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The Communicator


Hard work leads to national recognition for Bellisario College student

Portrait of Zoe Martin
Zoë Martin said the secret to her success at Penn State is no secret at all. “I reached out, did things, got connected. There were just so many opportunities.” (Photo by Riley Herman)

As a Penn State freshman, Zoë Martin was a bit overwhelmed and little worried.

Sure, school was going well, but as she considered what she needed to do to graduate and prepare for a career in communications, she thought she was behind.

So, she asked for help — and was again overwhelmed.

“I reached out, did things, got connected and, honestly, so many resources were handed to me,” she said. “There were just so many opportunities.”

Martin, an advertising/public relations major with a minor in digital media trends and analytics in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, made the most of those opportunities. She has completed one internship and started another. She has served as a teaching assistant for a biology class and holds a similar role in an American Sign Language class this semester.

She’s on track to graduate in May — in three years — and has made her mark beyond campus as well.

She was recently named as one of five finalists for PRWeek’s prestigious Outstanding Student Award. The winner will be announced during the PRWeek Awards, a gala event in March in New York City.

Students who entered the contest were challenged to create a campaign to increase volunteer participation for Earth Day 2020 in Florida.

Martin focused on retirees, who have buying power, time and an inclination to volunteer. Her proposal leaned heavily on Facebook with TV meteorologists as influencers. She mentioned her project to a campus guest lecturer from Florida and he connected her with members of his retirement community for market research.

As a result, she overcame what was a slight geographic challenge because she has never been to Florida. Four of the five finalists are from Florida or Alabama.

“This is a well-deserved distinction for Zoë, and it comes as no surprise to me. Zoë is an incredibly disciplined student who takes great care to produce work that is both strategic and creative.”

Tara Wyckoff, assistant teaching professor in the Department of Advertising/Public Relations

Martin found out she was a finalist by email, just before she headed off to her job a Panera, where she works about a dozen hours a week.

“I woke up from a nap and was talking to my mom,” Martin said. “I said, ‘Mom, I’m a finalist! I immediately forwarded the email to Tara [Wyckoff], my teacher. I was so excited! And then I had to go to work and was like, ‘Hi, would you like some soup?

“I want to win. I’m crazy competitive, but I looked at the finalists and I’m the only one who’s not from Florida or Alabama. So that made me feel pretty good.”

Wyckoff, an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Advertising/Public Relations, said Martin’s success was understandable. She’s the second Penn State student in the past two years to become a national finalist.

“This is a well-deserved distinction for Zoë, and it comes as no surprise to me,” Wyckoff said. “Zoë is an incredibly disciplined student who takes great care to produce work that is both strategic and creative.”

Martin picked Penn State based on simple, long-term observation. Her father, Thomas, earned his bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University in 1984. “I figured, ‘Well, he’s doing really well and he went here,’ so I could do that, too,” she said.

Beyond a communications degree, she had no dream job when she arrived at Penn State. Things have since narrowed pretty specifically. A Rochester, New York, native, she would like to return to her hometown and work for the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

“Working in higher ed means that I’m helping people grow, and I want to feel like my work means something,” she said.

She’s been honing her skills during an on-campus internship with the Schreyer Honors College for the past six months. She has impressed people there as well.

“Zoë is diligent, creative, and always eager to learn. As a communications and marketing intern for the Schreyer Honors College, she has been a key part of our social media strategy, thinking of new ideas to engage and grow our audiences while maintaining the college and University brands,” said Jeff Rice, a public relations specialist in the Schreyer Honors College. “We know we can count on Zoë to assist with marketing efforts, event planning, or anything else she is asked to take on, and consistently deliver results.”

Because she’s graduating in three years, Martin does face a bit of urgency during the spring semester. She has a few things to check off her Penn State to-do list, including attending a Blue-White Game. “I’ve just never been to one, and it feels like something you should do,” she said.

Plus, the once slightly overwhelmed and uncomfortable student has advice for Bellisario College students and prospective students.

“Read your emails. They are your lifeline for everything that’s happening. There are dinners, there are events, career workshops — all of those things that are free and so helpful,” she said. “Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am.”