It is the first day of Thursday classes on a cool January afternoon at the heart of the University of Georgia’s campus. Students are filling stadium style seats on the second floor of a Miller Learning Center classroom. One co-instructor is troubleshooting inevitable first-day-of-class technology plagues as late arrivals scan the room for an available seat which will be their accustomed space on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the following eight weeks.
Chatter is scarce. Nothing is familiar. That is the very reason this particular one-hour course exists.
A friendly greeting breaks the silence.
“Hello and welcome,” says Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College.
The same inviting pleasantry used in conversation with communications icons like Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Ernie Johnson Jr., Carolyn Tieger, Dick Yarbrough and thousands of members of Grady College’s legacy now addresses a group of pre-Grady students embarking on a journey to become communications leaders. This is their first look at their future home.
Davis co-teaches the course with Parker Middleton, Grady College’s executive senior director of strategy and engagement. Between them, they have more than 50 years of experience in journalism and academia.
“The name of the class is career explorations, but we like to call it the real world,” Davis continues with his opening remarks to the students. “It is the real world of Grady College.”
This is students’ first interaction with two of the chief administrators who will be helping them become the next generation of dynamic storytellers.
“Connecting with students at this stage is so important,” Middleton said. “We want them to feel a part of Grady and eagerly jump in.”
“Everybody remembers the fear of not knowing where to go or even who to ask,” said Davis. “We have demystified the place.”
Enrollment for the course has grown every semester and is up to 117 in spring 2019. It has also been a catalyst for increased volunteer involvement at Grady.
“The earlier we can give people these opportunities, the earlier they will develop,” Middleton said. “They show leadership, join clubs, volunteer at Newsource, write for the Red & Black and more.”
For two months, students learn about the operations behind one of America’s most prestigious journalism and mass communication programs and meet passionate alumni eager to offer their time and expertise.
The face time with pre-Grady students is also a valuable resource for Davis and Middleton as they help connect a new era of young professionals to employers.
“Companies come to us and say they want to get close to this demographic,” Middleton said. “They want to know Gen Z, they want to know Gen Y and millennials. This is a way to be really close to them and hear what they are thinking. The learning goes both ways.”
In a field that foreshadows through teases, ledes, hooks and headlines, Davis smiles and expresses a weighty statement intended to energize the students on the semester ahead, years upcoming and career awaiting.
“I think this is one of the most fun classes that I have ever been involved in.”