Semester of Service: Wrapping up with National Volunteer Week

By Lois Boynton, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


One of the best things about college students is how much they value making a difference on their campuses and in their communities.  Innumerable public relations students continued to make us proud throughout PRD’s Spring Semester of Service.

You may recall that we announced this initiative in late November and have highlighted public service activities by PRD members and their students since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  It’s now National Volunteer Week, and we punctuate stellar service efforts with an emphasis in this blog post on fabulous student contributions.

Student-run agencies contributed considerable pro bono work this semester. For example:

Associate Professor Emily Kinsky reports that 1910 PR, the new student-run agency of the Department of Communication at West Texas A&M University, served on-campus clients for free this semester by planning events, creating content and managing social media.

Highlights of the firm’s semester were successfully planning a Distinguished Lecture Series event and a week full of activities for an international professor with expertise in virtual reality. They arranged for her to speak to nine West Texas classes, at the nearby junior high, and to local high school and junior college students attending an on-campus workshop using 360 cameras and VR gear.  Going forward, 1910 PR plans to expand into the local community of Canyon and Amarillo to serve nonprofit clients.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Heelprint Communications agency provided pro bono social media support for the president-elect of the National League for Nursing who also leads the university’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

This semester, 67 PRSSA Bateman teams supported Campaign to Change Direction, a collaborative nonprofit that works to reduce stigmas and change the conversation about mental health and mental illness in America.  Among them:

PRSSA chapters also rose to the occasion with other activities.  Chris Wilson, assistant professor with Brigham Young University’s College of Fine Arts and Communications, shared these successes:

The Utah Valley Refugee Action Network asked BYU PRSSA students to find newsworthy stories to pitch to local media. Committee members attended a dinner hosted by R.A.N. to take pictures and gather stories they could pitch to local journalists. They captured high-quality images of the event and have started to draft their pitches. The R.A.N. educates the community about opportunities to assist local refugees.

BYU’s Simmons Center for Cancer Research holds an annual fundraising event called the Rex Lee Run to raise money for cancer research. They called on BYU PRSSA students to help them reach their goals to

increase the number of runners and money earned this year. Students pitched stories about the community getting involved in the run, and successfully got a story published in the Provo Daily Herald. Students created content for all the Rex Lee Run’s social media channels (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter). They increased the client’s Instagram following, use of #RexLeeRun, engaged in conversations on Twitter, and made good use of a Facebook event. Their efforts resulted in 1,900 runners signing up for the race, which raised $56,000.

Public relations classes – campaigns, writing and research – also provide students community-service opportunities.

Students in the West Texas A&M University’s public relations campaigns class created a campaign for the Canadian River Arts Center to increase supporters and participants.

At UNC-Chapel Hill, public relations campaigns classes each worked with nonprofit clients including the Bullies 2 the Rescue bulldog rescue shelter, UNC Refugee Wellness, Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill, among others. About 80 students in public relations writing classes provided tactical support to community nonprofits such as Shakori Hills Community Arts Center, N.C. Botanical Garden’s Edible Campus Initiative, and the Marion C. Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, to name a few. And, students in research methods classes conducted qualitative and quantitative research for the UNC Media Law Center, MindSumo, Community Home Trust, and more.

And, an additional shout out to the freelancers. Assistant Professor Rebecca Swenson’s Agricultural Education, Communication & Marketing students hosted Agriculture Awareness Day on April 11 at the University of Minnesota. The event increases awareness of how food, fuel, and fiber are produced and showcases the crucial role American agriculture plays in maintaining a strong economy, especially as the world population continues to grow. College students, staff, faculty, and preschoolers visited with cows, pigs, llamas, lambs, and goats – and even humans! They talked to industry experts, played trivia and games at interactive booths, sampled food, and heard the latest agriculture, food, and environmental news from the University of Minnesota.

During National Volunteer Week, many Agricultural Communication & Marketing students share their expertise by supporting the 88th Minnesota FFA State Convention with communications planning, social media, media relations, photography and magazine writing. The event brings more than 3,500 high school students, parents and teachers to campus for youth development and leadership events. Last year their communication work reached more than 9,000 people, shared crucial key messages with attendees, and strengthened relationships with members, industry partners and organizational alums who couldn’t attend the event.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Students continue to make their mark with community service through classes, extra-curricular activities, internships and jobs.  Please take a moment to thank your students for being volunteers extraordinaire.



PRD Twitter Chat: #ProfLifeHacks

The topic of burnout in the academy is growing.  With a mounting list of responsibilities and finite time and resources, faculty work/life balance can seem like an illusion! It’s important to find ways to not only manage stress but maximize time so that professors are able to thrive professionally and personally.

