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College of Media launches strategic communications Innovator-in-Residence program

Innovator in ResidenceImagine walking into a small, dark tent. To the left are trash bags full of personal items; to the right, sleeping bags bundled on the ground. For some people in southern West Virginia, this is what home still looks like seven months after floods ravaged their communities.

This spring, students in a strategic communications capstone course at the West Virginia University Reed College of Media are using virtual reality and 360° video to create empathy for flood victims and inspire action to help them.

The project is being led by the College of Media’s first Harrison/Omnicom Innovator-in-Residence, Ben Roffee. Roffee is digital director at RYOT, an immersive storytelling affiliate of The Huffington Post.

“VR is a great way to immerse people within your story, even if the context is far from their own reality,” said Roffee. “Immersive storytelling gives strategic communicators the ability to leave an emotional impact that may not have been achieved through other storytelling means.”

Students in the course will focus on assignments to promote donations and volunteer efforts in communities still affected by the floods. They will help produce the virtual reality stories and integrate them into their strategic communications campaigns to target audiences.

“I was really drawn to the advocacy aspect of the (capstone) course,” said Hollie Greene, strategic communications junior. “I love that we’re going to have the opportunity to experiment with innovative forms of storytelling while also helping flood victims.”

Advertising CEO Dr. Tom Harrison founded the Harrison/Omnicom Professorship, which will now fund the visiting innovator program. Harrison says he is excited about this new direction.

“The Innovator-in-Residence program will draw uniquely talented and creative collaborators to the College to develop cutting-edge curricula and prepare students to own and embrace the world,” Harrison said. “I am thrilled that the Harrison/Omnicom Professorship can underpin this brilliant effort.”

Assistant Professor Geah Pressgrove is the on-site professor assigned to the class. She says that content creation and storytelling have become essential tools for strategic communications professionals.

“At the College of Media, it is our responsibility to teach foundational principles and apply them in an area where change is constant,” said Pressgrove. “In strategic communications, storytelling is an important way to engage audiences and build affinity for a product, brand or cause.”

The College of Media launched its first Innovator-in-Residence program in 2014 with a grant from the Knight Foundation. That program brought innovators to campus with a journalism focus to lead students in experimental projects and help cultivate a culture of innovation at the College. The program is a cornerstone of the College’s Media Innovation Center located in the new Evansdale Crossing building.