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K-State Today

February 1, 2022

JMC professors publish research on first-gen students and diversity in advertising industry

Submitted by Kennedy Mounce

First-generation college students are just one of many underrepresented minority groups in the workplace, specifically in the advertising industry. To garner a better understanding of this deficit, Katie Olsen and Danielle LaGree, assistant professors of strategic communication in the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communication, studied the unique perspectives of this demographic and their college experiences that develop a bridge into professional life. Their manuscript, "Preparing for a Diverse Ad Industry Future: Advantages and Challenges for First-Generation College Students," was published in Advertising and Society Quarterly.

"First-generation college students navigate a unique path that sets them apart," Olsen said. "Without the support of family or guardians who attended college, these students have to be more self-reliant and proactive on many levels, ultimately creating their own support system in order to be successful. The resulting actions and experiences provide the advertising industry with an opportunity to recruit and retain employees equipped with skills that non-first gen students may not have."

Through online surveys of college students, Olsen and LaGree found that levels of support and knowledge of career exploration opportunities were higher in non-first-generation college students compared to first-generation college students. But when it came to the emotions experienced when discussing career exploration, the tone of being overwhelmed and anxious was the same throughout both groups. After analyzing personality characteristics and career adaptability among survey participants, Olsen and LaGree concluded that first-generation college students tend to be more creative and open-minded than non-first-generation college students.

The advertising industry lacks the first-generation college student population to keep up with the pace of innovation that has been set by Generation Z.

"Our research shows that first-generation college students are more open to new experiences and more career adaptable in comparison to non-first-generation college students, two characteristics that are important for success in the advertising and PR industry," LaGree said. "Hiring and supporting first-gen graduates will serve the industry well, as they offer diverse experiences and perspectives that are informative for developing creative and messages that resonate with our increasingly diverse society."

To learn more about the team's research, contact Olsen at olsenk@k-state.edu. This research was conducted in collaboration with Alec Tefertiller at Baylor University.