Students learn how to effectively use social media in UNK capstone course

Steven McGahan, assistant director of eCampus at UNK, helped create a social networking capstone course four years ago. To show students how social media is used in business, students are required to create a social media marketing campaign for an organization or business. (Photo by Todd Gottula/UNK Communications)


Capstone courses are open to juniors and seniors, and to students within 6 hours of completion of their general studies requirements. Three hours are required of every student for general studies credit. Capstone courses are designed so students complete a project while evaluating information from more than one academic discipline.

UNK Communications

KEARNEY – Social media is constantly evolving. But a capstone class at the University of Nebraska at Kearney is teaching students how to keep up with social media and use it effectively.

The social networking class, a general studies capstone course in Computer Science and Information Technology, includes the history, politics and sociology of social media and how social media is used for marketing.

“I wanted the students to have a broader experience with social media and social networking than they have when they’re interacting on a personal level,” said Steven McGahan, assistant director of eCampus. “I wanted to show that social media was more than posting to facebook their family pictures or the concert that they went to. It’s a useful tool.”

McGahan created the class four years ago with Sherri Harms, professor and chair of Computer Science and Information Technology.

“In the past 10 years, social media is one of the biggest changes to how we operate in most careers. Most companies have a social media presence. You don’t just have to be the social media person at that company to need to know about social media. A lot of companies are using their employees as their advocates,” McGahan said.

To show students how social media is used in business, students are required to create a social media marketing campaign for an organization or business.

Students analyze an organization’s social media offerings to find out how they use social media. They then create a plan to improve the organization’s social media outreach and outcomes, including creating sample social media posts.

Jaci Saalfield, a senior nursing major from McCook, worked with a group in the class last semester to create a social media plan for Mosaic, an organization that provides services for people with intellectual disabilities.

“Social media is huge, obviously,” Saalfield said. “A business can really benefit from a social media plan. It’s beneficial for all businesses to have them.”

Saalfield and her group, who took the class taught by adjunct instructor Kelly Bartling, the assistant vice chancellor of  communications and community relations, contacted Mosaic to learn about their current social media usage. Because the agency was new in Kearney, it was interested in sharing its story with the community in more ways than through the Facebook page it was already using. The team of students created a social media plan that communicated Mosaic’s mission and let their audiences know how to get involved.

Other organizations students created plans for included the Pug Rescue of Austin, Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska, Red Cross Fort Kearney Chapter, Kearney Meals on Wheels, Kearney Family YMCA, ARC of Buffalo County, Kearney Children’s Museum, Kearney Friends, Kearney Habitat for Humanity, the Spouse Abuse Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Hastings and Great Platte River Road Archway.

Students aren’t required to share their social media plan with the organizations. However, some students worked closely with the organizations and shared their final plans.

“Students have a hard time grasping the time commitment that comes along with being in charge of a social media presence,” McGahan said.

“While they may know how to use social media and post, and they may be on several sites, they aren’t aware of the deeper connections and how they affect our daily lives both positively and negatively.”

McGahan said the aim of the class is to get students using social media platforms rather than just talking about them. Students mainly learn about and use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn in the class, as well as emerging channels such as Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, and YikYak .

“A lot of students talk about things going viral. But it’s like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. It’s just the luck of the draw as to what’s going to be popular. It’s so new that there’s no real roadmap to success.”


Source: Steve McGahan, 308.865.8341,
Writer: Sara Giboney, 308.865.8529,

One thought on “Students learn how to effectively use social media in UNK capstone course

  1. Hello
    My name is Danielle Milos. This class seems very interesting to me. Is it offered this Fall for a class? Please let me know. Thank you.

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