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PRSA Goes to School . . . Twice!

Nichelle Bolden’s Shroder HS class with tour guides Emma Parlette and Asa Featherstone

Written by Suzanne Boys, Educator Associate Professor, Department of Communication, University of Cincinnati.

Suzanne is the director of the department’s Public Relations Program and faculty sponsor of UC Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), UC Influence, andCommunicats.

This fall,  Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Cincinnati Chapter organized its second annual PRSA Goes to School event. The goal of this event is to expose local high school students to the profession and practice of public relations. Michelle Hopkins (Mercy Health; Cincinnati PRSA Diversity Chair) organized a team of local PR pros to visit Shroder High School for an interactive presentation on October 15. The one-hour session began with quick introductions by all of the pros, including JD Brewer (Hamilton County Job & Family Services), Marisa Dockum (Gyro Cincinnati), Mackenzie Pierce (Color-Nine), Nikki Williams (American Cancer Society-Cincinnati), and me. Then, Julie Calvert (Cincinnati Convention & Visitors Bureau; Source Cincinnati) talked the students through her work promoting this year’s MLB All-Star Game.

After she recounted her experiences with the event, the students were asked how they would promote a similar event. There was lots of playful energy in the room as the group of journalism students brainstormed ideas for event promotion. The students clearly understood how to promote a big event across a diverse region, and generated more ideas than they could share in the final debrief. It was fun to watch the group take Julie’s ideas and run with them.

UC students Asa Featherstone and Emma Parlette present their campaign while PRSA President Shara Clark looks on.

To augment the high school visit, I proposed that PRSA also invite that same journalism class to visit a PR class at the University of Cincinnati. Both Michelle and Nichelle Bolden, the Shroder journalism class’s teacher, agreed that would be a good extension of the program. So, on October 23, Nichelle’s class boarded a bus and made their way down to main campus. The plan was for them to sit in on my PR Campaigns class, take a campus tour, and eat lunch on campus.

I asked my students to host the Shroder students in three campaign-specific discussion groups, each one focused on the UC students’ campaign projects.

The UC students briefed the visitors on their campaigns, then moved into active brainstorming session.

The goal of this session was to engage both UC and Shroder students in generating potential tactics for each client. As the discussions unfolded in three different rooms in McMicken Hall, Michelle Hopkins, Shara Clark (Miami University; Cincinnati PRSA President), and I had the privilege of listening in on three very different discussions.

There was a serious group, a playful group, and a critically engaged group, each one generating interesting  tactic ideas.

After a quick debrief in a conference room crammed with fifty UC and Shroder students, two Communication seniors (Asa Featherstone and Emma Parlette) led the high schoolers on a campus tour. Since it was the Friday before Homecoming, there was lots of activity on campus for the high school students to experience.

Students actively critique a client organization’s on-line presence

In reflecting on the campus visit, Michelle Hopkins noted: “Some of these students had not set foot on a college campus before this visit to the University of Cincinnati. What is especially exciting for me is that we are helping to show these students what is possible in their lives, and this goes way beyond an introduction to careers in PR. By providing the opportunity for them to visit the University of Cincinnati we are ultimately planting a seed that could change their lives.”

Shara Clark agreed, saying: “One of the goals for PRSA is promoting the profession as a whole, and PRSA members have always been great about mentoring new professionals and college students. This program has given local professionals the opportunity to extend that mentorship one more level. Exposing high school students to opportunities in the communication field opens up a whole new career path to them that they may not have known existed.”

For my part, watching Bearcats host a group of high school students really touched me. It was a rare moment where I got to step back and watch my students act as ambassadors for their department and their university. I was also impressed by how articulate, playful, engaged, and insightful the Shroder students were. These are the type of students I want filling my classes in the coming years. The exchange left me hoping UC’s Department of Communication can continue building bridges with local high schools like Shroder.

After the event, Nichelle emailed me saying: “THANK YOU for the fantastic classroom experience at U.C. The students are very enthusiastic about future projects with PRSA. This was a great trip!” From my vantage point, that is a sentiment we all share.


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