Biola University Launches PR Major
Authored by: Carolyn Kim, Phd, APR
Chair, OCPRSA Community Service
This fall, Biola University will welcome the first class of Public Relations majors onto its campus. After three years of working on the proposal to launch this major, it is both a professional and personal joy to see this finally coming to fruition.
When I first joined the faculty at Biola University as an adjunct instructor in 2010, I had one task: build a strong PR practicum course. Public relations was one emphasis option within the Journalism & Integrated Media major. The class consisted of about 30 students working on an end-of-year event for the department.
What I quickly recognized as I interacted with these aspiring future-professionals was their drive, passion and thirst to immerse themselves in all things related to public relations. Working for an entire 17 weeks, with 30 students on a 2-hour dinner was not challenging enough. The course was transformed into a student-run PR agency, which would provide public relations services to clients both on and off of campus. Students flocked to the opportunity to grow their portfolio experience and to gain hands-on experience with clients.
I not only served as the faculty adviser to the newly minted PR agency, 6th Street, but also to the Biola PRSSA chapter. The young chapter was ripe with opportunity but needed faculty support to reach its full potential. Within a few semesters, and with incredibly dedicated student leaders, the chapter grew from 3 active members to over 30. Business, Communication Studies, and Journalism PR emphasis students were all represented. In addition, the chapter gained national attention by having the first Biola student be elected to the national PRSSA committee.
The growth and enthusiasm that these two student groups were experiencing was mirrored in our classes. Public Relations courses were filling up and more students were dropping by my office each day to discuss what a future in PR might look like. Those many talks with students gave life to the same conversations with administration, as the discussion of a major began to take place.
As with any initiative, the move from being an “emphasis” to launching a full-on major required much more support than stating that students were excited. From addressing the relationship between journalism & public relations, to reviewing the nation’s top programs for standards in PR education, the marathon of committees and reports was somewhat daunting a times. But through this, I discovered 3 key things that now inspire my role as an educator in PR and also motivated me within my private consulting.
1) The Profession of PR Still Needs to Educate the Public: One of the most often asked questions I had during this process was what public relations actually is or what professionals do within the field. Of course, it shouldn’t be surprising since we often dialogue about that very question inside of our PR world. In fact, it was only just recently that the 2011/2012 PRSA board led an international initiative to create an updated description of our work. This definition is a solid one—and it comes out of a history riddled with definitions and various focuses. Despite the many descriptions we all bring to the table, this process impressed me all the more with the reality that we must help people understand who we are. We need the public to understand that we are different from marketing—different from journalism—and, yes, different from “free advertising.” It’s a very little thing…but having a strong, understandable definition of what PR is makes all the difference.
2) A Strong Future Requires A Knowledge of History: Part of this process required me to show the reason that PR should become a unique major, rather than an emphasis with journalism. “After all, aren’t they both telling stories?” was an issue that needed to be addressed. Recognizing PR’s long history with journalism and major figures like Ivy Lee, who helped make our profession what it is, it would be impossible to say that there is no relationship between journalism and PR. However, in the last several decades PR has moved well beyond simply a publicity function.
3) Public Relations Has a Vibrant, Robust Future: With all the ups and downs, launching a major in PR has reminded me that there is an incredibly strong future for our industry. From US News recognizing PR Specialists as a top job, to the launch of the Certificate in Principles of Public Relations for entry level professionals, the world of PR is continuing to gain momentum and influence. With increasing educational and professional opportunities available to PR professionals, it seems like the future is very bright!
6th Street PR student team presenting the social media campaign they worked on for the Union Rescue Mission’s Thanksgiving Day event.
PR students Anita Wei, Melissa Strom, Jessica Airey, Danny Pinnell and Paige Niemi represented Biola PRSSA in Philadelphia at the 2013 PRSSA National Conference and accepted the Star Chapter award.