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Experience the UnClassroom.

Afghan student dancing.

The options are varied and seemingly endless. You could promote a play, spread the word about the state’s natural gems, work with the world’s leading gaming technology company, or even market a program that helps Afghan women enroll in American colleges.

Where can you do all this? In the University’s UnClassroom, which is not really a place, but a state of mind.

We have to produce real deliverables, we face real deadlines and things go wrong. There is no comparison to my other classes. I haven’t taken anything like this in my four years here. ~Julianna Kurucz

In the UnClassroom, a concept launched by URI’s Harrington School of Communication and Media, each “class” is matched with an organizational partner from the non-profit or social service industry that serves as its “client.” Throughout the semester, students work with the professor and other industry professionals to do a substantive real-world project for the client, according to Professor Daphne Wales.

“We have to produce real deliverables, we face real deadlines and things go wrong,” said Julianna Kurucz ’14, who completed Wales’ UnClassroom course.

“Every UnClassroom course approach is different, but the concept is the same. Students work with professionals within the communications and media industry to develop high-quality materials, bridging their academic experience to real problems within a variety of organizations,” Professor Wales said.

Wales’ class was paired with The Initiative to Educate Afghan Women, a Providence-based non-profit, and students co-created a communications company within the classroom to produce a variety of content for a major re-design of the initiative’s website, including use of social media to reach constituents. Working in teams, the students provided “a solid foundation for web restructuring and creative design, which has become Phase I for the initiative’s final website plan and launch,” said Wales, whose next class will focus on Phase II of the same project.

Although they had an assigned classroom and time slot, much of  the students’ work in the course took place outside the actual classroom. They interviewed Afghan women students visiting from other universities, made videos to tell their stories, and wrote numerous pieces about the organization. The course culminated with a fully student-produced, elegant event showcasing the beauty of the rich Afghan culture and the organization’s work to change Afghan society through its women.

“I chose to join this class because I thought it would be completely different from any other class I’ve taken, and it was,” said sophomore Christiane Harrington. “It has given us opportunities to apply the skills we’ve learned in college and to ask ourselves, ‘Is this what I see myself doing in the future? Is this what I love to do?’ I’ve always loved to write, and this solidified my passion.”

Nathan Sloan, a junior communication studies major, said the class prepared him for the business world because he and his classmates worked for a real client. “In this class, I might go over my work 20 times because it is my passion. I proved to my fellow students and our client that I learned and produced,” said Nathan, who landed an internship as a result of his work in the class.

The catalyst for this particular Unclassroom project was Nancy Stricklin, URI assistant to the provost for global strategies, who was intrigued by the Afghan women’s initiative and wanted to get the University involved. “We want to help expand our students’ global competency and cultural understanding,” Stricklin said. “But not all students can get on a plane to study abroad. This is a wonderful way to get an international experience without going abroad.”

So if you like an atypical classroom experience, perhaps you have an UnClassroom state of mind.

Pictured above: Afghan student Ellaha, celebrating at the UnClassroom final event.

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