By Tina Kelso

JU Communications Junior

Jacksonville University senior Lauren Tidwell, Editor-in-Chief of The Aquarian, remembers how walking the halls of the Art Institute of Chicago transformed her vision for the magazine from a decorated work of art to a neutral vessel to display the artwork and emotion of others.chicagocomm trip4.jpg
Senior Misha Khan, business manager for The Navigator, bounced between a myriad of information-packed workshops, developing plans on how to better market the paper to both advertisers and students.
Junior Ethan Wellhausen, executive producer for the Dolphin Channel, produced a time-sensitive video project on the streets of an unfamiliar metropolis, learning first-hand how to be flexible and budget his time.
They were all part of a cross-country trip to the heart of downtown Chicago to attend the 91st annual Associated Collegiate Press and College Media Association’s National College Media Convention, the largest in-person exchange of information and ideas in the collegiate journalism world.
Selected by the Jacksonville University Media Board, these students had leadership roles in JU’s campus newspaper The Navigator, literary and arts magazine The Aquarian, television broadcasting station The Dolphin Channel and student radio station JU 108.  
Dennis Stouse, coordinator and professor for the JU Department of Communication, has been bringing students to national conferences since 1975.
 “It provides a great amount of information that we simply just cannot present in the classroom,” he said. “There are sessions on just about every conceivable topic that deals with student media, and the students have a smorgasbord of opportunities from which to choose.”chicagocomm trip1.jpg
Funded in part by the university’s Student Media Fund, the conference fits into JU’s new Quality Enhancement Plan called “ECHO: Everything you do comes back to you.” ECHO is a three-credit graduation requirement beginning in 2013-14 that challenges students to apply what they’ve learned in class to real-world situations, through internships, study abroad, service learning, undergraduate research and/or independent study.
The Chicago convention, boasting the world’s largest yearly gathering of college journalists and advisers, lasted five days last fall and offered more than 100 workshops and information sessions tailored specifically to particular media, opportunities to submit work for evaluation and competition, and onsite graduate school representatives. 
Throughout their daily seminar shuffle, students met, interacted with and observed the work of other student journalists, field professionals and professors from around the country.
“A lot of times that’s how some of the greatest advances in anything take place, by seeing what other people are doing, reevaluating what you are doing yourself and maybe even building upon things other people have done,” said J. Keith Saliba, Ph.D., assistant professor of communications.
In the Windy City, students and faculty took advantage of exploring a location in the midst of a mass-media metropolis. The third-largest media market in the United States, Chicago operates two major competing daily newspapers and has a station presence of all of the major national broadcasting networks, Stouse said.  
“It really brings to life what they learn in the classroom,” said Annmarie Kent-Willette, associate professor of communications. “I think anytime you experience something, it makes it more meaningful. When you can take this concept that you’ve studied and researched and written about and then apply it to your own journalistic experiences, it’s worth that much more.”
After convention hours, the students completed projects documenting their experiences and took to the streets of Chicago, exploring the city’s cultural destinations.
"I went to Wrigley Field and interviewed a guy there about the history of the field," said Adam Jordan, senior and fall 2012 Dolphin Channel associate producer. "Wrigley Field is the second-oldest baseball park in America, so that's a very historic location. If it had happened anywhere else I would not have had that chance."
As a group, the students and faculty visited The Art Institute of Chicago, which houses a substantial collection of famous historic and contemporary works in its three stories.
“Getting to see all of the works of art I’ve been studying for years was an experience I’ll never forget,” Tidwell said.
Kent-Willette applauded the university’s investment in the students.
“It all just comes back. In return, the students come back and create work that benefits the university and helps the students develop portfolios that can lead to competitive internships and to entry level jobs in a career that is competitive but not impossible.”
Returning to JU, students came armed with notebooks filled with pen-scrawled ambitions.
“We all learned various areas in which we could improve, our specific areas,” said Khan.
Students transferred ideas to action, educating fellow staff members who did not attend and working on new, inspired projects.
“The students came back with so many ideas that they’re implementing,” Stouse said. “As opposed to the adviser of the media saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ the students come back with the ideas and say, ‘This is what we want to do.’”
The communication department plans to participate in the ACP/CMA convention again in October 2013, which will be held in New Orleans.
“Everybody benefits,” Saliba said. “The individual students and faculty who attend benefit, but I think the larger student body benefits by it because there is a better student product coming out as a result.”