SIUE alumni prove a mass comm education applies in many fields2011 - By Aren Dow & Kellen Ozanich

Recycling advertising skills
SIUE alumnus Chad Hurley graduated in 2000 with no intention of finding a job in mass communications. While he was an undergraduate, he worked at a local refinery south of campus in Alton, Ill.  It was there that he developed an idea for a recycling business that salvages metal.

“How it all got started was the idea of opening it up to the public,” Hurley said.

He said he came to SIUE because he was low on funds, but knew he needed a college education. He graduated with a business major and his minor study was in mass communications.

From editing to fire fighting
Rick Welle started his journalism career out with a bang.
Securing an interview with newly appointed SIUE Chancellor Kenneth Shaw, Welle not only grabbed the entire front page of The Alestle, his story was also picked up by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Edwardsville Intelligencer. He was the only person able to get an interview.

After graduating from SIUE in December 1979 with a mass communications degree, Welle was ready to go into print journalism. Then the reality of a grim job market hit him.
“The expansion of [television] news outlets brought major competition,” Welle said. “The Globe-Democrat was the first to go, which only left one major newspaper, making the job market that much harder.”

Returning home to Collinsville, there was an opening in the fire department. Welle took the job, and 28 years later is the newly appointed fire chief of Edwardsville.

Using those tools in the field
While advertising and print journalism are not the main components of their jobs, Welle and Hurley said they still put those skills to use.

Hurley gained a fundamental knowledge of public relations at SIUE while taking courses in advertising. He began to understand the importance of branding and making an identity for a business.

“The PR angle is important in making people feel comfortable,” Hurley said. “I easily spend $20,000 a year on t-shirts; you have to be able to promote it.”

And while it may seem like telling stories in a newspaper and the physicality of fighting fires have nothing in common, Welle said his degree has helped him along the way, including emergency management and dealing with the general public.

Besides communicating with other personnel at the fire station, Welle said his writing ability has been a major component in securing several grants. The most notable of those was a $300,000 federal grant to let firefighters teach grade school children about fire safety.

“I attribute that directly to the skills I learned in mass comm,” Welle said. “[It] has been very key to my career development from the beginning.”

Despite indirectly using their mass communications skills in their respective fields, both Welle and Hurley have found satisfaction in their careers.

 “When someone comes up to you in a restaurant and thanks you for saving someone’s life, it puts things into perspective,” Welle said.

With the help of his father, Hurley opened Metals Market Recycling, a branch of Alton Materials Inc. The business is not an original idea, but it manages to beat out the competition.

“What makes us unique is that we service customers very quickly. The most a customer will wait is 15 minutes,” Hurley said. “Other places might take 45 minutes to an hour.”

Hurley’s business buys steel of all grades, cuts it down to size and recycles it. The variety of products and appliances he receives is almost as diverse as his customers. Hurley gets patrons with trailer-towing bicycles to some driving Mercedes. He caters to a large demographic, something he said he picked up in advertising.

Welle said one person who helped develop his communications skills from SIUE was former Mass Communications Department Chairman Bill Ward.

“I think a great deal of that was Bill Ward. He was a tremendous mentor and instructor,” Welle said. “We nicknamed him God because he controlled our lives in that time period.”

Welle has done more than firefighting in his career; he has worked as a union representative. Welle said preparing documents and PowerPoint presentations as a union representative has been another way his degree has been useful in another field.

As Edwardsville’s fire chief, Welle now has a renewed connection with the university simply through the proximity of the job.

Hurley has a website that provides contact, location and general information about Alton Materials at www.prairiestatesalvage.com.

For those graduating in mass communications who have the same fears about the Internet encroaching on more traditional media fields, Welle has encouraging words.

“Today, there are so many outlets, but there is still the need for people to do the research,” Welle said. “For me, that’s what I still look for. I’m looking to those who do the work.”