Around the World with UNYTS

Students organize event to raise awareness, gain organ donors

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The Spectrum

UB students are saving lives.

For the eighth consecutive year, students of Karen Swierski's COM 453 Advanced Public Relations class hosted an event in conjunction with Upstate New York Transplant Services (UNYTS) to raise awareness and gain support for organ, eye, tissue and blood donations.

Swierski, an adjunct professor in the communication department, wants her students to have the experience of working with a non-profit agency before entering the corporate world. Swierski, who has been working with non-profits throughout her career, said she would never work for a corporate company. She wants her students to feel the satisfaction of working for a non-profit like she has felt for the last 35 years.

Swierski's students started planning this event on the very first day of class, she said. A representative from UNYTS comes in the first week to explain what the company does. Swierski discusses the various parts of creating a campaign like this and the students break up into teams to embark on this semester-long campaign.

There are two main goals the students aim to reach by the end of the campaign: increase awareness of the need for donations and get people to sign up to donate.

There are currently 117,000 people waiting for organs and, for most, the only way to receive them are from individuals who have passed away and are organ donors, according to Swierski.

"Donors feel good that a piece of them is able to live on through helping another person," Swierski said.

Students get first-hand experience in the public relations (PR) field through this campaign project. Students practice making press releases, creating flyers, engaging an audience and making people aware of a cause, Swierski said. They can also add this experience to their professional portfolio for future job opportunities.

"It's a win-win for everyone," Swierski said. "Students get the experience in PR and UNYTS gets donors."

The event, which took place in the Student Union lobby on Thursday, created an easy way for UB students to sign up to donate their organs while having a good time.

Students who sign up to donate their organs get free pizza, popcorn and cotton candy, according to Erika Neuwirth, a senior communication major. Students can also sign up to take part in a game of around-the-world basketball. Winners receive a $10 Starbucks gift card and are entered to win a $50 gift card to Dick's Sporting Goods.

Michael Imperiale, a senior communication major, learned a lot about UNYTS and organ donation after taking part in the course and working on the campaign.

"I like how the organization is locally based, so most of the donations stay within Western New York," Imperiale said. "I became an organ donor because of this and I think that most people do [after taking this course]."

Imperiale, who hopes to work in the PR field after graduation, believes the course was beneficial to the future of his career. Imperiale learned the ins and outs to planning an event and about non-profit organizations.

"Before this class, I would never work in non-profit," Imperiale said. "Now, I think I would be more inclined to do so."

Learning how to build awareness about a cause is a key skill students pick up throughout this course. Imperiale said in order to convince individuals to donate, they need to be educated about the cause first.

"I would definitely recommend this class to other students - not only because of the experience but because of the professor," Imperiale said. "She teaches in a way that really motivates and engages the students."

Imperiale's team was in charge of tabling. They had to attract people in the Union and teach them about organ donation, ultimately getting them to sign up.

The tabling team made big displays with pictures and facts to inform people walking by of its cause. The team also used candy and bracelets as incentives to get people to sign up.

Ronald Girshman, a senior communication major, said the entire experience was very eye opening. Girshman too, is now an organ donor.

Girshman said each person on each team gets a specific role. One team member organized the teammates' schedules in order to split up the work. Jobs were designated based on what individual schedules permitted.

The students said they gained skills they will able to use within their careers. Everything is knowledge based, and when people know about the cause, they are more inclined to get involved, Imperiale said.

The event held in the Union was their most successful way to gain donors, according to Imperiale. The students were able to get 110 people to sign up to become organ donors at the event.

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