Join us on May 10, 2017 at 12:00 PM PT/3:00 PM ET for a discussion on ways to succeed as #PRProfs. We’ll be talking about everything from how to best use time in the summer for both research and rest to some of the best apps for professors can use to manage work.  Joining the conversation with key insights as subject matter experts will be  Dr. Hua Jiang of Syracuse University and Dr. Matthew Kushin of Shepherd University. The Twitter chat is co-sponsored by AEJMC Public Relations Division and PRSA’s Educators Academy.

Graduate Student Profile: Anli Xiao

Interview by Alan Abitbol, University of Dayton

Name: Anli Xiao

University Affiliation: College of Communications, the Pennsylvania State University

Anticipated Graduation: May 2018

Research Area: Public relations for nonprofit organizations, strategic communication and prosocial behaviors.

Recent Conference Presentations:

Huang, Y., Xiao, A., and Bortree, S. D. (2016, August 4-7). Boundaries of message framing in charity advertising Effects of anchor points and need for cognition. Paper presented at the 2016 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Conference, Minneapolis, U.S.

Xiao, A. (2016, June 9-13). The semiotic functions of face masks in anti-smog campaigns. Paper presented at the 2016 International Communication Association Conference, Fukuoka, Japan.

Castañeda, E and Xiao, A. (2016, June 9-13). Examining pictorial information and bandwagon effect on altruism: Does what we see influence what we give? Paper presented at the 2016 International Communication Association Conference, Fukuoka, Japan.

Recent Publications:

Wu, M., Yan, H., Li, R., Bortree, D. S., Yang, F., Xiao, A. and Wang, R. (2016). A tale of two sources in native advertising: Evaluating the effects of source credibility and priming on trust and perceived deception. American Behavioral Scientist. Advanced online publication. doi: 10.1177/0002764216660139

Wang, R., Kim, J., Xiao, A., and Jung, Y. (2017). Networked narratives on Humans of New York: A content analysis of social media engagement on Facebook. Computers in Human Behavior, 66, 149-153.

Perreault, F. W. M., and Xiao, A. (accepted). Dealing with subsequent crisis response: An evaluation of transparency in government response to the New Jersey Boardwalk fire. In C. Hickerson & B. Brunner-Johnson (Eds), Cases in Public Relations: Translating Ethics into Action.

Teaching Interest(s): I am currently an instructor for advertising/public relations research methods. I am also interested in teaching strategic communications and international communications.

Area(s) of Service: I am a reviewer for the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, and a reviewer for Public Relations Journal’s special issue on international corporate social responsibility.

I also volunteered as a data analyst for Partnerships for West Africa (VPWA), a nonprofit organization associated with the United Nations Volunteers. I worked as a project associate for a global marketing research and strategy consulting firm.

Most Thought Provoking Thing You’ve Read Recently (can be academic, fiction, pop culture, blog, etc.): How language itself may serve as a cultural cue and alter people’s responses, and how it could affect academic studies that involve bilingual/bicultural participants.

Lesson Learned Worth Sharing With New Grad Students (What I wish someone had told me when I entered the Academy): Work-life balance is important. Make sure you add your leisure activities to your calendar because relaxation may increase your work productivity.

Hobbies (things you wish you had more time to do):  Travelling and scuba diving. My next travel destination is Alaska!

Where You Grew Up: Changsha, Hunan. A city famous for its spicy food.

Interesting Fun Fact About Yourself: I am a certified scuba diver but I don’t really know how to swim properly (I can stay afloat).


Semester of Service: Service as a Sustainable Part of Public Relations Education at South Carolina 

By Brooke McKeever with contributions from Ernie Grigg, Holly Ott, Jeff Ranta, and Lisa Sisk

Service is part of every semester in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina, and Spring 2017 is no exception. Whether it is through PRSSA, Bateman Team, or courses like PR Campaigns and Crisis Communications, USC public relations students can be found working with a variety of causes and nonprofit organizations on local, state, and national levels. Some of the highlights of this work are described below to help celebrate Semester of Service. Please continue sharing your updates with us by sending an email to or or by using #PRDServe on social media and tagging @AEJMC_PRD.

The Carolina Agency

The Carolina Agency, a full-service, student-run agency at the University of South Carolina, has been busy serving a variety of clients this semester. Celebrating its 11th year, The Carolina Agency (TCA) has served more than 85 separate clients since its inception, contributing more than 20,000 hours of service and winning more than 24 professional awards from IABC, PRSA and PR News. In Spring 2017, students in TCA are working with Professor Jeff Ranta to help multiple new and returning clients.

