The VCU Social Media Institute combines undergraduate and graduate students from Virginia Commonwealth University with college students from Iraq for a one-of-a-kind social media project. Over a three-week period, the students develop and implement social media projects for nonprofit organizations in Richmond, Virginia.

The Iraqi students come to VCU through the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP), funded and developed by the United States Embassy in Baghdad and carried out by the Meridian International Center. IYLEP enables highly-motivated undergraduate students from Iraq to attend an intensive summer program at a U.S. host university. The cohort of 25 students participates in a five-week program that includes classroom instruction and active educational opportunities related to the theme “Information Technology and Media.”

The Social Media Institute, hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University, focuses on new media technology, and the application of social networking platforms for community improvement. Through classroom lecture and hands-on activities using new media tools, students will gain an understanding of the significant role social media plays in raising public awareness. Students do not need an IT background for this program, but should have an interest in creative problem solving, team work, and exploring the usage of new technology. 2016 will be the seventh year that VCU hosts this Social Media Institute.

Dr. Messner and Vivian Medina-Messner, faculty members in VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture,  are the academic directors of the program, which includes about 20 VCU students (enrolled in an undergraduate course, MASC 491 – Social Media Campaigns, and in a graduate course, MASC 691 – Social Media Leadership).

During the intensive program, the Iraqi and VCU students will hear from and discuss issues with social media experts. The social media program, based on VCU’s Monroe Park campus, will run from July 5 to  July 25, 2015. Students will meet Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for lectures and discussions about social media. On some afternoons, students will engage in project work, field trips and other activities.