SIUE PRSSA chapter named Star Chapter at national conference

SIUE PRSSA students from left: Heidi Wickenhauser, Natalie Pitzer, Sarah Rohner, Laynie Richardson, and Jeni Ross

From Oct. 12 to Oct. 16, five SIUE students from the University’s chapter of the Public Relations Students Society of America (PRSSA) attended the organization’s national conference in San Francisco. The students brought home the coveted Star Chapter Award, which recognizes excellent work, training, professional relationship-building, and community involvement within their PRSSA chapter.

The SIUE students who attended the conference were all senior Public Relations majors and PRSSA active members: Laynie Richardson, Jeni Ross, Sarah Rohner, Heidi Wickenhauser, and Natalie Pitzer.

At the conference, the students were given opportunities to attend workshops and to network with other PRSSA students from universities and colleges around the nation. Students were additionally given awards, and Rohner, the SIUE chapter’s Public Relations Director, was among those who received awards.

Rohner was given the prestigious Lawrence G. Foster Award for Excellence in Public Relations, which comes with a $1,500 monetary award. Rohner was additionally presented as runner-up for the John D. Graham Scholarship and was awarded $1,000.

Rohner says, “It felt awesome to win it,” and she is honored to have been selected from what she was told were “the most applicants they ever received.”

Both the students and faculty are delighted with the success at the PRSSA conference. This was only the SIUE chapter’s second year going to the conference, and in such a short period of time, they have received great recognition.

“This year’s chapter has definitely set the bar high for the future, that’s for sure,” says Public Relations Instructor and PRSSA Faculty Advisor Stacey Howard.

The students see the Star Chapter Award as a great accomplishment for not only their present status as PRSSA members but also for their future careers.

“It stands out to professionals,” says Ross, who the SIUE PRSSA chapter President. “PRSA members…know what a star chapter is. Putting on your resume that you were part of a Star Chapter, not just a PRSSA chapter, let’s them know that your chapter had gone above and beyond.”

The PRSSA conference is done in conjunction with the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) conference, so a large part of attending the conference involved having the opportunity to network with public relations professionals.

Professionals from various international companies and organizations, including Google, Twitter, and General Motors, and Shop It To Me, were at the conference, and the attending SIUE students were excited to be able to learn from these professionals and to start building great professional relationships.

Sarah Rohner with her John D. Graham certificate and Lawrence G. Foster plaque

All five of the attending students came home from the conference with many business cards and contacts. Among the people Ross talked to most were the public relations specialists for the Chicago Cubs and Disneyland.

“These people want to get to know you, and they want to connect with you,” says Ross.

Networking, though, is nothing new to these PRSSA members, as they connect with local professionals through many activities and events in the region.

Howard has noticed students’ networking efforts both at the conference and within the region. She believes that establishing and maintaining professional relationships is an important factor of success for her students.

“We need to build those networks and relationships with more professionals, more companies in the local region, to give these students opportunities,” says Howard. “I think these companies are willing to do it. We just need to foster those relationships, so that they know that we’re here and we have some very talented and eager students that can do a lot of great things for them.”

The PRSSA students and Speech Communication Department Chair Isaac Blankson agree that Howard helps students achieve above and beyond.

“We the department, and I believe the students support me on this, are extremely grateful to have Stacey as the advisor to this organization,” says Blankson. “She’s done excellent, marvelous things that none of us could have…She’s always caring and thinking about the students and how she can facilitate their professional growth.”

Blankson is also delighted that the PRSSA students from SIUE have represented the University so well. He knows from the awards the students have earned and the testimonies of local professionals that PRSSA students know how to make a great impression.

“What I hear from professionals out there when they’re sending emails…or phone calls, it’s about how excellent our students are,” says Blankson. “I cannot be more proud. Looking at them, that makes me want to continue to do what I do…Employers in this region prefer our students to others because they work harder and they work well. We’re very proud of our students.”

Coming back from the conference, the five students, though coming down from what professionals call the “PR high,” feel excited and hopeful for their futures.

“It was really exciting to see other people’s human achievements,” says Wickenhauser. “Those opportunities are there, and they told us we’re on the right track by going to these conferences. It’s just very promising.”

For these seniors, even graduation seems less daunting with all the instruction they received from the conference.

“I know that I feel so much more prepared for graduation because of all the networking events, learning how to better my resume, and making these connections through the seminars we’ve gone to,” says Richardson.

The students are all slated to graduate in May, and in spite of going into a tough job market and even tougher economy, they feel that going to this conference and being part of PRSSA will prove beneficial to them.

“Everybody’s talking about how bad our market is and how no one’s getting a job [with] graduates coming out of college,” says Ross. “To go to these conferences and see these people who are succeeding…and [being] not much older than us…it’s really nice to see that there are opportunities and that going to these conferences is putting us above the rest.”

Students interested in joining the PRSSA need not be majoring in Public Relations or even any field within Speech Communications. The organization, with its training in networking and resume building, can be beneficial to students in a variety of fields to help them make connections and get job interviews. Interested students should contact Stacey Howard or any member of SIUE’s PRSSA chapter for more details.

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