TU students partner with Towson Chamber of Commerce on survey

By Rebecca Kirkman on March 8, 2021

Local partnership gives students real-world experience in public relations, supports Towson community

Emily Wannen portrait in front of mural
Mass communication major Emily Wannen ’21 serves as a research assistant for a partnership between Towson University students and the Towson Chamber of Commerce. (Photo: Alex Wright)

What types of businesses would you like to see in Towson? What do you love most about the community, and what would you like to see improved?

A survey released March 8 by the Towson Chamber of Commerce gives local students, residents and business owners the opportunity to answer these questions and more.

Created in partnership with Towson University mass communication students, the survey aims to help the chamber better understand the members of the community it serves and to plan future events and improvements.

It also gives seniors in associate professor Melanie Formentin’s public relations campaigns class a service-learning opportunity that makes an impact in their own community.

“This is our capstone course in the public relations track, and we run it like a mini PR agency,” says Formentin, noting that the class was divided into groups based on the audiences the survey addresses—students, residents and business owners. “Students spend most of the semester doing research and then put together a proposed plan the client can implement.”

Mass communication major Emily Wannen ’21 was hired as a research assistant for the project with support from a BTU Partnerships grant and serves as a liaison with the three groups of students and Towson Chamber of Commerce Director Nancy Hafford.

“I've learned how much goes into conducting your own research and how many edits you have to go through but also the process of working with a real client,” says Wannen, who attends monthly chamber board meetings with Formentin and is responsible for monitoring, compiling and interpreting the survey results. At the end of the term, she will present the results at a chamber board meeting.

“I really enjoy the research side of mass communications and working on this project has helped me discover that,” adds Wannen, who hopes to work in PR for the nonprofit sector.

Not only does the partnership provide real-world experience and undergraduate research opportunities for students, it also provides mentorship opportunities for students working closely with faculty and community partners. 

“Emily is strategic. She picks up on things quickly and is really creative with good ideas,” says Formentin. “Our relationship is very collaborative. I see myself as guiding her, and we talk through how to maximize what we’re doing.”

The Towson Chamber of Commerce has a long history of partnering with Towson University students on projects, “but never in a greater way that we are now,” says Hafford, who has been director of the chamber for 16 years.

From residences to mixed-use and commercial developments, more than $1.7 billion is being invested within a 1/4-mile radius from the intersection of York and Burke. Much of that has to do with the proximity to TU.

“Really, this is the students’ survey,” Hafford says. “We gave some direction, but they came up with 99% of the content.”

The survey data will allow the chamber to work with developers, business owners and local government to shape Towson’s future based on the community’s desires, Hafford says.

“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” she adds. “The voices that respond to this survey will shape the future of our community, and TU students and the university are a big part of our community. We're a college town. The input students give today will help make it a better town for further generations of students coming to TU.”