Digital media specialist teaches students valuable technology skills

Fall 2015 edition


This semester, students learned InDesign, Photoshop, Adobe Premiere and WordPress during JTech Fridays from Heather Lawrenz, the J-School's digital media specialist.


This semester, students learned InDesign, Photoshop, Adobe Premiere and WordPress during JTech Fridays from Heather Lawrenz, the J-School's digital media specialist.

It’s a common feeling among recent graduates: walking into their first job and feeling unprepared or realizing they don’t have all the skills needed for the job.

The William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications' new digital media specialist, Heather Lawrenz, is working to address these issues for J-School students. Lawrenz has created JSchool Tech, a series of training sessions in computer applications, to give students the sought-after technical skills they will need in the workforce. However, Lawrenz says new graduates should abandon the thought that they will have all the necessary knowledge for their first job.

A 2014 Bentley University study found 66 percent of recent college graduates say unpreparedness is a real problem in the workforce, but they aren’t blaming their colleges for this feeling of unpreparedness; they’re blaming themselves.

“No one feels ready for it,” Lawrenz said. “No one feels ready for their job when they walk in the first day, no matter what that job is.”

There simply isn’t enough class time to teach students all the skills and programs they’ll need to know for their career. This is where Lawrenz is helping to fill the gap. 

"There’s a lot of stress and pressure and expectations that students have now that I didn’t have in college," Lawrenz said. "I provide them with someone they can come and ask questions and not feel like they’re going to be in trouble because they don’t know. To say ‘I don’t know’ makes you very vulnerable."

JTech Fridays are one of the new resources Lawrenz has brought to the school. She holds workshops every first and third Friday of the month to teach programs and skills students might not have much exposure to in the classroom. This semester, workshops have included lessons in WordPress, Adobe Premiere, InDesign, Illustrator and web analytics.

Students said they like JTech Fridays as a way of learning needed skills in an environment outside of the classroom. 

“I love going because I like to learn quick and like to get the basics down fast,” KU journalism student Bentley Leonard said. “Heather gives us the instructions, and we get to mess around and learn by doing instead of watching.”


“There’s a lot of stress and pressure and expectations that students have now that I didn’t have in college. I provide them with someone they can come and ask questions and not feel like they’re going to be in trouble because they don’t know. To say ‘I don’t know’ makes you very vulnerable.”

—Heather Lawrenz, digital media specialist


KU journalism student Jacquelyn Null has been working with Lawrenz one on one and during JTech Fridays. With some help from Lawrenz, Null has gained skills in InDesign and WordPress that have allowed her to highlight her work in the form of a creative resume and online portfolio.

“This is definitely valuable to students in the J-School because there aren't any classes that really teach students to use Adobe products and programs,” Null said.

A 1995 graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Lawrenz said that although she was completely prepared for the writing aspect of her first job, the technical work with programs like Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign were a work in progress.

Lawrenz’s first job was teaching journalism in Hays, Kansas. But she was tasked with much more than teaching news writing skills. She was expected to be proficient in Photoshop, Illustrator and QuarkXpress, and be able to teach graphic design.

She said she had a basic knowledge of some of these programs, but she spent the summer before her first year in Hays learning all she could about these programs.

Lawrenz said every day is different for her, but she wants to provide whatever students need. She said she enjoys doing the teaching without the grading, and she also realizes that the opportunity to learn and ask questions without pressure is beneficial for students.

The JSchool Tech website offers resources for students and alumni. Lawrenz said she knows people need to be able to find resources easily and get back to work, so she put together tutorials that would be easy to understand and quick to absorb.

She hopes in the future to be able to do webinars and workshops through which students, alumni and professionals can come together, share notes and build their skills.

Lawrenz said recent college graduates – as well as anyone entering a new job – should seek out resources for themselves, rather than expecting someone to show up at their doorstep with everything they need to be successful. Lawrenz said that graduating from the classroom into the professional workplace shouldn’t be an excuse to stop learning: Continued learning is the only way to be successful.

“It is no longer a time when having the piece of paper is enough. ... If you don’t do this, you’re going be left by the side of the road. So if you’re not motivated enough by your own personal curiosity, if you’re not motivated by a desire to be in control, be motivated by the fact that you aren’t going to be successful unless you do those things.”

– Kayla Schartz is a senior from Ellinwood, Kansas, studying news and information.