Social media help college students forge professional opportunities

Students can establish important professional connections with social media.
Students can establish important professional connections via social media.

Social media already are ingrained in most college students’ personal lives, and now some college professors are using social media as a tool to help students create professional connections and build valuable workplace skills.

At Purdue University, Mihaela Vorvoreanu’s public relations students used social media to stay connected outside of class and to network with public relations professionals for outside learning experiences and for potential employment or internship opportunities.

Vorvoreanu, a professor of computer graphics technology and organizational leadership and supervision, gathered data about her students’ experiences and feedback and is currently compiling those data into a study.

Students used Twitter, wrote blogs, read and commented on blogs, and heard from guest speakers via Skype, she said.

Vorvoreanu examined learning, motivation, teacher relationship, and career success and how social networking helped students in each of those areas.

She said students indicated through surveys and questionnaires that social networking helped them learn public relations concepts more thoroughly and put them in better positions when it came time to seek employment.

“Once I learned the basics about how [public relations] professionals used social media, I was able to teach myself even more on my own by reading blogs and reaching out to [public relations professionals],” said one student, whom Vorvoreanu quoted during an Aug. 27 webinar. “I was more prepared on my first day at my internship because I had already become familiar with these things.”

“This shows us what’s really valuable in terms of students’ learning experiences,” Vorvoreanu said.

In terms of career success, Twitter had the highest impact on helping students establish relationships with potential employers and other public relations professionals. While Vorvoreanu said she thought reading other professional blogs would have the next-highest impact, hosting guest speakers via Skype took the second spot.

Students indicated that they often taught supervisors or other colleagues how to use the social networking tools.

“Career success is important, but we see the phenomenon of reserve mentoring—students are more in control and are in higher-ranking positions and are mentoring their co-workers” because of their use of and familiarity with social media, Vorvoreanu said.

“It would be interesting to see if these tools work the same not only in other public relations and communications classes, but also in biology, chemistry, and engineering—can these tools still be applied, and would this model still apply?” she added.

“A couple of years ago it was really hard to get students on Twitter,” she said. “The tool itself is easy to use, but the culture we’ve developed on Twitter is a bit like a foreign country, and it takes a while to understand what is Twitter and what is appropriate.”

Laura Ascione