rec to watch the team warm up with three-pointer and layup drills. When practice was over, some students joined the Strong Dogs on the court using spare wheelchairs provided by the team.

“I loved being able to actually go out there and play with them,” said Christine Miller, a USF student and Resident Adviser in the Andros campus dorm. “It definitely gave me a new perspective on people in wheelchairs. The experience was really awesome and inspiring.”

When not traveling, the Strong Dogs play at the All People’s Life Center in Tampa. The coed team, coached by Wayne Bozeman and Christina Garcia, is comprised of players ranging from wounded veterans to those born with birth defects.

Ronald Richardson, whose leg was amputated in 1993, has played with the team since it was created in 2008. He plays several other wheelchair sports, but said basketball is his first love. Richardson said finals give him a thrill.

“It’s a great feeling to know that if we train, we can do this and make it to the playoffs,” Richardson said. “We went to the playoffs the last two years in Denver, Colo., and that was awesome. It’s awesome just to go some place outside of Tampa. That’s one of the things about wheelchair sports: We are getting to see America in situations where we ordinarily wouldn’t.”

But for Garcia, the games aren’t the only thrill.

Garcia began volunteering at the All People’s Life Center when her younger brother, who has cerebral palsy, began attending its after-school programs.

She was working for the facility and Bozeman when the team was formed.

“People with physical disabilities have always been a part of my life,” Garcia said. “Plus, it’s fun and I love sports. It’s just a good group of guys having fun and playing ball.”

Richardson said the players provide constant inspiration.

“One player was born with mostly no hands,” he said, “but boy, can she still shoot.”