The Professional Writing Department at Francis Marion University has an unusual alliance in creating learning experiences for its students—the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
During the past year, Dr. Lynn Hanson, the head of the Professional Writing Department, has set up a working relationship with the Iditarod Education Department to allow Professional Writing students to work on documents and other projects to promote their program and events.
The Iditarod Education Department promotes the sled dog race as a theme to educate students on many different subjects, including math, science, reading and writing.
“We’re not pretending; it’s the real thing,” Hanson said.
Hanson became interested in the Iditarod sled dog race when she visited Anchorage, Alaska, for an academic conference in 2003. She visited their online site for teachers and discovered the Iditarod Education department worked with “all ages,” but she didn’t see any evidence of their work with universities.
After discussing it with Dianne Johnson, Education Director for the Iditarod Education Department, Hanson came up with a wish list of “projects for students to do real things.”
Among the projects for the Iditarod Education Department are sales messages sent to principals to encourage interest in the program as well as PowerPoint presentations to help explain the program to different audiences.
The presentations are available for download on the Iditarod’s “Teacher on The Trail” blog.
Instead of working on several smaller projects during the semester, professional writing students concentrate on a few larger tasks, with unfinished tasks forwarded to the next group of students.
“It’s been better to tackle bigger projects you can’t finish,” Hanson said.
Students can get an idea of what the work place is really like. Ultimately, the point of Professional Writing Students working on Iditarod Education Department projects is that it’s not just an academic exercise. The program provides training in the work environment with the safety net of the classroom.
“If you make a B, you’re not happy. But you’re not going to get fired,” Hanson said.
Kelly Gaskins, a senior professional writing major at FMU, was an intern for the Iditarod Education Department this summer in Alaska. Gaskins learned about the internship while talking to Hanson in the summer of 2010.
After taking Hanson’s Advanced Business Communication class, where she was first exposed to the Iditarod Education program and proved her writing skills, Hanson asked her to apply.
“She asked me to do the internship in Alaska,” Gaskins said. “I wasn’t going to say no.”
In order to do so, Gaskins had to create a writing portfolio and be approved by the Professional Writing Advisory Committee.
“The tasks for my internship vary from week to week. I started working for my internship about two weeks before I left for Alaska,” Gaskins said.
She edited the sales messages and PowerPoint presentations that the Advanced Business Communication class worked on during the spring semester in 2011.
“After getting to Alaska, my tasks changed drastically,” Gaskins said. “When the 2011 Iditarod Teacher’s Camp began, it was my job to document teachers’ experiences, guests’ presentations, and Alaskan culture.”
She also did interviews with teachers, took photographs, and guided teachers through projects during their camp, and collected data that the Iditarod Education department needs to prove to principals that the program is actually working to educate their students. Gaskins is also creating a survey for teachers to evaluate their experiences with the program.
Gaskins said that she was “given numerous opportunities” to make herself a better writer and employee while being an intern.
“Running into journalists and photo-journalists who are impressed with my work has definitely boosted my confidence,” Gaskins said.
She believes that the most important part of her internship was expanding on “the talents [she] already possesses and discovering a niche for them.”
What’s up next for the Professional Writing Program and the Iditarod Education Department?
Hanson said that she plans on asking students to make brochures for the Iditarod’s summer and winter conferences and refine the survey drafted by Gaskins. Also on the list are additional PowerPoint presentations on the Iditarod’s “Teacher on the Trail” feature, training manuals for volunteers and staff along with many other projects.