A Northern Arizona University assistant professor of public relations and 12 NAU seniors traveled to Washington, D.C., recently to present the results of a five-month project to their client, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Assistant professor Astrid Sheil, who has a background in international relations and business, secured the work for Kurdistan through a former contact in Washington. The students, all from NAU’s School of Communication, presented their findings to Qubad Talabany, the executive director of Kurdistan, and his staff.

All of the public relations materials produced by the class had to be sent to Baghdad for final approval by Iraq President Jalal Talabani.

When students began their project during the first session of summer school, none of the students knew who the Kurds were. “I had no idea that the Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in the world without a homeland,” says Carly Swearingen, a senior public relations major.

The class revamped the Kurdistan web site, developed a comprehensive media database for distribution of press releases and designed and produced brochures, “backgrounders,” fact sheets and more for a new media kit.

In addition, the students wrote and produced a PowerPoint presentation on the history of the Kurds for use by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The students also solicited permission from a panel of experts willing to talk about the Kurdish issue to the media.

“Flying to Washington and getting to present our work product to an international client was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us,” said Kiku Hartman, a senior public relations student. “I learned a lot about international affairs and the war in Iraq from this class and how public relations can make a difference.”

The students also attended a 90-minute briefing with acting ambassador from Iraq, Faiz al-Gailani.

While in Washington, the students took advantage of the opportunities to tour the Capitol and the dome with U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi and to attend several committee and subcommittee meetings on the Hill.

An alumnus of NAU, Renzi rolled out the red carpet for the students. Renzi’s office also sponsored a reception for the students and Kurdistan representatives on Capitol Hill. For the students, it was the first time any of them had visited Capitol Hill. In their spare time, the students dispersed to visit national monuments, tour the Holocaust Museum and spend an afternoon in the Smithsonian Institution.

“It was a learning experience I will never forget,” said graduating senior Ricardo Beccera.

Sheil is interested in continuing to develop experiential learning classes for students.

“In addition to the fabulous experience all these students had, one of them came back from Washington, D.C., with a job on Capitol Hill,” Sheil said. “The students were so pleased with their experience they started an organization called the Student International Public Relations Agency of NAU.”

Sheil will look for additional international clients for future classes.

“The students did exceptional work,” Sheil said. “The client was pleased and intends to put the materials to use immediately. But best of all, the students came back from Washington knowing that they can play in the big leagues. You can’t put a price tag on the confidence the students gained from the experience of working for a high profile international client.”