By Katie Pavelick
Bob Truscello, the first PRSSA Kent president, accepts the Chapter's charter certification in April of 1968
The Founding Chapter
In November 1967, the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) was established at the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Assembly in Philadelphia. The parent organization chartered the first nine Chapters in April of 1968. That following September, Kent State University received its charter, making PRSSA Kent the 13th Chapter. Today, PRSSA Kent is one of 14 Alpha Chapters that lead the organization to what it is today.
The idea to form a Kent State chapter originated from the Cleveland PRSA Chapter. The parent organization wanted to form a PRSSA Chapter and felt that Kent State was a perfect place to start.
“The Cleveland PRSA Chapter gave a lot of guidance and support to start the Chapter.” Said Bob Truscello, a founding member and first president of PRSSA Kent. Truscello worked with then Cleveland PRSA president Al Connors, other Cleveland professionals and a small group of students to gain Kent State’s charter.
Truscello was approached by professor Richard Scheiber and asked to help form the student organization. “We were small but mighty. We were 6 strong - recruited by Schreiber. We first worked on developing the Chapter,” Truscello recalls.
After approval from the Kent’s Student Activities Board, the organization submitted a request to charter the KSU Chapter.
While waiting approval, professor Shreiber stated, “PRSSA is open to all PR majors and minors. Membership will be a professional head-start for those students who are actively interested in the field.”
When the Chapter was approved, PRSSA Kent had 20 members. “I wanted to broaden my leadership and my resume. It was natural to join PRSSA and start it,” Truscello said.
Leading the organization were professors Richard Shreiber and Ralph Darrow who served as the Chapters first faculty advisers.
The Start of National Conference and Programming
During PRSSA Kent’s first year, students were able to attend the PRSA National Convention and were welcomed with open arms by the parent organization. Today, PRSSA continues to send students to conferences and assemblies across the country.
“Going off to Conference was a big deal for me. I was honored to be able to represent the Chapter,” Truscello said.
The organization then worked with the Akron Chapter to bring in speakers and network with professionals in the area. PRSSA continued to have a relationship with Akron PRSSA and continues to learn from professionals across the country.
Bob Truscello went on to work for General Electric in their communications and human resources departments. “What’s really neat about pursuing a PR degree is that it’s the kind of skill that is a take-off point. You can pursue many types of fields with a public relations degree,” he stated.
The first PRSSA President Bob Truscello shared insight about his experiences founding the Chapter, and the mentoring figures who guided him. One of which was Ralph C. Darrow.
Darrow was a PRKent professor who served as the first faculty adviser of PRSSA Kent from 1968 to 1988. The PRSSA Kent board meetings are called "Darrow meeting" in honor of Professor Darrow who left a meaningful impact on PRSSA, and especially on Truscello.
"He was extremely supportive of me. He was always rooting for me and caring for me," Truscello said. "He's the kind of advisor and professor who made PRSSA Kent what it is today. I can't explain how important it is to have someone like him in your corner. To have someone correct you, but still trust you and love you."
We asked our current members, alumni and professors to share their best PRSSA Kent memories or advice. Here’s what they said:
"PRSSA Kent impacted my higher education experience at Kent State. I was a student who struggled to find community in college and PRSSA provided a space that allowed me to connect with other students and professionals that helped me get to where I am today."
-Brenna Parker, Digital Strategist for Michelle Obama's When We All Vote campaign, PRSSA ‘17
"PRSSA gave me great experience to talk about in interviews. I felt prepared to interview, network and talk about my skill set with a great portfolio to back that up thanks to PRSSA preparing me!"
-Erin Zaranec, Campaign Manager, Student Series at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, PRSSA ‘17
"PRSSA Kent gave me a great glimpse into the professional world and what to expect once I graduated. Attending conferences and meeting professionals gave me a huge leg up when applying for jobs."