For instance, The South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind Foundation, formerly the Walker Foundation, has been a perennial recipient of TCA students’ efforts. This semester TCA members are assisting Foundation Director, Ann Akerman, with groundbreaking ceremonies for a new, specialized playground geared to serve those with sight and hearing disabilities. About working with students in TCA, Akerman, said: “I have always enjoyed our work with TCA.  The students contribute energy and creativity to every project. They are a valuable resource that we could not match anywhere else.”

What do hot sauce and veterans’ service organizations have in common?  At TCA, The General’s Hot Sauce has been a long-term client of the student agency’s attention.  TGHS is an epicurean delight, crafted in South Carolina by a group of veterans, sourced from peppers grown exclusively in the U.S. Using the tagline, a great sauce for the greater good, the company was founded by Naval Academy veterans to honor one of their fellow alumni who is known for giving back and currently serves as a general in the United States Marine Corps.  Similar to the Newman’s Own™ brand of sauces and condiments, TGHS gives to charity all funds raised that are not intrinsically involved with the management of the company. TCA is celebrating its third semester of involvement with TGHS and is busy creating educational videos about the company and its products. Recipients of TGHS contributions include Paws4Vets, a charity that provides service dogs for vets with PTSD or other service-related conditions.

Another nonprofit client TCA is helping this semester is Leeza’s Care Connection, founded by Hollywood celebrity, Leeza Gibbons, who happens to be from Columbia, SC, and an alumna of the University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Leeza’s Care Connection is a place where day-to-day health care providers for patients with serious, life-long or life-ending conditions can find support, assistance, and understanding. TCA students are working with the organization to support caregivers through a memory-makers video project, a day of giving fundraising effort, and a Dare 2 Care Fair in June 2017, where the greater Columbia community is encouraged to provide displays of caring and compassion.

What can you do with hundreds of gallons of used fryer oil?  Students at The Carolina Agency found out when they launched Naturally Carolina soap. Thanks to a pro-sustainability outlook, a small grant and a mission-forward approach, a team of University of South Carolina staff partnered with a local biodiesel manufacturer to source their used cooking oil from across campus and convert it to biodiesel.  The process, called transesterification, transforms the cooking oil to a product that is combined with diesel and then used to power the many transportation requirements for USC’s large, urban campus.  A byproduct of the conversion process is glycerin, a key ingredient in most bath soaps. By combining the glycerin with skin care oils and natural dyes and fragrances, the waste byproduct becomes a new revenue stream for the program and provides an opportunity to tell the recycling story in a fresh, new way. Soaps are designed in distinctive shapes that include U of SC’s Block C and intertwined CS logos as well as others.

The Carolina Agency has provided services to the soap initiative through logo design, packaging, collateral marketing materials, product photography and social media/website designs including Facebook, Etsy and the soap’s primary website,

“We have really appreciated the services The Carolina Agency has provided us. We are much farther down the road to making this a viable company thanks to the help we have received from TCA,” said Naturally Carolina Founder, Tom Syfert.


Each semester the USC PRSSA chapter participates in at least one service initiative. This semester, the officers will participate in the Curing Kids Cancer Firetruck Pull on Saturday, April 8.  The event will raise funds to support innovative cancer research through Curing Kids Cancer, a nonprofit organization founded by Clay Owen, an alumnus of the USC SJMC, and his family.

The USC PRSSA students also recently participated in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). PRSSA students raised money and participated in the walk to support JDRF’s work to cure, prevent, and treat type 1 diabetes. Additionally, PRSSA members are conducting outreach sessions to help educate area high school students about service opportunities in public relations. The PRSSA chapter is advised by Professors Ernie Grigg and Holly Ott.

Bateman Team

The 2017 USC Bateman team developed a campaign focused on mental health awareness in the military community.  To lead the campaign, the team worked with Professor Ernie Grigg to create the South Carolina Coalition of Military Mental Health Awareness, a statewide network of organizations dedicated to raising awareness about the benefits of treatment and normalizing the conversation surrounding mental health and emotional well-being within the military community. It is a central resource for veterans and active duty service members to learn about existing resources throughout the state.

During the one-month execution period, the coalition used a combination of earned, social, and paid media to complement events, including a 5K run and panel discussion. As part of the campaign, the City of Columbia declared February 24 Military Mental Health Day.

One of the students on this year’s Bateman team, Lauren Buckingham, said: “I have been humbled and touched from working with so many dedicated organizations to improve mental health awareness in the military community.”

