SMU Honors Project Benefits Southwest Airlines

Shown are (left to right) students Catherine Richards, Ashley C. Moss and Colleen Barrett; Southwest Airlines President Colleen Barrett; student Sara Hofeditz; Professor Maria A. Dixon; and students David J.Garcia, Danna Berger and Dale Vaughn.

Southwest Airlines has become the beneficiary of an honors class project at Southern Methodist University, where students delved into the company's changing internal communications needs and made recommendations that altered its strategy for relating to its employees.

“From your arrival, you adopted us; taught us more than we taught you; illustrated a warrior sprit, a servant’s heart  and a fun-loving attitude," Southwest President Colleen Barrett recently told the students studying Corporate Communications and Public Affairs in SMU's Meadows School of the Arts.

The year-long Mustang Consulting course, under the guidance of Professor Maria A. Dixon, provided the students with hands-on experience in learning and implementing communications theory. The course structured the class as a consulting firm charged with using the concepts of organizational communication to solve Southwest's concerns.

The students' task of researching and assessing the changing Southwest's communication needs took them beyond the classroom and into the offices, flight bases, air space, and boardroom. They traveled to Baltimore, Chicago, Phoenix, Orlando and Oakland to survey flight attendants. In addition, they engaged in in-depth interviews, actual flight attendant training, and meetings with Southwest's executive team. The student consultants were graded on professionalism, research and results, said Dixon.

The recommendations they presented to Southwest’s CEO Gary Kelley, President Barrett, and their executive team has led to changes in the airlines’ employee communication strategy. Under the arrangement with Southwest, details of the recommendations cannot be made public.

"Though you never asked about employment," Barrett said, "we secretly evaluated you throughout our relations and collectively determined that you’re indisputably suited for our Southwest family. Your enthusiastic attitude; individual pride; and infectious energy remain with us indefinitely."

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