Crisis Communication Hedge Fund provides motivation for graduate student research

Students and industry professionals hold a large check
Students from the winning team of the Hedge Fund competition are congratulated by their professor, Yan Jin (fourth from right), and industry professionals who supported the program and judged the presentations. The winning team, which presented the top research paper, will be supported by funds going toward further development for research. (Photos: Sarah E. Freeman)

Crisis Communication Hedge Fund provides motivation for graduate student research

April 24, 2024

The Hedge Fund: Venture Between the Hedges is providing more than just motivation for students in the Graduate Crisis Communication course at Grady College. The winning team’s proposal will be supported with funds going toward further development for theory-practice integrated research that provides new insights for the industry.

The Hedge Fund is a new “Shark Tank” style pitch competition with industry experts serving as the judges and investors for the winning team. The student teams are comprised of students in Yan Jin’s graduate Crisis Communication and Strategic Conflict Management course.

“The Hedge Fund experience is based on graduate student teams’ competency in crisis communication strategy development and research proposal innovation” said Jin, the C. Richard Yarbrough Professor in Crisis Communication Leadership and director of the Crisis Communication Think Tank. “This competition format is giving our graduate students the unique experience of learning by doing and competing based on teamwork and understanding of industry trends.”

Students were divided into five teams and were given a hypothetical scenario of an international music festival coming to Athens and attracting up to 50,000 people. Each team was tasked with creating a comprehensive crisis communications strategy for the event, as well as a research proposal where they identified a key research question and pitched a new research project. Both project parts needed to include competencies learned throughout the semester including, but not limited to, planning, preparation, mitigation, response/management, short-term crisis response assessments and long-term crisis impact measurements.

Yan Jin addresses audience.
Yan Jin describes the process of the presentations to the industry professionals and students.

The teams presented their projects to six industry professionals, including Jason Anthoine (ABJ ’89), head honcho of Jason Anthoine: Employee Experienced. Anthoine is a member of the Crisis Communication Coalition and the Grady College Board of Trust. It was Anthoine who suggested creating the competition-style event and worked with Jin to encourage other industry professionals to support the program.

“For us and others, I think the best day in Athens is when professionals like us can be here to help students like you discover who you already are,” Anthoine (ABJ ’89) said, addressing the students before their presentations.

The winning student team included Sara Castro, Madison Imparato, Rongting Niu, Grace Short, and Ansley Zhao. They focused on the role of media training for spokespersons and their proposed research would examine expressions and visual cues needed by spokespersons to elicit the most positive effect on the reputation of the company, as well as which visual cues would induce the highest perceived credibility toward messages.

This team will use their winning funds to carry out their research project under the direction of Jin and the Crisis Insights & Analytics Lab at the CCTT.

“Alumni support for student projects like The Hedge Fund is important in creating the distinct edge of excellence, creating innovative signature experience our students will have at UGA Grady College,” Jin continued. “This is especially critical for advancing graduate program excellence – theory-driven and science-based research takes resources, among which investment in research funding support is pivotal.”

Jin said programs like this prepare students for taking on crisis communication leadership roles in the future.

“Such investment is based on vision, demonstrated competency, and the potential of making a difference for tomorrow,” Jin continued. “We are grateful for the support and inspired by the industry leading lights.”

Jeff Battcher of Battcher Communications was one of the industry supporters of the project and as well as a judge. He knows the students benefitted with the opportunity to think critically about crisis communications and hone their presentations, but he also benefitted from the day.

Battcher said: “It’s so interesting to talk to young people nowadays because it makes my brain work differently and makes my brain improve.  It’s interesting to see what they want to present and learn about, and it makes me think, ‘Do I need to learn about that? What am I missing?’ Being involved with them is fascinating and I love it. They are very smart and enthusiastic.”

The award to support the student research was pledged by the industry professionals. Special thanks to the following people who supported this project: Jason Anthoine (ABJ ’89), Jason Anthoine: Employee Experienced; Lauren Banks, Zeno Group; Jeff Battcher, Battcher Communications; Chris Berger, Advocate Health; Jennifer Bowcock, RealPage and Elizabeth Rasberry (ABJ ’94), WestRock.

Students and industry professionals pose for picture.
The graduate students from the graduate Crisis Communication and Strategic Conflict Management course and the industry professionals who supported the Hedge Fund competition.

Author: Sarah Freeman,