GCU's social media program continues to post healthy growth

The College of Arts and Media's first eight Bachelor of Arts in Social Media graduates this spring included Harmony Kocis (left, pictured with theatre graduate Leslie Apolinar).

Think critically and creatively.

College of Arts and Media faculty at Grand Canyon University wanted those ideas to be defining concepts for the Bachelor of Arts in Social Media program, which graduated its first eight students this spring.

“We were approached by our advertising agency employers, saying they were pleased with our web design and advertising design students,” shared Chair of Digital Design Sheila Schumacher. “However, they were splitting their workforces to respond to the different skillset needed by a social media content creator, and they asked if we would build a pipeline for that.”

The program, which focuses on social media campaigns, blogs, websites, email marketing and the like, reflects the college's name change in 2022 from the College of Fine Arts and Production to the College of Arts and Media.

According to a January 2024 article by Forbes, digital marketing, which includes such platforms as websites, email, SEO and social media, is one of the fastest growing in-demand skills for 2024, with professions in digital marketing set to see a 6% increase in growth by 2032. The report also noted that the industry will be worth $1.5 trillion by the year 2030.

According to Sprout Social, that growth has been sparked by consumer trends, with an estimated 5.17 billion social media users worldwide and social media advertising spending projected to reach $219.8 billion this year.

College of Arts and Media social media instructor Alexis Kern oversaw the program’s first graduating class. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

The College of Arts and Media introduced its Bachelor of Arts in Social Media program in fall 2020 with four students. By the second year, that number had almost quadrupled to 30 students.

“Social media is the way everything is being expressed, especially in the business world today,” said social media professor Alexis Kern. “Everyone is absorbing things digitally. Having a major that’s just focused on social media is super important because that is where a lot of the jobs are.”

Ellen Kenninger, a spring GCU social media graduate, expressed how social media connects people – one of the reasons why she is pursuing it as a career.

The social media account for the College of Arts and Media's Bachelor of Arts in Social Media program. (Contributed photo by @gcusocialmediamajor)

Her table at the Senior Design Showcase in April included tea bags lined up in a basket, teacups and teacup stickers that pointed to the theme of her social media design portfolio.

“My mom’s side of the family is from England. A lot of our traditions growing up stem from there. A lot of décor in our house is English-inspired. To me, tea and social media both connect people,” Kenninger said.

Initially, she and other social media students learned how to advocate for themselves using online platforms, but once a campaigns course was introduced, they were taught how to advocate for others, too.

The course challenged students how to run a social media campaign, said photo and video professor Adele Linton. Students picked a made-up company or a real company and were assigned to create a campaign for that client that ran throughout one semester.

“You would learn what their problems were and how we could use social media to fix it,” Kenninger said. “They (the companies) were very grateful because they didn’t have anyone to do their social media, and it was a side thing they didn’t have time for. It was rewarding.”

Students also took a social communities course. Social communities are virtual gatherings in which individuals with similar interests come together to share ideas or for support.

In the College of Arts and Media's social communities course, students were tasked to create these online communities to get product feedback, said professor Emily Lockwood.

"To me, tea and social media both connect people," said spring GCU social media graduate Ellen Kenninger. (Contributed photo by @ellyonthedaily)

“Companies will spend money to build a focus group to understand their product, their customer and what they need to make things better," Lockwood said. These groups provide a direct connection to the leader of the community, the brand and the business. It is a more efficient way of communicating with customers and followers, instead of posts being the only form of interaction.

This was a perfect fit for social media graduate Harmony Kocis.

“I’ve always been into social media,” she said. “I started out with YouTube, and I always wanted to be behind the scenes of it, not necessarily in front of the camera.

“GCU has taught me how to talk to people. We were put in classes with a lot of graphic designers, and making those small connections with people has led to job opportunities.”

An attendee looks over the portfolio of senior social media designer Harmony Kocis (right) during the Senior Design Showcase in April. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

There's also a reputation management course, about how to maintain a company's reputation, said professor Kern. Students had to think about who the stakeholders are and who the messages should go to.

“Reputation management is thinking about the strategic side of it, not just creating the content," Kern said.

Courses such as campaigns, social media communities, reputation management and even data and analytics show the amount of work that goes into creating a successful online presence and growing a business through it.

As professors and graduates have expressed, the program is more than a simple post.  

The College of Arts and Media is anticipating 45 social media freshmen for the fall after graduating its first social media majors in the spring. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

"It has been a very positive track from where we started to where we are now," said professor Paige Lock. "There is always a learning curve for students, but it’s been awesome working with them and seeing them start to get it."

The program continues to grow beyond those first four students. The college is anticipating 45 incoming social media major freshmen for the fall, bringing the projected enrollment to 80.

“There were a lot of challenges, but good challenges that forced me to grow into a better designer, creative and artist,” said social media graduate Adelei Nykamp. “A lot of projects pushed me out of the comfort zone."

She added, "It feels really awesome to be able to say we were the first graduating class with social media.”

GCU staff writer Izabela Fogarasi can be reached at [email protected]

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