Oakwood University PRSSA Celebrates Attending Its First PRSA ICON

Faith-based HBCU Recognizes Allies in Overcoming Barriers for Inclusion, Professional Development

One of PRSSA’s newest Chapters attended its first ICON this year. Oakwood University, the Seventh-day Adventist historic black college and university (HBCU), chartered its PRSSA Chapter in the midst of the pandemic, in October of 2020, when ICON was originally scheduled for Nashville. 

Oakwood PRSSA before attending their first session presented by Brandon Wilson APR, Fellow PRSA. 1

However, as we know, the 2020 ICON Nashville had to be canceled due to the pandemic. Although this was disappointing, it gave Oakwood PRSSA the opportunity to work hard to build its new student Chapter.

“We were delighted to be able to escort a half dozen students to ICON this year,” said Faculty Adviser Prof. Patti Conwell, APR. “I was excited to have them experience the bustling Conference, its professional development sessions and to connect with PR pros from across the nation.” 

Another inclusion barrier to overcome included that Seventh-day Adventists worship on Saturday. Therefore, participating in traditional ICON PRSSA Saturday events was not an option. So, Oakwood faculty adjusted to work with PRSA staff and school administration to support students’ participation in Monday ICON events.

“As Faculty Adviser for Oakwood PRSSA, I was pleased to participate in ICON team building activities and serve double duty as our van driver. It was truly rewarding to witness growth and development from our students’ engaging with attendees at ICON. It also piqued my personal desire to achieve the APR designation as an added credential to my professional practice,” said Stephen Kabah, Ph.D.

Oakwood PRSSA delegation is ready for the next ICON professional development session.

At registration Stacy Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA, greeted us and then showed us through to hear our PRSSA Professional Adviser, Brandon Wilson, APR, Fellow PRSA, present on “Leadership in PR.” It was so welcoming and inspirational to see PR pros who have invested in us attending ICON.

Before ICON, I always felt a little alone in my pursuits to meet PR professionals ‘in the wild’. It has been a little tough explaining to mentors and loved ones why I am in the communications field. It always feels like I am walking into a lion’s den of people who care but do not understand the full extent of our field or how on earth I am going to get a job. As a senior PR major, I’ve spent the past three years visualizing my future in the communications field only based on my classes and internships. That is one reason why attending this year’s ICON before I graduated and being surrounded by professionals who are passionate about the same things as I am, was such a breath of fresh air.

Oakwood PRSSA delegation is ready for the next ICON professional development session.

At the PRSSA Career Development Exhibition, we had the opportunity to hand out resumes and explain our experience. I realized how much I had learned as a student at Oakwood and through multiple internships. I have served as an ambassador for the Truth Initiative (seeking youth rejection of nicotine products), as a digital marketing intern at the Alabama Media Group, and a philanthropy intern for the Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville. At ICON, I felt affirmed in my readiness for the field and felt I was where I needed to be in my career path. 

Hope Williams, a sophomore, shared, “It was a privilege to attend ICON 2023 for Oakwood PRSSA. I was able to meet many PR professionals, connect with them and gain knowledge beneficial to my career. We had conversations about what they do and their duties. I learned so much from the Conference. I am from Atlanta, and I hope the connections I made will allow me to experience my first summer internship there.”

Krystal Barwise shared, “As a senior, ICON was my first experience through PRSSA connecting with PR professionals from a variety of businesses. I changed my major from nursing to PR and was delighted to learn about PR professionals who work in medicine and look forward to following up with some of them.” 

Oakwood PRSSA travels home from a great ICON experience.

Personally, I was able to expand my idea of what we as PR professionals do and the changes we are able to make at ICON. From heartwarming stories of campaigns bridging racial gaps to insightful discussions on the future of the field and the importance of PR as the world becomes more chaotic, I was able to answer questions that I have had during my entire college tenure.

Most importantly, I was exposed to the massive network of PR professionals in America and was able to interact and ask questions in person. 

As president of Oakwood PRSSA, I thank our faculty, our university administration, PRSSA and PRSA for supporting our first ICON. The ICON Conference left me not only feeling like a more well-rounded PR professional but also as a small part of a big PR family.

Anya Harden is a founding member of Oakwood University PRSSA, current Oakwood PRSSA president, and graduating with a PR major in Spring 2024.

  1. L-R: Stephen Kabah, Kaayla Butler, Alani Runnels, Nirel Miller-Morrison, Anya Harden, Hope Williams, Mrs. Patricia Conwell APR.
    Front Row: Krystal Barwise

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