PEMBROKE — In her first outing with her new course, Social Media for Public Relations, Emilia Bak in the Department of Mass Communication at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke made civic engagement a priority.
Bak’s class partnered with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to help the local “Vision Zero” initiative to reduce motor vehicle fatalities in Robeson County.
“When we learned Robeson County was the deadliest county in North Carolina in terms of traffic fatalities per registered vehicle, we knew we wanted to help,” Bak said.
NCDOT Communications Officer Bruce Siceloff asked the class to partner on their social media piece of the campaign, and the students worked in teams on different aspects.
“Their work was mostly collaborative, but the teams did compete to create the campaign’s hashtag,” Bak said. “The winning group’s hashtag, #Hero4Zero, refers to the goal of the Robeson County Vision Zero Task Force to bring the average amount of yearly traffic deaths in the county from 42 to zero.”
According to Siceloff, Robeson County makes up just 1 percent of the state’s population, but 3 percent of the state’s traffic fatalities.
“NCDOT’s analysis of Robeson County crash data shows that we can save a lot of lives if we can change driver behaviors,” Siceloff said. “We think social media can help inspire those changes.”
On campus, anyone attending the “Brave Nation Bash” and Involvement Fair on Aug. 14 would have seen NCDOT’s table, where they could sign the #Hero4Zero pledge and pick up a vehicle or laptop sticker.
“Dr. Bak’s class did a terrific job. Three teams focused separately on drunk driving, speeding, and the widespread failure to use seat belts and car seats,” he said. “They had the shrewd idea of giving a sticker only to people who signed the safe-driver pledge, so they’re more likely to treasure it.”
Bak said it’s exciting to see the students’ work in use.
“It’s always a bonus when a class can give students ‘real life’ work experience, because this is the kind of work they will do when they graduate,” she said. “The more they can practice the better. I think it’s also validating for them to see that they have good ideas, they are creative and smart, and people will listen to them.”
At the BraveNation Bash, more than 100 students signed the pledge and received the stickers.
“Several students thanked us for starting this campaign,” Siceloff said. “One of them talked about a friend who died in a crash. A few talked about their own safe-driving habits. They were proud to hear that our social media campaign was the product of a UNC Pembroke class.”
Even the North Carolina Transportation Secretary James Trogdon had to sign the pledge to get a sticker. He is closely engaged with the Robeson County Vision Zero Task Force, which is chaired by Pembroke attorney Grady Hunt.
A version of the pledge is available online (minus the sticker) at ncvisionzero.org/join-us, and county-specific information is available at ncvisionzero.org/Robeson.
Jamie Litty is the department chair for the Department of Mass Communications at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.