Involvement from the first semester in major courses and in campus media are unique aspects of Drake’s SJMC. Most competitive SJMC programs at state universities require students to take a general education core during the first two years of study. Students in these other programs may not encounter courses in the major until the junior year.
Capstone experiences involving outside clients provide students and faculty with an excellent mechanism for professional review of student skills and curricular effectiveness. Recent clients for campaign capstones in the advertising and public relations programs include the National Pork Board; Anawim Housing, a charity for low-income homeowers; Pella Windows; Tone’s Spices; the Iowa community of Perry; the Young Women’s Resource Center, and the Iowa Department of Education.
SJMC advisors encourage first-year students to participate in campus media activities, such as The Times-Delphic student newspaper, Drake Magazine, Drake Political Review, DUiN, Periphery literary magazine and the Drake Broadcasting System, including the streaming campus radio station. There are also campus chapters of the Public Relations Student Society of America and Ad Club.
All majors include senior capstone courses that pull together the student’s coursework and experience into a comprehensive project that showcases professional, creative and critical thinking skills. The public relations and advertising seniors complete campaigns for non-profit clients and local businesses. The magazine and brand media, multimedia journalism and digital media production seniors collaborate on a multimedia website, Urban Plains.
The SJMC’s magazine and brand media program has achieved national prominence. The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (ACEJMC) team that visited in 1999 first termed Drake’s magazine program the strongest undergraduate sequence in the country, an evaluation reaffirmed in subsequent accreditation reports.
Magazines published by students either as laboratory projects or as independent publications routinely win national honors from the Associated Collegiate Press, the Society for Professional Journalists and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
SJMC’s electronic media facilities include a refurbished television studio and control room, podcasting booths, digital editing labs, still photography studio, viewing room and streaming campus radio station. Students can take advantage of unique and extensive opportunities to gain training and experience by working with Drake athletics to produce live sports events, including covering Drake sports events for ESPN3 and regional and national sports events at Drake stadium. Drake Communications and Marketing hires student interns to work as photographers, videographers, writers, designers and social media content providers.
Class projects in all majors offer students a chance to interact with Des Moines community members while providing service to a host of non-profit or charitable organizations. Such projects also enable students to work closely with faculty as colleagues outside of the traditional classroom setting.
Many excellent internships are available to students locally, regionally and nationally during the summer and throughout the school year. The SJMC fills hundreds of internships every year, facilitated by the SJMC career services professional. The accrediting team noted that “virtually any student who wants an internship is guaranteed to receive one,” and about three of every four internships are paid. The team found students to be enthusiastic about their internship experiences and employers were equally enthusiastic in their satisfaction with Drake students and their preparation for internship work. The School requires all students to take JMC 40, a one-credit workshop that focuses on job search strategies and resume preparation. Iowa’s presidential caucuses offer students special opportunities to work with international media and with political campaigns intensively every four years. Drake is home to the Harkin Center for Public Affairs and Citizen Engagement; the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center, international home of the Character Counts program, and Vote Smart, a nonpartisan political research organization. Drake students have been selected for nationally competitive internships offered by the American Society of Magazine Editors, Scripps Howard Foundation, Dow Jones and the Bailey Lauerman and Olson advertising internships.
This focus on applied education extends to the SJMC’s master’s program, where students have completed projects for such organizations as the World Food and Music Festival, Boys and Girls Clubs and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
The 2017 ACEJMC accreditation report cited “a hardworking, productive and dedicated faculty who are passionate about teaching”; “award-winning students who are professionally oriented and partake in multiple internship opportunities”; “the ‘Drake way’ system of advising which focuses on lifelong mentorship between students/alumni and faculty”; a focus on diversity imbued throughout the curriculum, and strong connections with business and professional communities. The Drake SJMC is the only accredited journalism program in a private institution in the Midwest and one of only a handful in the country. The SJMC's public relations program is one of only 45 accredited programs internationally.
Employer evaluations of SJMC student interns show a high level of satisfaction with student preparation, attitude, initiative and skill. As the 2005 ACEJMC accrediting team noted in its report, “Drake prides itself on having a hands-on, practical, skills-based curriculum that prepares students for careers in journalism and mass communication. Media professionals are full of praise for Drake journalism school graduates. Students are involved in student media and obtain multiple internships by the time they graduate.”
Drake students who intern with local media outlets or corporations often parlay those internships into full-time employment after graduation.
Alumni who chose not to pursue a communications career offer positive testimonials in support of their SJMC degree. Lawyers, health care professionals, retailers, entrepreneurs, coaches, corporate executives, and even a romance novelist say they owe much of their various kinds of success to the writing, reporting, problem-solving and presentation skills that came with their majors. This also includes the depth and breadth of the liberal arts education that went along with their professional education.