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WVU Reed College of Media receives $250,000 AEP Foundation grant to expand community branding initiative

Rita Colistra standing in front of two large television screens.

WVU Reed College of Media associate professor Rita Colistra is the principal investigator for an AEP grant that will fund students working in West Virginia communities to tell and "sell" their stories.

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West Virginia University Reed College of Media students will work with local communities to tell and “sell” their stories thanks to a grant from the American Electric Power Foundation.

The $250,000 grant supports WVU’s Community Branding Initiative, BrandJRNY. Students enrolled in specialized upper-level strategic communications courses will develop integrated communications campaigns for selected West Virginia communities within AEP’s Appalachian Power service area. Students will hone skills in campaign research, strategy, community engagement, budgeting, innovative storytelling and creating promotional materials, while they discover and decide how best to brand each community.

”The AEP Foundation is proud to support the WVU Reed College of Media to help communities promote unique regional qualities,” said Dale Heydlauff, president of the AEP Foundation and senior vice president of AEP Corporate Communications. “The Community Branding Initiative is a rare opportunity for college students to not only learn the art and science of building a positive image but also to execute it. The project is truly a win-win for communities and students.” 

College of Media Associate Professor Rita Colistra serves as Principal Investigator on the grant and will lead the project.

“The AEP Foundation grant allows us to build upon our previous branding and engagement work in West Virginia communities, while providing innovative, experiential-learning opportunities for our students,” said Colistra. “This funding supports our efforts to build community branding curricula and gives us the resources to work with communities for a longer time period, which will improve the chances for sustainability and provide additional training and support to improve brand implementation.”

In addition to preparing students for professional careers, the project will teach them the importance of civic engagement and expose them to the challenges and opportunities facing rural communities.

Students will participate in site visits, focus groups and town hall meetings to build relationships with community members, while identifying the unique challenges they face. After each campaign is completed, students will train key stakeholders about how to maintain and manage their new brand for long-term sustainability.   

In addition to training, communities will receive branding tool-kits with a brand standards guide outlining visual elements, slogans and creative strategies to implement. Other deliverables may include websites, visual/audio storytelling pieces, rack cards, social media accounts, billboard campaigns, media coverage, digital advertising, community events and branded merchandise.

This project and curriculum builds upon a pilot project the College successfully completed last year with a grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation that resulted in branding campaigns for the communities of Matewan, Grafton and Whitesville.

The AEP Foundation is funded by American Electric Power and its utility operating units, including Appalachian Power. The Foundation focuses on improving lives through education from early childhood through higher education in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and by meeting basic needs for emergency shelter, affordable housing and the elimination of hunger.   

The grant was made in conjunction with the WVU Foundation, the non-profit corporation that generates and provides support for West Virginia University.



CONTACT: Allyson Kennedy, Reed College of Media

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