Story by Nicole Cooke, Copy Editor—
Public relations students were given the opportunity to network and gain advice from PR professionals during PRSSA’s annual PR Pro Day Tuesday, Oct. 30.
Nine PR professionals made up the panel for the event, which included a question and answer session with the pros, followed by a roundtable breakout session. The roundtable discussions gave students the chance to speak one-on-one with the professionals, as well as get their resume critiqued and network for possible internships and jobs.
Of the nine professionals in attendance, six were graduates of UCM. Four of those alumni graduated in the last 10 years, which added an interesting perspective to the event. Students had the chance to see where the UCM PR program could take them after graduation.
The most recent graduate was Cara Mahon, class of 2011, who recently landed a job at Ameristar Casinos Inc. as the Social Media Coordinator. Mahon spent her senior year as the vice president of PRSSA. In just a few short years, she was already on the other side of Pro Day.
“[Pro Day] is a lot of work and planning, but it’s so rewarding when you pull it off and this was kind of the same feeling,” Mahon said. “I was nervous to give my opinions, but then it’s rewarding to know that I’m helping future pros from UCM. It was exciting.”
Mahon used her networking skills to gain her current position. After she completed an internship with Sigma Tau Gamma Fraternity, the internship turned into a full-time position. Her boss then allowed her to attend networking opportunities and conferences to help land a job in Kansas City. Once she got the invite to Pro Day, it had come full circle.
“I was very excited,” Mahon said. “I’ve only been out for about two years, so to get the invitation was exciting because it makes me feel that I’m putting what I’ve learned to use and people are noticing that.”
Mahon graduated from UCM just as fellow alumna Leah Bradshaw was finishing up graduate school. Bradshaw received her undergraduate degree in 2009 and her graduate degree in 2011, both from UCM.
She took the graduate school route instead of diving straight into the work force because of a tough economy. After several informational interviews, she only got offers for unpaid internships, so she decided to go back to school instead.
She became a graduate assistant to help pay for school, and she said that teaching public speaking classes is still helping her today. As the eCommunications Specialist for The Salvation Army, she prepares the divisional commander for interviews. Teaching public speaking allowed her to learn about talking points, tone of voice, eye contact, and other important skills to make sure the commander makes it in the paper or on the news.
During her time as an undergraduate student, Bradshaw was also a member of PRSSA and held the office of president during her senior year. She said that her PR classes were very beneficial to her career, but her other experiences helped as well.
“As president, I gained leadership skills and was able to manage a group and get tasks done,” Bradshaw said. “I now have my own committee to help me with promotions. Being able to motivate those people is a skill you didn’t even know you’d get from UCM.”
As a former member of PRSSA, Bradshaw, like Mahon, was now on the other side of Pro Day, an event she used to help plan. She saw the event in its early days when it wasn’t quite as successful.
“Being here is surreal. Just a few years ago I was taking the idea of Pro Day after an unsuccessful year and growing it,” Bradshaw said. “We went from two pros to 11. I remember being the student looking up with excited eyes and passion, wanting to be here one day. I just graduated in 2009 and now here I am.”
Danielle Ripley-Burgess was another UCM grad that was also in attendance. She graduated from the PR program in 2005. She also echoed what many of the UCM pros had already said: learn to network.
“My PR classes helped me the most in writing and all the classes gave me a good dose of all the kinds of things you can do in PR,” Ripley-Burgess said.
“However the PR program really helped me because without them mentioning a scholarship that had me network in Kansas City, I wouldn’t have had my first job.”
That first job was for Kuhn and Wittenborn, an advertising agency in Kansas City.
After another job in between, she moved on in 2011 and started her own company, Semicolon Communications.
The transition allowed her to stay in the PR industry, but away from the hectic agency world that kept her away from her family.
Many of the students in attendance said they enjoyed hearing from pros that had graduated from right here in Warrensburg.
“It’s so easy to answer their questions when you really are living it,” Bradshaw said. “I’m not so far out that I don’t remember sitting right there. I remember wanting to hear the personal side of things, not just the politically correct answers.”
The students not only learned from their own alumni, but from all of the pros. Many accepted business cards, looked over resumes, and discussed potential internships.
“I’ve gone to Pro Day every year and I always get something out of it,” said Angela Orr, senior PR major and the Career and Internship Coordinator for PRSSA. “They have stories we need to hear. They’re sharing life stories and professional experiences that students shouldn’t miss out on hearing.”
Orr also commented on the opportunity to network at the event, showing the pros had gotten at least one important point across.
“I handed out my business card to several of the people I talked to,” Orr said. “As a senior it helped me to network, to meet these pros and shake their hands. I feel more comfortable and confident knowing that I’ll be able to find a job after finding a niche with so many of these people.”
The UCM PR pros in attendance showed not only their expertise in the PR industry, but how being a UCM graduate can help further your career.
“Network with UCM grads,” Mahon said. “UCM is a great family. My boss is from UCM and we connected with that. It’s got a great reputation and students should be proud of their degree and confident that we have a great program.”
For more information about PRSSA or the PR program, visit Facebook.com/UCMPRSSA or ucmo.edu/comm/pr.