-Gabrielle Woodard, Strategic Communications Representative at Northrop Grumman, PRSSA ‘17
"PRSSA Kent strived to provide students with opportunities to connect with professionals. Whether it was through the Communications Connections event, YouToo Social Media Conference or even having alum present during a class, the access to industry professionals was always a priority."
-Aubrey Stenzel, Account Supervisor, Marcus Thomas LLC, PRSSA Kent ‘11
When the KSU Chapter was formed, PRSSA had 264 students and 27 faculty. Today the organization is made up of more than 10,000 students and advisors.
Over the past 50 years, Kent State’s PRSSA Chapter has helped shape the career of many professionals. Many alumni from across the country owe their career to the student organization. The Chapter continues to challenge the minds of future communicators and leaders. Though the public relations industry has changed over the years, Kent State’s PRSSA Chapter will continue to be a leader for years to come.
On Friday, Sept 14, PRSSA Kent celebrated 50 years as an founding chapter at Kent State. PRSSA also celebrated the retirement of Associate Professor Bill Sledzik. At the 50th celebration, there was a discussion panel with previous PR Kent Graduates and PR professionals. The discussion of the panel focused around the saying, “Telling the stories of our students, professors, and alumni”. Natalie Meek, the president of PRSSA Kent 2018-2019 was the moderator for the panel.
First on the panel was Chris Baldwin, the founder and CEO of True Digital. Baldwin provided several internships and opportunities for PR Kent Students and graduates. Next on the panel was Latisha Ellison, PRSSA Kent President 2017-2018 and graduated in May 2018. Ellison currently works in Chicago at Public Communication Inc. (PCI) as an Assistant Account Executive, and she specializes in controlling and maintaining relationships with national and local media, and much more. Also on the panel, Amanda Vasil, who is currently working at Global Prairie, and is an integrated marketing communications strategist. She specializes in digital/ social media and public relations. Next on the panel, Noelle Pennyman, who works at Progressive Insurance as the marketing strategy lead for commercial lines that has target audience of small businesses. Pennyman held the Intercampus Liaison position in PRSSA Kent and graduated in May 2009. The final panelist is Carrie Kandes, APR, a communication and brand consultant who specializes in advancing organizations and their brands. Kandes is also a current PRSSA Kent professional adviser.
Some of the topics that the panel covered was trends in PR, graduation expectations in the work force, storytelling, the role of PR, and advice for students in the PR world.
On the topic of trends in PR, Kandes stated that a major trend she is seeing is that people are central to brands. “Social responsibility is becoming more central to a brand reputation, and we need to be constantly planning and acting to constantly have our audience and people as the central focus to our organization,” said Kandes. Chris Baldwin even stated that brands are looking for much more than public relations. “People no longer want PR, people want content, and that is a major trend among brand,” said Baldwin. “It’s important to keep people at the core of our brand and what we learn here at Kent is that our audience is the center of our brands, and to not forget that as PR changes,” said Baldwin.
Another topic of public relations that came up was if the panelists thought digital storytelling was the future of the public relations profession and Kandes made an important point. “I think one of the things we need to remember is that storytelling is important, but public relations is activating and engaging an audience,” said Kandes. “Brand loyalty is at an all-time low and it’s because the relationship depth isn’t there anymore. We can’t abandon our other channels just because of one platform [digital], we need to excersize them all with the same power and enthusiasm,” said Kandes.
The panel closed with Meek asking the panel for their advice to students, as graduation approaches and throughout PR student’s careers. “I am always asking questions,” Ellison said. “Learning tends and know what else I can do is important for constant improvement.” Vasil stated that writing was a skill that is everlasting. “Writing isn’t something that you doing only for so long,” said Vasil. “It is so important to write more than a text or a tweet, because one day you’re going to be writing one day and you need to keep those skills sharp.” Vasil said.
Meek closed and thanked the panel and handed off conversation to professor Stephanie Moore. Moore moved into the sharing of stories about Associate Professor Bill Sledzick, who is retiring this December. The panelists, current professors, and even a video of past students all thanked Sledzik for his teaching and continuous support in the public relations sequence.