SCORE mentor Ed Lockman (second from right) stands with Bethel students (left to right) Stephanie Kennedy, Calvin Ray and Aaron Charles following their final presentations of the semester.

When Aaron Charles, a communication major at Bethel College, heard that he’d be taking a class where he’d have to meet with local business professionals every week, he felt a little apprehensive.

“I thought, ‘wow, this is a big commitment,’” said Charles after finding out the parameters of the public relations strategies and implementation course he took with Associate Professor of Communication and Department Chair Elizabeth McLaughlin, Ph.D., last semester.

The course provided Charles and his classmates the opportunity to partner with local business startups, listen to their marketing needs and develop ideas on how to address those needs.

“It wasn’t necessarily what I was expecting,” Charles said of the course, “and I wasn’t sure how it would go; but it was a really good experience.”

Charles partnered with Javier’s Bistro, a 10-month-old restaurant that offers American cuisine with a Puerto Rican fusion on South Bend’s south side.

“Aaron picked us,” said Amy Jo Hintz-Klosterman, Javier Mendez’s assistant at the bistro. “We needed a to-go menu, which was a modified version of our in-house menu. [Charles] listened to what we wanted and he had some unique ideas.”

From February to April, Charles was able to create a to-go menu, work on the restaurant’s website, help create a social media strategy, and begin work on a portfolio for the restaurant — all things the start-up restaurant likely wouldn’t have been able to devote time to themselves.

“The class organized our thoughts and concepts and we were able to get a plan, which they executed faster than I expected,” said Hintz-Klosterman.

While this is not the first time McLaughlin has had her class partner with local businesses to provide practical experience in public relations, this is the first time students have individually met with businesses, a partnership made available through Michiana Senior Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE).

“When [McLaughlin] called and said she was looking for an avenue to start an internship, I took her students to my clients (Javier’s Bistro, Beyond Zen and the Emporium Building), and helped them with grand openings or whatever marketing they needed,” said Ed Lockman, a Michiana SCORE mentor and incoming chair of the chapter.

“So, I think everybody wins,” Lockman said. “It’s some of the first steps these students take into the business world. I think the student is seeing that this is real life here.”

At the end of the semester, Lockman returned to Bethel to hear the students give their final presentations and provide valuable feedback that they could pass along to the businesses.

All in all, the course turned out to be “a wonderful learning experience,” said McLaughlin, whose ultimate goal is to develop a multi-departmental, student-led communication firm at Bethel.

“We’re trying to do everything we can think of to help students get real experience before they go out into the workforce. This class is part of that whole vision,” she said.

Yonika Willis is a former South Bend Tribune staff reporter and an AP English teacher at Clay High School in South Bend. She is a freelance writer for the Bethel Magazine.