Service Learning Classes

Many of the PR Campaigns classes at USC involve service learning and working with nonprofit organizations. In Professor Lisa Sisk’s class, students create individual campaign plans. Some of the clients her students are working with this semester include national organizations, such as Ronald McDonald House and Keep America Beautiful’s clean water initiative, and more local organizations such as Palmetto Conservation Foundation, City Roots, and Carolina Wildlife Center.

Students in Professor Holly Ott’s course are working with Palmetto Place Children’s Shelter, Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports, and Tourism, Heroes in Blue, South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, and Camp T.A.L.K. Students conducted in-depth interviews and survey research to gather valuable information to create creative content for clients. Student contributions have included building and launching websites, revising social media strategy, creating promotional materials (e.g., infographics, video testimonials, etc.) and creating strategic plans for fundraising, outreach, and programming.

Similarly, students in Professor Brooke McKeever’s class are working with two start-up nonprofit organizations this semester and have completed research and moved on to the campaign planning phase, including creating visual and video components for the clients and advising them on website and social media strategy. The two clients, i3 and Project Cyma, were founded by USC faculty and alumni, respectively, and specifically sought out current SJMC students’ help because they had heard good things about previous work.

One client working with USC SJMC students through service learning classes said, “We are thrilled to be able to develop partnerships with USC students. We have been searching for direction and for opportunities to collaborate with the university, and we look forward to strengthening our network across campus in the future.”

And of course, one of the reasons faculty love service learning is because it is a “win-win” for nonprofit organizations and students alike. One student commented: “Working with a nonprofit client has opened my eyes to what public relations is all about. It is so rewarding to piece together things I’ve learned throughout my years here at USC to create a research-based campaign that will actually benefit a real client!”

Finally, students in Crisis Communications, an upper-level elective offered by the USC SJMC are developing a crisis communications plan for Curing Kids Cancer, which does not currently have a crisis plan in place. Students will apply theory, principles and best practices as they create their final projects for the client, under Professor Lisa Sisk’s guidance.

Announcing our GIFT Session Participants

By Lucinda Austin, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

The Teaching Committee is pleased to announce the selected “Great Ideas for Teaching” (GIFT) presentations slated for the 2017 AEJMC Conference in Chicago. The response to the first-ever call for PRD GIFT submissions was tremendous. Less than half of the proposals were able to be selected, via blind review, for either the teaching high-density session or for a spot in the poster presentations. Selected papers will be featured on the AEJMC PRD website and papers from the high-density session will also be featured as teaching briefs in the Journal of Public Relations Education (JPRE).

The teaching committee had great fun reading the many creative submissions. The selection was tough, and we wish we could have accepted more of your stellar ideas.

Thank you to the members of the PRD Teaching Committee who undertook blind review of the submissions: Katie Place, Quinnipiac University; Brigitta Brunner, Auburn University; and Michele Ewing, Kent State University.

Thank you also to JPRE Editor Chuck Lubbers and Associate Editor Emily Kinsky for working with us to secure a place for the selected submissions in the journal.

Lastly, thank you to PRD Vice-Chair Richard Waters who first proposed the idea for a new GIFT submission format and made the space for these presentations in the planning of the conference this year.

Here are the selected 2017 GIFT presentations in alphabetical by author:

High Density Session

  • Melissa Adams, North Carolina State University—Social Media Policy Assignment
  • Mary Brooks and Emily Kinsky, West Texas A&M University—Who Will Get Chopped?: Mystery Basket PR Challenge
  • Kelly Bruhn, Drake University—Improving PR Campaigns with a Roll of the Dice: Assuming New Identities to Strengthen Diversity and Inclusion
  • Tiffany Derville Gallicano, UNC Charlotte—Math, Message Design and Assessment Data: A Strategic Approach to the Facebook Assignment
  • Jacqueline Lambiase, Texas Christian University—Public Relations Ethics, “Alternative Facts” and Critical Thinking, with a Side of Tuna

Poster Presentations

  • Giselle Auger, Rhode Island College—Teaching the PR Planning Pyramid using Real World Scenarios
  • Marcia W. DiStaso, Pennsylvania State University—Industry Update Assignment
  • Dean Mundy, University of Oregon—Defining PR Mini Project
  • Stephanie Smith, Virginia Tech—Case Studies in Public Relations
  • Brenda Wilson, Tennessee Technological University—Using Analogous Activities to Build Critical-thinking Skills in an Introduction to Public Relations Course

Thanks again for everyone’s submissions and the committee’s help in assembling an exciting first GIFT PRD session. Hopefully the first of many.

Questions? Please contact Lucinda Austin at