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Moonhee Cho

Cho’s research interests lie in public relations and strategic communication management in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors. Prior to obtaining her M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Florida, Cho worked as a fundraiser and public relations practitioner at Partners for the Future Foundation, the charity arm of the American Chamber of Commerce in South Korea. Cho obtained her undergraduate degree from Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea.

Recently, Cho received a Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) award from the Central Asia University Partnerships Program, UniCEN, and has since launched the first-ever COIL program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Cho was looking for opportunities to connect her students with international experiences when Rachel Rui, Director of the CGE Office of Asia Engagement and Office of Communications, told her about COIL.

“Unfortunately, not many of our students have experience in the international setting,” Cho said. “So I really look for any opportunity to help our students to expand their horizon. … I was looking for some resources, and then I was linked with Rachel, and then we had a really good conversation and she introduced a COIL program. So I was really hooked.”

As part of UniCEN, Cho is one of 10 U.S. faculty members partnered with 10 faculty members from Central Asian institutions in countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Cho in particular is collaborating with Nukus State Pedagogical Institute in Uzbekistan for the program. For UT students, COIL is incorporated into one of Cho’s classes at UT, PRBL 370 – Public Relations Cases, a core course for public relations students.

Students participate in the first session of the COIL partnership between UT and Nukus State Pedagogical Institute in Uzbekistan

To launch the COIL program — the first-ever of its kind at UT — Cho, alongside faculty from Uzbekistan, carefully crafted a series of engagement activities for the students from both universities, informed by everything from the countries’ time differences to cross-cultural communication to climate change. The extensive work culminated in the program’s first session on Feb. 19, a Saturday here in Knoxville.

The partnering NSPI students study English, and synchronous COIL sessions for both UT and NSPI students are conducted in English — across a time difference of 10 hours.

“We don’t have any problems with communicating in English,” Cho said. “That’s a plus, and then our students, by nature, they really love talking and communicating.”

The partnership is focused on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and particularly Goal 13, climate action. The course aims to teach students skills for communicating about sustainability and climate change, while also fostering cross-cultural communication, understanding and learning in a bi-continental classroom.

Cho says that lessons on sustainability are particularly prevalent for students, as younger generations are more likely to be aware of the implications of climate change.

“Our students, like our Gen Z and the millennials, they’re really engaged in the environmental issue,” Cho said.

One of the class’s central goals is to bridge the gap between knowledge about climate change and actually taking action to combat climate change. Even students who understand the severity of climate change often aren’t prepared to communicate about it, Cho says. This phenomenon could be similar among the target audiences that these future public relations professionals are approaching.

“Even though an organization’s target public, such as consumers, employees or even community members know that issue’s really critical … they see a huge gap between their thoughts and then their behavior,” Cho said. “So we are kind of addressing that issue in this class — how can we make people become aware about the situation? How can we help them embrace sustainable behavior?… We really are celebrating a Vol spirit.”

Part of this education includes analyzing different organizations’ communication, both in English and Uzbek, on sustainability issues. The online nature of COIL, which Cho suggests other faculty members explore in the future, offers students a unique ability to interact with students from other cultures, as well as a more affordable alternative to studying abroad.

Cho hopes that this cross-cultural communication will allow her students to venture outside of their comfort zones and gain international understanding in order to be valuable members of a globalized world.

“I really hope our students will really make an impact on the society … and in the environment as a whole,” Cho said.

Cho expressed her gratitude to the Center for Global Engagement for informing her about COIL and UniCEN.