Strategic Communication students in Ethan Pew’s Digital Media and Analytics course got a first-hand lesson in pivoting to market need and the power of professional networking this semester when COVID-19 hit.
At the beginning of the crisis, New York Police Department Detective and current SPS Strategic Communication student James Byrne told Pew about a data research company he had worked with called Elucd, which partners with local governments and first responder organizations to provide cities with near-real-time understanding of how citizens feel about their government.
After learning of a few new projects coming in regarding public sentiment around coronavirus, Pew reached out to the company’s CEO to see how the Strategic Communication program might be able to help.
“I said to Elucd, ‘I have many amazing strat comm students, they’d be interested in summer internships, but you obviously don’t want to wait for June to figure things out. So, why don’t we try doing a project during the semester on analyzing and we’ll open the opportunity up to students who are interested in getting involved,’” Pew said.
Elucd agreed. To date, 11 strategic communication graduate students are working in self-formed teams on insights for the group, checking in daily to collaborate and set priorities.
“As the coronavirus pandemic spread to the US, Elucd recognized the opportunity to apply our technology, typically used to measure sentiment on trust and safety, to help government leaders measure perception and preparedness on COVID-19,” said Michael Simon, CEO of Elucd. “We have been collecting data nationally every day since March 11th to enable local government leaders to better respond to their communities during this precarious time. A group of students at Columbia, led by Professor Ethan Pew, proactively jumped into action and volunteered their time to provide significant value to these efforts.”
Early in the process, two of the students, Claire Abisalih and Chetna Thukral started working on daily insights around COVID-19 and sending them in a daily email to stakeholders.
I’ve always wanted to move towards research and communication for good, so this was the perfect opportunity to help in some way during this unimaginable crisis.— Chetna Thukral, ‘20SPS, M.S. in Strategic Communication
“I have a research background,” said Thukral (pictured above), who previously worked as a Senior Research Executive for Ipsos in Mumbai, India, before coming to SPS and the Strategic Communication program in 2019. “I’ve always wanted to move towards research and communication for good, so this was the perfect opportunity to help in some way during this unimaginable crisis.”
Using a sentiment analysis model, Thukral and Abisalih analyzed data about confidence in the economy, satisfaction with guidance they are receiving about COVID-19 and the understanding of potential harm from the virus.
“The students are working on various projects ranging from giving voice to our respondents by crafting their responses into stories to narrating a daily email going to over 7,000 subscribers, most government officials, on how national attitudes on COVID-19 have been changing,” Simon said. “Their efforts have and continue to make a significant difference in how governments all over the country are responding to their community’s needs."
The students’ efforts have and continue to make a significant difference in how governments all over the country are responding to their community’s needs.— Michael Simon, CEO, Elucd
Pew said that response to the email was extremely positive. Students will continue to work on a variety of projects in tandem with Elucd for the rest of the semester, and Elucd has committed to hiring one of them as a full-time, paid intern over the summer.
Pew emphasized how important it has been for students to deploy techniques they’ve learned in class for a real-time, highly important situation and to consider how changes to our world and economy open up new opportunities to deploy the skills they are learning, such as pivot tables, data analysis and data visualization.
“When things go sideways unexpectedly, there’s probably something interesting you can do that is unexpected and those opportunities exist out there,” Pew said. “What’s the out-of-the-box opportunity you can take advantage of?
If you can disrupt your habits and take advantage of how people are rethinking in this period of time, there are opportunities out there in sectors you wouldn’t have imagined before. Strategic communication is much wider and versatile than you might think.— Ethan Pew, Lecturer in the Discipline of Strategic Communication
For Strategic Communication students, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, they began to see media, hospitality, luxury and travel jobs evaporating. But Pew tried to steer students to cast the net wider for professional opportunities going forward.
“Financial services, direct-to-consumer, analyst, technology company roles are going to be fine and may be stronger than they were otherwise,” Pew said. “If you can disrupt your habits and take advantage of how people are rethinking in this period of time, there are opportunities happening in sectors you wouldn’t have imagined. Strategic communication is much wider and more versatile than you might think.”
Learn more about the Strategic Communication program here.