This past March, journalism-public relations students from Western Washington University combined communication strategies with new insights about sister cities as part of a public diplomacy capstone project. The class, Public Relations Cases, equips senior PR students with advanced skills and concepts related to strategic and civic communication, particularly in the contexts of social and international impact. The class is offered as part of the public relations major within Western’s journalism department.
As part of their individual, end-of-quarter assignments, students were tasked with selecting one of the sister cities affiliated with the Bellingham Sister Cities Association (BSCA). They subsequently developed proposals for cross-cultural and bi-national communication activities and events intended to strengthen the mission of the BSCA and foster goodwill between Bellingham/ Whatcom County residents and citizens from around the world.
The sister city proposals included:
- A joint U.S./Finland alpine skiing competition involving Mt. Baker Ski Area in Washington State as well as the Ojberget resort in Vaasa as host mountains. The slalom event proposal was developed by public relations student Chauncey Gummere. Based on Mt. Baker’s existing Legendary Banked Slalom, the event would bring together mountain sport enthusiasts from both countries and would build on the winter sport traditions of Bellingham and Vaasa.
- A collaborative baseball event involving the Bellingham Bells and their collegiate baseball counterparts in Tateyama, Japan. Developed by student Sam Pearce, the proposal aims to foster cultural affinity between Japan and the U.S., highlighted by the diplomatic exchange of not only sport but also culinary cultures. The event builds on the unprecedented fan interest from the 2023 World Baseball Classic, which saw Japan and the U.S. compete in the championship game.
- An advocacy and fundraising campaign by student Sophie Kashman involving Bellingham’s Lighthouse Mission and Hogar de Cristo in Punta Arenas, Chile. Both organizations strive to break the cycle of homelessness and support those experiencing it in their relative jurisdictions. Kashman’s proposal connects social challenges in both communities, such as homelessness, to the larger issue of global poverty.
- A recipes exchange program between the second-grade classes at elementary schools in Bellingham and Tateyama, providing young students with new cultural insights about the sister cities concept but also providing a venue for teacher and parent involvement. The recipes exchange proposal, developed by public relations student Riley Young, also provides a window into the food production practices of both Japan and the United States, such as regional farming and fishing traditions.
According to class instructor and BSCA director Derek Moscato, the student projects fostered new understanding of the larger sister cities mission, but also allowed Western students to think creatively about using strategic communication to advance public diplomacy within a grassroots approach. “Our students immersed themselves in the potential of forging even greater bonds between Bellingham and the world,” he said. “At the same time, the project provided a canvas for communication creativity, global learning, and the fostering of international goodwill.”
Contributed by Derek Moscato