An uncommon commonality between coordinators inspires STEMulate PR Regional Conference

This March, North Carolina State PRSSA and UNC-Chapel Hill PRSSA are co-hosting a Regional Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. The conference theme, which focuses on the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, was inspired by what is known as the Research Triangle region (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill). Research Triangle Park was founded and designated as a not-for-profit venture to encourage economic development and helped spark growth in Raleigh, now one of the fastest growing cities in the country.

An even greater inspiration for the conference theme came unexpectedly. While discussing conference details early in the planning process, the co-coordinators, Ryan Will and Rachel Rhodes, discovered they had an impactful life experience in common: both lost a parent to cancer.

“This shocked me a lot because it’s pretty rare to find people our age that have lost a parent,” Rachel said. “A lot of our peers are starting to lose their grandparents, but rarely their parents. We talked about our experiences both during and after the loss of our parents and knew that we wanted to honor them in some way with this conference.”

Ryan’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Her cancer was re-classified as stage IV in 2008. Ryan’s parents looked into medical options for treatment eventually deciding to join a clinical trial at Duke University with Dr. Blackwell, who later made the 2013 TIME 100—a list of the most influential people in the world. On March 26, 2012, Ryan’s mom died in the company of friends and family. Ryan was 15 years old.

Rachel’s father was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that affects the lymph system, in 2009. He was in and out of chemotherapy and remission for six years. In early 2015, he was admitted to Presbyterian Hospital. His cancer had progressed to B-cell lymphoma, and after a month of ultimately ineffective treatment, he found out he had two weeks left to live. On March 6, 2015, he died surrounded by friends and family. Rachel was 18 years old.

“The commonality has influenced how we want to give back to the community through our conference as a platform,” Ryan said. “Under the realm of STEM lies the extensive field of medicine and healthcare, specifically cancer, and we both have unique stories to tell, so we felt it appropriate to tie everything together in order to promote how amazing the cancer treatment centers are here in NC.”

Ryan and Rachel have incorporated a community service element into the conference to benefit Camp Kesem, a weeklong summer camp for kids whose parents are battling cancer.

“Both NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill have active Camp Kesem chapters and we both know how isolating of an experience it can be to have a terminally ill parent, so it’s a cause we’re happy to support through this conference,” Rachel said.

Ryan and Rachel are excited to welcome students to the Research Triangle region to show them that it isn’t just known for its collegiate basketball teams. The STEMulate PR Regional Conference offers an opportunity to tour an affordable, up-and-coming market and meet professionals at prominent global companies. Students attending conference can expect ample opportunities to hear from and network with professionals in corporate and agency capacities – but the overarching theme will be the specialization in STEM fields.

“There are so many stories of startups gone nuclear, take RedHat and SAS for starters. Both emerged as software companies and exponentially boomed as the world saw a need for what they had to offer – both companies still hold their HQ in the Triangle,” Ryan said. “From pharmaceuticals to software, the Research Triangle has become and continues to be an influential and integral piece of the global conversation in various STEM fields.”

The conference program will include career tours around the Research Triangle region, a professional networking mixer and a variety of panels and breakout sessions representing companies that are characteristic to the region throughout the weekend.

“It’s an important time for public relations in STEM, now more than ever, as we continue to accelerate further into the future of technology and innovation,” Ryan said. “We need to ensure that we have professional communicators there to help bridge the gap between technical jargon and the general public.”

The STEMulate PR Regional Conference will be hosted in Raleigh, North Carolina March 23-24. To learn more about the conference, visit the conference website. To register, visit the conference registration page. You can follow along with the conference planning committee on Facebook and Twitter and use #STEMulatePR. Rachel and Ryan will also be hosting a Facebook Live event on Friday, Feb. 23 at 3 p.m. EST where they will discuss the conference program, registration, hotel logistics and answer questions from interested attendees. It will be hosted on the STEMulate PR Regional Conference Facebook page, linked above.

Emma Finkbeiner is the PRSSA National Immediate Past President. She is a graduate student studying public relations and advertising at DePaul University and an Integrated Marketing Coordinator for the Chicago Cubs.

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