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Student-driven contest entry earns national praise for Penn State PR program

Public relations program among nation’s top five as ‘finalist’ in PRWeek competition

Students gathered around an open table talking to their faculty member
Students in a capstone public relations course discuss their real-life class project — nominating Penn State for recognition as Outstanding Education Program by PRWeek.

A student-driven entry in a highly competitive contest has earned the Penn State advertising/public relations program recognition as one of the five best in the nation.

Students in a capstone public relations course put together the extensive nomination packet, which included an overview of the program, as well as a video portion and interactions with alumni and industry professionals.

This marks the third time in the past four years Penn State’s program has been named a finalist for Outstanding Education Program by PRWeek.

“We’re proud of our program — from faculty expertise, staff support and standout students to the many academic and professional opportunities, industry collaborations and wonderful alumni,” said Dean Marie Hardin of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. “It’s even more rewarding when our students lead efforts that highlight the quality of what we do.”

The real-life project provided students with an educational experience and a better understanding of both the Bellisario College and Penn State. Administrators and staff, along with alumni in the professions, provided support and information while the students shaped the entirety of the presentation.

Faculty member Tara Wyckoff, an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Advertising/Public Relations, initiated the idea and students in COMM 473 Public Relations Campaigns embraced the real-world opportunity.

“This project replicates work the students will do as young professionals,” Wyckoff said. “They conducted research, developed a communications strategy and collaborated to produce a cohesive campaign. I am so proud of what they accomplished.”

Students said the collaboration was a “fantastic experience” with challenges and opportunities that made the effort exciting.

“It felt like a double benefit — I was sharpening my campaign-development and writing skills while also being able to highlight the resources and supportive people that have made my college experience so successful,” said Kate Irwin, a senior majoring in advertising/public relations with minors in digital media trends and analytics, English, and history. “I can’t speak highly enough of the collaborative experience with Tara and my classmates.”

The award submission represented a thorough overview of advertising/public relations offerings on campus, as well as their impact far beyond campus — all reflecting the quality of the program, which is the largest undergraduate major in the Bellisario College and one of the 15 biggest at Penn State.

Other finalists are DePaul University, the University of Florida, the University of Southern California and Syracuse University. Winners for all PRWeek awards will be announced March 16, 2023, during an in-person gala in New York City.