On April 11, students gathered with Spectrum Works on the Green to get their faces painted blue in a variety of designs, ranging from puzzle pieces to mask-like patterns. No matter the design, the message was the same: people with autism can make valuable contributions to the workforce.
Spectrum Works, an organization dedicated to job training and employment for young adults with autism, joined with Seton Hall’s Public Relations II class to make the event a reality. The students were divided into teams, each devoted to a different aspect of the campaign, from social media to student-faculty and staff outreach.
Though this was not the first project Seton Hall’s PR classes and Spectrum Works collaborated on, Public Relations II professor Devon Gifis said the experience was unique in that it allowed the entire class to work on a campaign for one organization. She added that the class is typically structured so that each group is assigned to a different organization.
“I like to use the machine metaphor when referencing the Blue Campaign,” Gifis said in an email. “Each group in the class had a particular function and we needed each group to accomplish each task in order for the event to be successful. This experience allowed the students to get a sense of what it was like to work for a PR firm.”
Sophomore public relations major Joshua Rhim, who worked on the campaign, said the experience taught him the value of teamwork while also reinforcing the importance of taking initiative.
“We definitely learned how to apply our PR skills to a more practical field,” Rhim explained. “We had to all those challenges [related to the field], work together as an entire class and I feel like that really brought us all together.”
Students in the class also helped others learn about the employment challenges facing people with autism. At the event, they handed out factsheets that illustrated these difficulties.
For example, the factsheet included a statistic from the United Nations, “80 percent of adults diagnosed with autism are unemployed, despite a desire to find employment.”
Spectrum Works Operations Coordinator Allie Whitefleet said that many of these obstacles arise from a lack of available resources.
“There (are) a lot of services in school but, when people graduate, then they are kind of left without services,” Whitefleet said. “Our organization tries to fill that gap. We wanted to do an awareness and fundraising campaign to support our work but also to spread the word that did you know there’s a huge epidemic of unemployment amongst the community of people with autism? Then, as a part of that, did you know that people with autism can work just like you and I can?”
Whitefleet said she hopes the Spectrum Blue face painting campaign will continue to spread. She explained that those who wish to take part in the challenge paint their faces, post a picture spreading the word about employment in the autism community and challenge others with the hashtag #GoSpectrumBlue.
Spectrum Works is also selling blue face paint online, with proceeds benefitting the program.
Julie Trien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.