Putting the PR in D.C.: Public Relations Students Practice Advocacy, Develop Professionalism
Three Kent State University public relations students from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication recently interned in governmental agencies and offices in Washington, D.C., putting their classroom lessons to the test and coming back with even more valuable real-world experience.
Though their time in D.C. was brief, they learned important lessons about how public relations professionals can make a national impact and be a driving force for change and advocacy.
Advocating for Positive Change
Keri Richmond, a child of the foster care system, interned at a place close to her heart during the summer of 2015 — the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI).
During her time at CCAI, she worked with a group of foster care alumni to advocate for the foster care system. She networked with leaders who cared about finding solutions to the problems the foster care system faces. At the end of the internship, she proposed her policy suggestions to the Domestic Policy Council at the White House and to a number of senators and representatives in the U.S. Capitol.
“I was proud of myself and felt determined to go out there and change the world one foster child at a time, one piece of legislation at a time,” Richmond says.
In her Principles of Public Relations course, Kent State Assistant Professor Stephanie Smith first instilled in Richmond the importance of advocating for others through her chosen profession.
“I learned that in PR, our voices can be a driving force for positive change,” Richmond says. “Public relations is advocacy, and I can’t think of a better major to prepare me to spend a summer doing just that.”
Richmond says she sees a future for herself in the nonprofit sector of public relations.
“My time in D.C. taught and revealed to me that you can also improve foster children’s lives by drafting legislation that will go on to change the foster system as a whole,” Richmond says. “It opened my eyes to the power we have to make positive changes from using our voices and our stories.”
“When I Am in D.C., I Know I Am Exactly Where I Am Supposed to be”
Gabrielle Woodard worked in the Office of Legislative Affairs at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and quickly “fell in love” with legislative affairs.
Though she was a sophomore when she completed her internship during the spring of 2015, Woodard still had plenty of experience to draw upon. At the time, she was vice president of public relations for the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) Kent and in charge of writing bi-weekly newsletters for the chapter.
That hands-on experience through Public Relations Student Society of America prepared her for her daily duties and professional interactions.
She worked closely with directors in the FCC office and within each house of Congress. She also had the opportunity to attend hearings about net neutrality, data breach and privacy.
In terms of government, Woodard learned firsthand how an independent agency such as the FCC balances the executive branch and Congress.
Now, this summer, she is completing a communications internship at a defense contractor in the D.C. area. With a bout of experience under her belt, Woodard feels more prepared for a career in public affairs.
“Being in D.C. just energizes me in a way that I cannot not explain,” Woodard says “When I am in D.C., I know I am exactly where I am supposed to be.”
She hopes one day to call Washington, D.C., home.
“Adjusting to D.C. was like adjusting to any city, you just have to go with the flow,” Woodard says. “Sometimes you get lost or turned around, but it is all part of the adventure.”
Prepared to Take on New Roles
Sarah Matthews completed two internships in D.C., in the offices of both U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and former U.S. Rep. and Speaker of the House John Boehner.
Thanks to her journalism and mass communication courses, Matthews says she felt prepared to take on the tasks expected of her at her internships.
“The School of Journalism and Mass Communication has stressed how important strong writing skills are, and this holds true,” Matthews says. “I was asked many times to draft up reports and social media posts.”
She worked on similar projects at both internships, which she completed consecutively during summer 2015.
“[These projects included] attending hearings and writing up reports, compiling news clips, conducting private tours of the United States Capitol Building and completing any task that the offices needed me to accomplish,” Matthews says.
She also took full advantage of networking opportunities by meeting with several press secretaries and communications directors to learn about potential career paths. These conversations, she says, will help her stand out in the job application process.
“My time in D.C. changed my life more than I would’ve thought,” says Matthews, who also recently served as an intern in the digital department with the Republican National Convention's Committee on Arrangements. “Before my internships, I was terrified of the real world and being an adult. These internships showed me that I can do more than I know, and I’m ready to start my career.”