District Conference Recap: PR Advanced Through the Eyes of a First-Year PR Major in a New PRSSA Chapter

One of the most important ideas to keep in mind throughout any personal, academic or professional journey is that there are always hidden learning opportunities. I recently attended a conference that hardened this idea and provided me with a combination of expected and unexpected new knowledge. 

Northeastern University’s PRSSA members at the 2024 PR Advanced Northeast District Conference

On Feb. 24, Boston University hosted the 2024 PRSSA Northeast District Conference, PR Advanced, with the theme “See Through Boundaries and Unlock Potential.” I was one of the 11 students representing Northeastern University’s newly established PRSSA Chapter. Not only was this an exciting opportunity for us to join other schools and learn more about others’ programs as we establish our own foundation, but this was also the first time that many of our own members met each other. In fact, the only way I found another student from my school at all was because I was carrying a Northeastern tote bag that one of my peers recognized; we had only had one meeting prior to attending the conference.

Once we got to the conference, it didn’t take long before a small subgroup of us (Northeastern students) formed. We sat at a roundtable toward the center of the room and began making conversation with people at the table. When I learned that the others ranged from third-year to graduate students, I realized that we were all going to have pretty different experiences at the conference. As a first-year public relations student, I recognized that not only would I be able to learn from the planned events of the day, but from older students’ experiences as well.

The day was filled with many captivating speakers, engaging workshops and networking opportunities, but a few messages in particular stuck out to me.

PRSSA National Vice President of Brand Engagement Barbara “Basia” Stachurska, shared insight about stepping out of your comfort zone while working in international teams, which was very on topic with the theme of the conference: seeing through boundaries and unlocking potential. She highlighted some key details to keep in mind when collaborating with individuals on an international level:

Individual speaker Eddy Ruddy at “Corporate Communications Beyond Buzzwords” breakout session
  • Spelling names correctly.
  • Being mindful of differing components of cultural etiquette and time zones. 

The opening keynote speaker, Ernie Knewitz, vice president of communications and public affairs of North America at Johnson & Johnson, shared some of his experiences in the communications industry, including his career path. As I often wonder how my future is going to unfold, I found it especially interesting that he started his career in communications in the health sciences because a man he met on a train offered him a job. Such an anecdote shows that opportunities can truly arise from anywhere, potentially when you least expect it. 

Amid some speakers that we all listened to, we also had opportunities to choose our own paths by choosing among different breakout sessions. This was a great way to keep the conference relevant for all attendees since we were all in different stages of our academic and professional journeys. I decided to attend a session with Eddy Ruddy, senior vice president at Sloane & Company. He started his session by asking students to raise questions they wished for him to answer during his allotted time. This exercise made me realize how fresh I really was. My peers were asking questions that obviously stemmed from experience and background knowledge — two things that I was certainly limited in, with only one PR-specific class (still in progress). This made me nervous at first, but ultimately caused me to listen even closer in an attempt to hold on to all the information that I could.

Individual speaker Rachel Ballatori at “Defining Your Why” breakout session

Perhaps my favorite session of the day was a talk called “Defining Your Why” with Rachel Ballatori, the founder and CEO of Mill + Co. Ballatori shared how her experiences as an underappreciated employee at various companies ultimately drove her to start her own advertising collective. I even decided to ask a question about finding the courage to stay true to your own creativity amid difficult employers. She replied that it’s important not to be afraid of creating your own path in order to accomplish your goals. 

The last scheduled event of the conference was a career fair. I chose to attend out of curiosity, although I knew that I wasn’t looking at anything seriously. This portion of the day was more of a reflection point for me: As I was able to see many upperclassmen working their networking skills, I saw a glimpse of where I could be in a couple of years — and I liked it.

The 2024 Northeast District Conference, PR Advanced, was an educational opportunity for all in attendance, but it was especially interesting to me as a student who is brand new to exploring the PR industry. It also gave me more confidence in my decision to major in public relations, as much of the information quickly made sense to me despite my supposed lack of background knowledge, making me more optimistic about my potential success. Some key takeaways include:

  • Always consider differences among members of a team.
  • Be open to trying unexpected opportunities.
  • Learn where you can.
  • Don’t sacrifice your own self-respect for the “pictured path.”

Aside from the career-oriented knowledge that I anticipated gaining, I also learned more about my fellow NU PRSSA members and what growth for our Chapter may look like. I truly enjoyed my time at PR Advanced and feel confident that I will be able to take my new knowledge and implement it into my personal, academic and professional life. 

Kristin Merrill is a first-year student at Northeastern University studying public relations with a minor in marketing and subject of expertise in international affairs. She is also a member of the newly reestablished NU PRSSA Chapter.

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