Industry experts inspire students to create positive change at communications forum

With all eyes fixed on the 2016 presidential election, there could not be a better time for seasoned politicians, journalists and election experts to come to George Mason University and discuss the importance of communication in politics.

“Political and Policy Communications: Impact, Ethics and the Art of Persuasion,” the annual student industry communications forum, took place Oct. 25 in Dewberry Hall on the Fairfax Campus. More than 100 students studying communications, political science and government attended the event.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley gave the keynote speech, in which he talked about his experiences as mayor of Baltimore, particularly during the start of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Baltimore officials had launched a campaign called “Believe” to motivate residents to care about their communities and neighborhoods plagued by drug use and crime, while encouraging addicts to seek treatment, O’Malley said. The campaign would not have been successful without great communicators.

“Communication is the essential discipline when it comes to governing and leading others,” O’Malley said.

The former governor advised George Mason students, particularly graduating seniors, to be “fearless and persistent. Life is too short to resign yourself to being bored at what you do.”

The event also included a thought-provoking panel of industry experts talking about the presidential election and political transparency. New York Times White House correspondent Michael Shear served as moderator, and participants included Mark McKinnon, co-creator of Showtime’s “The Circus”; Torie Clarke, senior vice president of global corporate affairs for SAP Software Solutions; Linda Qiu, PolitiFact staff writer; Arzu Tuncata Tarimcilar, director of infrastructure investment firm GAMA Holding; and Emily Vraga, political communication professor at Mason.

“We don’t care if you’re Democrat or Republican,” McKinnon said. “We just want some problems solved.”

“This [election] has been a great wake-up call. We can get past this,” Clarke added.

True to an audience full of young communication majors, Twitter timelines were flooded with quotes and takeaways from the panel. The panel participants concluded with one overarching thought: Today’s voters are over the way the rules have been written.

“I think the forum was important for communication majors because it really was a wake-up call,” said Christian Reid, senior communication major. “We play a pivotal role in tomorrow’s future.”

Students also were invited to a speed-mentoring session with top professionals in strategic communications. Helen Row, senior communication major, said this was her favorite part of the event.

Jim Moorhead, author of “Instant Survivor,” gave Row a signed copy of his book and advice for writing a book of her own. “Having the opportunity to ask him questions about the process was not only an incredible experience but also incredibly valuable,” Row said.

McKinnon shared his experience and insight from his career of advising five successful presidential, primary and general election campaigns with the audience. He described the current political climate as an “era of disruption” and noted the importance of having smart young people committed to positive change.

McKinnon said he hopes the industry experts at the event “inspire students to pursue their passions, never be comfortable and embrace failure.”

The annual communications forum is sponsored by the Department of Communication’s Insight Committee, a board comprising experienced leaders in professional communication.