By: Stephen Hawn
Michigan State University’s Department of Advertising + Public Relations is led by a distinguished faculty of researchers and instructors. However, not every professor is a traditional academic or in the tenure-stream. “Professor of practice,” a title appearing more regularly at MSU and other universities, designates instructors who got their hands dirty in the field before and during their time in the classroom. These instructors draw on experiences from their careers to help students start their own. With the department professors of practice, AD+PR students get to learn from pros who have walked the walk.
There’s more than one path from the field to the classroom. Some professors of practice, like Dr. Kristen Wilkerson, find teaching early on in their careers. After graduating, Wilkerson and a friend started a full-service advertising agency that grew from two to 30 people in three years. She then decided to pursue teaching, earning a Ph.D. in advertising from the University of Texas. Wilkerson’s teaching career began with online courses at West Virginia University, where she was then tasked with developing a new online graduate program.
Wilkerson brings hands-on experience from a full-service agency, and years of both designing and teaching online curriculum. Although she has now spent more time in education than advertising, Wilkerson knows the bottom-line for communications careers.
“You have to be a good writer and communicator. I know the skills you need to have and have actually done those. I can talk firsthand about how an advertising agency is run. Students are hungry for that sort of information,” said Wilkerson.
In the new normal of online learning, unique blends of faculty and classroom experiences, like Wilkerson’s, give AD+PR students an edge while at MSU.
Lou Schiavone, an advertising professor of practice, took a different path before joining MSU. Starting as a copywriter, Schiavone went on to work for major agencies, including McCann-Erickson then Ogilvy, where he worked as a creative director on award-winning campaigns. After 30 years of challenging himself with creative work for major brands, Schiavone tried something he considers more intimidating than pitching campaigns to executives: teaching college students.
“I thought I could never stand up in front of a classroom,” said Schiavone.
A one-semester job turned into two, and Schiavone says he now spends his time teaching students copywriting and creative campaigns.
Schiavone says his experiences don’t just influence how he teaches: they are how he teaches.
“I spent lots of years as a creative director and was responsible for the output of a large number of people,” said Schiavone. “I take the skillset I had with people reporting to me and use it in a different way with students.”
Schiavone shows students how to improve and evolve their work the same way he did as a creative director, often working with real clients.
“There’s no dividing line between what I did as an advertising creative and in the classroom,” said Schiavone.
That immersive experience is part of his goal of giving students a sense of the real world before graduating.