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How I Discovered the Links Between Culture, Arts and Learning in My Strategic Communication Seminar

By McKenna Keller, Strategic Communication Senior

McKenna Keller is a senior majoring in Strategic Communication in the Department of Media, Film, and Journalism Studies.In the fall of 2014, as a wide-eyed University of Denver freshman, I attended my first concert at the Robert and Judi Newman Center for the Performing Arts. A new friend, living two doors down from my dorm room, invited me to join his family for a performance by the Yale Whiffenpoofs a cappella group. I relished in the act of dressing up, feeling as mature as an 18-year-old just learning to live on her own could. We walked into the ornate concert hall, took our seats and allowed ourselves to be captivated by the performance.

This fall, rounding out my education as a senior Strategic Communication major at DU, and readying myself for the next life transition, I found myself once again captivated by a performance at the Newman Center. This time it was a concert by the musical duo Black Violin. This show was equally moving but couldn't have been more different than the one I had seen as a freshman. Black Violin was culturally explosive, illuminating and dynamic. Two vastly different experiences, no one more beautiful than the other, were tied together via the tradition, passion and cultural eclecticism that the Newman Center exemplifies.

I attended the Black Violin concert as part a ten-week-long project in my Strategic Communication Seminar – the capstone class for students majoring in Strategic Communication. In this class, taught by professor Nadia Kaneva, I had the unique opportunity to take on the Newman Center as a client and act as a public relations professional. With a team of fellow students, I conducted audience research, wrote a strategic communication plan, and collaborated with an organization whose message and mission mattered to me.

Our project hinged on one goal – to develop a closer relationship between DU students and the Newman Center. College is a time for learning, growing and delving into new experiences, all of which can be supported by the arts. The Newman Center offers front row seats to the types of cultural and artistic experiences college students should be seeking out. Venues of this caliber are not available on all university campuses and cultural learning is an important part of meaningful growth as an individual.

As Nathan Willers, Assistant Director of Marketing and Communication for the Newman Center, told our class, "The arts are a foundational aspect of our culture. Artists shape and reflect our perspectives as a society and help us understand and create beyond current circumstances."

So we set out to communicate this sentiment to young people right here on the DU campus and encourage them to take advantage of all that the Newman Center has to offer. After all, who knows college students better than college students themselves? We spent the quarter drafting copy for promotional materials that would appeal to college-age audiences, creating content that was visually attractive, and selecting communication channels like social media and events like DU's Winter Carnival. We met students where they already were in order to foster engagement with artistic experiences so critical but so frequently absent from a typical education.

My teammates and I presented our campaign ideas to members of the Newman Center's leadership team and we gained valuable feedback. It was refreshing to see an organization like the Newman Center, which is so steeped in tradition, looking to involve students and young people within our society and proposing new conversations about where it's been and where it's going. Today's young people will be the ones to carry on cultural traditions into the future, so it was inspiring to be a part of bringing these conversations to the next generation. Not only did we develop applicable and marketable public relations skills, but we also learned about culture and society through the Newman Center as a vehicle.

How fitting that my time at DU would be bookended by two vastly different performing arts experiences, tied together by an indescribable feeling at my core, tugging at my heartstrings the way only live entertainment can. At the same time, the seemingly juxtaposed yet cohesive experiences of attending a performance at the Newman Center and working on a communication campaign for that organization capture the culturally eclectic and unique educational experience I have had. How lucky I am that my educational institution values cultural intelligence to that degree.

McKenna and her teammates present their campaign ideas to representatives of the Newman Center for the Performing Arts. From left to right: McKenna Keller, Dana Sapiro, Julia Dacy and Gabriella Gonzalez.