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John Delacruz, not Textbook

Author: Lauren Chun


Professor John Delacruz doesn’t teach like a typical professor, but that’s why his students love him. John Delacruz teaches creative advertising in the Department of Journalism & Mass Communications at San José State University and he is one of CommUniverCity’s biggest supporters and advocates for community-engaged learning in creative disciplines.

“These projects are great for students because it’s all active learning, not textbook. Any live project will engage your students, even if it’s not related to their major. A project like this is the best taste of real life that you can give your students.”
—John Delacruz

John has worked with two CommUniverCity projects: Las Campeonas de Salud in 2014 and the Illegal Dumping project in 2016. In both projects, students from the advertising capstone class created a campaign for a client. Student teams met with the clients over the course of the semester to determine the campaign message, target audience and create outreach plans. At the end of the semester, the students pitched their campaign to the clients and a panel of advertising professionals. Based on the quality of the campaigns presented at the end of the semester, the panel selects one winner among the student teams. The members of the winning team receive a coveted Blue Cow Award that they can take with them as they move further into their careers. Both teams that worked with CommUniverCity won Blue Cow awards.

Las Campeonas de Salud is a group of mothers that promotes community health in the McKinley neighborhood. In 2014, Las Campeonas worked with advertising students to create a campaign focused on decreasing gang activity by incorporating messages about healthy eating and benefits of higher education. The campaign, Lucha y Logra (Fight and Achieve), made 13-19 year olds stop and think twice about their behavior and actions. The student team came up with ideas like street art, social media, and public service announcements.

In 2016, CommUniverCity matched John’s team of students with the City of San José’s Environmental Services Department. The City wanted to promote the release of the mySanJose app (designed to make it easier to report illegal dumping) but the app’s release was delayed. For students who are not experienced in dealing with client expectations, it can be hard to work with a large organization, especially a city government. Katherine Cushing, Associate Director of CommUniverCity, observed that “at the beginning of the project, the students were figuring out the basics of how to work with real clients. At the final presentation, they were the ones running the show.”

The students took the delay as a sign to increase the scope of their project to promote the City’s illegal dumping services. The team spoke to local community members around SJSU to understand illegal dumping and why it was so prominent. 87% of community residents were not aware of large item pickup services provided by the City of San José and they spoke many languages, making communication an extra challenge in campaign design.

“We learned what the community didn’t know about illegal dumping and tried to get them to emotionally connect with the issue. I liked that we developed three types of campaign ads in three different languages—English, Spanish, and Vietnamese—to reflect the ethnic diversity of our target audience.”
—Advertising student participant in the Illegal Dumping project

The SJSU students collected personal stories from the Mayor of San José and dozens of Central San José residents about personal belongings that they cared about. The central campaign message was getting people to think about their personal relationships with inanimate objects and treat them with respect. The campaign outreach involved an exhibit of residents’ stories at the artist collective Local ColorThe student team created the hashtag #BeGoodToMeSJ to promote their exhibition and campaign through social media.

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These posters and exhibition taught the students skills that could not have been taught through a textbook lecture. Experiential learning is important to give students a taste of real-life obstacles. Katherine and John co-authored an article over the summer, “Be Good to me: Advertising Students, Illegal Dumping and High Impact Experiential Learning for a Good Cause,” which discusses the illegal dumping project as an example of high-impact teaching and experiential learning; the partnership benefited all involved parties. The campaign taught the students empathy and critical thinking while giving back to the community and the City. These mutual benefits are a key part of every project that CommUniverCity facilitates.

When we asked John what advice he had for faculty members that want to get involved with community-engaged learning projects, he said,

“Collaboration is the key to making [community-engaged learning projects] work. We rarely work in a bubble within our major departments; the illegal dumping campaign was based on an assessment from the environmental services department in 2016. We almost always work with people with other skills that we need.”
—John Delacruz

CommUniverCity is very open to collaboration with faculty members looking to get involved with community-engaged learning. We have partners in many departments at San José State University including Urban & Regional Planning, Journalism and Mass Communications, Sociology, Industrial Studies, Engineering and more. If you’re interested in working with us, don’t hesitate to reach out. Send an email to and let us know what kind of project you want to create.

About John Delacruz

A passionate educator, image-maker and stand-up paddle boarder with a love of the ocean and the environment that drives his teaching, service, creative and research activities. A European native who landed in California in the summer of 2012. Innovative and creative forms of engagement inspire John’s classes. Creative and strategic thinking, ideation and pushing the boundaries of traditional communications form the backbone of his curricula where students solve real world problems in ways that enhance their employability in an ever competitive advertising world. Integrated solutions, advertising for good, user experience and engagement are key areas of interest that drive the tasks he sets his students.

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