UA center strives to combine academia, real world experience

Caroline Taylor

The public relation departments goal to combine college educators and curriculum more actively with the workplace has been engaged with a program called the 2010 Fellowship for Public Relations Educators, headed by the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations in the college of communication and informational sciences.

“In public relations, there has been a gap between education and practice,” said Karla Gower, director of the Plank Center and Behringer Distinguished Professor in the UA department of advertising and public relations. “This program will help bridge that gap by bringing educators and practitioners together to share information, needs, ideas and concerns.”

This first annual fellowship program will help expose public relations professors to the current day-to-day operations of the public relations function and create a healthy atmosphere for the educators to exchange information and new ideas that will enhance the professional development of both educators and practitioner-sponsors.

“It is the only [program] in the country for public relations educators,” Gower said. “The program is designed for new educators who have limited practical experience in the field.  They will gain a first-hand look at the practice and hands-on experience.”

Gower said the fellowship program is also ideal for educators who have been away from the practice for several years.

“These educators could also benefit from a refresher in current industry practices,” she said.

This year, the Plank Center will try to place eight educators in various public relations agencies, including in the corporate, non-profit and government sector roles all over the nation.

“Currently, we have agencies in Chicago and New York that have signed on to be sponsors for this first year,” Gower said.

Gower also said even though the sponsors and educators will gain many benefits, the greatest beneficiaries would be the students.

“The educators will bring that knowledge and experience learned back to the classroom, which will benefit the students,” Gower said.

Gower said an additional benefit for the students would be the “hopefully” ongoing relationship that will develop between the educator and the sponsor, which may result in internships for students and public appearances on campus.

In addition, Gower said she is very excited about launching the new fellowship effort, particularly because of the tremendous economic challenges of the past year. She said she has learned that people are becoming more willing to experiment to find new ways to become more efficient and more effective.

“Public relations practitioners have found their budgets slashed because of the hard economic times,” Gower said. “When times are tough, successful businesses tend to be the ones that innovate and try new things. Collaboration tends to fuel innovation.”

Maria Russell, professor of public relations at Syracuse University and a Plank Center board member who led the development of the new program, said educators selected to participate in the program will spend two full weeks in the offices of their sponsoring organization.

Russell said additionally, the Plank Center would act as the “convener” of the Fellowship Program for Public Relations Education.

“We’ll be using its reach and professional standing to draw visibility and awareness for the program—marketing it to both educators and organization leaders,” Russell said.

The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations has already posted eligibility requirements and application details for public relations educators and interested sponsoring organizations on its Web site at plankcenter.ua.edu. All interested parties should visit the site for additional information. The deadline for candidate applications is March 1.