Every Public Communication major at the University of Vermont will complete CDAE 224 before they graduate. Taught this academic year by Community Development and Applied Economics (CDAE) Lecturer Benjamin Dangl, the senior Public Communication Capstone course is a chance for students to apply the tools and skills they have learned over the past four years while completing a semester-long service-learning project with community partners based primarily in Vermont.

The course benefits both the community partners and the students. Organizations receive assistance with everything from newsletters and websites to marketing and social media strategy, and students get to practice and utilize their skills in a client-based model. Throughout the fall semester, students worked remotely with a variety of local and regional nonprofit organizations, such as DearTomorrow, The Media Factory, and Migrant Justice.

“A lot of the work through college exists inside the classroom, but service-learning courses are set up to help us apply the learning in the real-world”, said Elena Tall, a public communication senior who partnered last fall with DearTomorrow, a global storytelling project created to address climate change. “The majority of the class focused on working with a client, communicating back and forth with the team, and creating a final product. That's where adaptive learning and growth came from.” 

Tall and her team helped the organization update their core communication products and channels, and create consistency in aesthetics and branding to help the organization expand its reach and impact. Building on their strengths, the team created new promotional materials and style guides along with a revamped social media strategy. For Tall, her passion for environmental justice and interest in social media marketing and design made this project an impactful experience.

“It really just aligned with my values and what I feel like my strengths are, and everyone else within the group [felt] that way as well. It was just probably the smoothest semester-long group project I’ve ever had,” she said.

More locally, another group of students partnered with The Media Factory, a maker space for media creators in Burlington, VT. Community members collaboratively produced a remake of the film “Castaway” during the pandemic. It was up to CDAE 224 students to create a plan with the organization to promote the film, which included finding a way to showcase it without having people gather in person due to COVID-19. Their solution was to create a bingo game that viewers could use while they watched, to have it be a collaborative, fun, and engaging way to watch it remotely with family and friends.

Another group of students partnered with Migrant Justice, a local, migrant farmworker-driven human rights organization based in Burlington. Migrant Justice advocates for Vermont's migrant farmworker community, largely those working on Vermont dairy farms.

Last fall, Capstone students worked on Migrant Justice’s Milk With Dignity campaign, an effort to ensure migrant workers’ rights are respected on dairy farms and within the larger dairy supply chain. Students focused in part on showcasing and promoting the work and results of the Milk with Dignity campaign across media platforms.

“Pairing Public Communication students with Vermont’s incredible community organizations in a service-learning project can be a powerful educational experience,” CDAE Lecturer Benjamin Dangl said. “When students put themselves out there and produce material for the public, it raises the stakes and creates an opportunity to learn by doing. That’s one of the benefits of Public Communication service-learning classes. There are a lot of exciting ways students can apply what they learn with organizations right here in Vermont while benefitting the wider community.”


Dani Agin