Campus Connections: Get Involved Early

Capstone Agency member Kelsey Balzli makes media appearances for local television stations during an event at a local middle school. Photo credit: Professor Teri Henley, APR

Wake up. Answer emails. Pitch media. Approve designs. Check email again. Just a typical morning in the life of a public relations practitioner. But wait – add ‘go to class’ to the list.

Though it can be tough to balance class schedules and extracurricular activities, college is the prime time to get involved and start networking. Don’t delay until after college to start the preparation for your career. As helpful as classroom knowledge is, practical experience is essential to this field.

“When I started my first post-grad job, some of my co-workers understood basic knowledge but had never really exercised it before,” said Amanda Coppock, an assistant account executive for global health at Porter Novelli in Atlanta. “It’s so important to build on that classroom knowledge with real experience before you graduate from college.”

Summer internships are not the only way to gain this experience. Opportunities arise all over a university’s campus. Student governments often need help promoting events and campaigning for office each year. Other student organizations are always searching for creative ideas and new ways to recruit members.

At the University of Alabama, we are lucky enough to have a large PRSSA Chapter and a Nationally Affiliated student firm called Capstone Agency. The agency’s nationwide client base provides members with real-world understanding of public relations campaigns. As a member of the anti-binge drinking campaign LessThanUThink, I spent an afternoon creating media materials to send to outlets in Alabama, Florida and Indiana to promote our PSA that aired during the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) national championship game. Now we have weekly conference calls with clients in California. In addition, I managed the internal and external communication for a division of our Student Government Association, and now I’m helping with the campaign process.

We’re fortunate to have a continuously growing public relations department. You can find similar opportunities on your campus. When you put your name out there, you’ll meet people in your college who can connect you to even more chances to gain experience.

Friends in other majors are exiled to the library while I go to meetings, conferences and events – with some school work in between. Though I seem to be constantly multitasking and running around campus, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Would you?

Jacquie McMahon is a sophomore at The University of Alabama. She is a member of the UA Bateman Case Study Competition Team and assistant firm director of the university’s student-run agency.

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