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  • Leveraging Pop Culture as an Engagement Tool

    July 30, 2018 | By NACE Staff

    Branding & Marketing
    A group of college students in their classroom.

    TAGS: best practices, branding and marketing, operations, nace insights

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    In January 2015, Clark House Publishing began a three-year case study to find out how pop culture can be used as a student engagement tool on college campuses. It surveyed more than 2,000 college students ages 18 to 24 from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Roosevelt University, Elgin Community College, Kishwaukee College, and Northwestern University, and conducted focus groups in the Chicagoland area to answer the following questions:

    • How are college students being engaged inside the classroom?
    • How can pop culture be used as a tool to engage students?
    • What pop culture activities and best practices are colleges using to engage students?

    Results of the survey—published in “The Pop Culture Engagement Case Study” in June 2018—include disparities between student interest in pop culture vehicles and their use as teaching and engagement tools. For example, although 71 percent of students indicated an interest in music, only 19 percent of colleges use music in the classroom. The same is true with movies: 68 percent of students noted their interest in movies, however, only 17 percent of colleges use them in the classroom.

    “I don’t want to say pop culture is overlooked, but many parties have not explored the potential of pop culture as an engagement and teaching tool,” says Marques Clark, special programs manager at Waubonsee Community College and president of Clark House Publishing. “That’s where the opportunity is. In general, more and more colleges, universities, and employers are starting to explore the idea of integrating pop culture within their own strategies.”

    Many schools are bringing pop culture into their classrooms. Clark’s report highlights several; among them is a course at the University of Louisville exploring the various religions of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” how religions function in this fantasy world, and their real-world significance for contemporary theological challenges. Another at the University of Idaho is called “Pop Culture Games,” in which students play smartphone games such as Pokémon Go and live-action games, such as Humans vs. Zombies to learn about leading active lifestyles, building teamwork, and exploring their communities.

    Waubonsee Community College has introduced pop culture into its own on-campus recruiting program in various ways. For example, in the past, the college had employers come onto campus and set up in common areas to promote their available opportunities.

    “Now, we incorporate the pop-up event concept,” Clark explains. “A pop-up event in pop culture is basically opening up a small shop to sell merchandise for a short period of time. We took that same concept and put employers right in the environment of the academic programs. In our automotive technology department, we have employers come right into the auto tech garage, and share information on the company culture and career paths within the company.”

    Clark offers other ways for career services to incorporate pop culture into its programming, services, and communications, including:

    • Sharing virtual job shadowing videos from employers and/or interns to highlight positions within a company.
    • Building programming around themes in pop culture, including music, movies, and television shows. 
    • Using Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat "stories" to provide updates from the career center.
    • Working with employers to create customized internships designed by students aimed to meet the learning objectives set by students.
    • Holding virtual career fairs.
    • Incorporating gamifying (friendly competitions) into programming.
    • Blogging and podcasting to provide informational content.

    “Many of the interests students have are related to what is current and popular, whether it’s social media, reality TV shows, movies, or gamification,” Clark says. “Pop culture, in general, is relatable and serves as a connection point between generations, cultures, ethnicities, and genders. It’s fun, always changing, and everyone can participate in it. In a sense, it promotes an inclusive environment.”

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