This spring, the Ford School’s Leadership Initiative tapped into in-house talent to host a series of communication workshops. Former reporter and current MPA student Caroline Sweeney (MPA ‘23) led a workshop series to help her colleagues better communicate about the impact of policy—from better storytelling to working with the media.
“We’ve heard from students about their desire for more communications skills training, and we know these skills will be critical to help them enact change within organizations and in community, ” said Jennifer Niggemeier, associate director of the Leadership Initiative. “We’ve also talked about leveraging the often specialized skills and experiences many of our students bring to the Ford School community. Caroline’s background and interests—and her ‘how can I help?’ approach to her time at Ford—made this an obvious choice for piloting such a student-developed and led workshop series.”
Sweeney drew on her ten years of experience as a reporter and media coach to help design and implement the sessions. “I was really honored...It was an open secret that I was a journalist before coming to the Ford School and that communications is where I want to go, so I think they saw some potential to support students,” she said.
Among the 15 graduate and undergraduate participants, many were new to communicating about policy issues. “It was really cool to see people come in prepared and ready to learn and talk and discuss,” Sweeney said. “Students were curious, which I enjoyed. People didn't seem afraid to step in and say, ‘This is a new area for me.’ They attacked it with curiosity, instead of with caution.”
Workshop 1 focused on people, place and policy. Students discussed the basics of policy communication and how to approach different audiences. Workshop 2 centered on storytelling and what makes a good story. Workshop 3 showed students how to keep storytelling at the forefront of communication, no matter the setting. The final workshop provided tips for public speaking and helped students understand how to work with the media to share policy analysis with a wider audience.
“The workshops gave us all experience in an area that is often left out of policy education—communicating the policy,” Olivia Bradish (BA ‘23) said. “Caroline did such a great job breaking down each step of the communication process and teaching us how to effectively communicate in all types of situations, like conversations, job interviews, or even to stakeholders.”
While the series of communications workshops was the first of its kind at the school, the Leadership Initiative hopes to continue offering workshops that highlight the expertise and skills of students in the community.
“I learned that I enjoy teaching people about communications and breaking down that barrier between the communications space and people who may not be comfortable in it,” Sweeney said. “And breaking through that wall, allowing people the opportunity to see behind the scenes, and access it. To teach people how to take control from the start for the things that they really care about and the policies they want to implement."