When I first started college, I wanted to major in history and eventually go to law school, but thought the world had too many lawyers. Public Relations was ranked in a magazine as one of the hottest jobs so I went for it. During college, I worked at a catfish restaurant (we actually flipped cornbread in the air at the tables and would catch it in a pan, or try to at least) where I was promoted to a manager, and transferred to a new store in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I worked full time while obtaining a journalism degree with an emphasis in public relations at the University of Southern Mississippi. When I graduated in the mid ‘90s, I realized that my prospects were low for getting a decent job where I lived in Mobile, Alabama.
I applied for the master’s program in corporate communication at the University of South Alabama, which was one of the top programs in the country thanks to Dr. Don Wright, who is now at Boston University. I earned a graduate assistantship, and taught my first college class in 1999 – organizational communication—and was hooked. Dr. Wright encouraged me to get my Ph.D. and I was offered assistantships at several schools. I accepted a fellowship at University of Miami to work with Dr. Don Stacks.
After I completed my coursework, I moved to California, and worked as chair for the online program at ITT Technical Institute in Torrance, California. This had a great impact on me. Some of my students had served time in prison. One of my students from Compton showed me scars of where he had been shot five times on his back and side. I even had a student who was shot during a break from my class. Many of the students faced adversity, grew up in tough neighborhoods, and wanted to improve their lives by going to college.
After I transferred to Cal Poly Pomona to teach public relations, I was fortunate to have two mentors: one of my colleagues, Dr. Jane Ballinger, and my chair, Dr. Rich Kallan, who is one of the best writers/editors I have ever met (his book, Renovating Your Writing, is the BEST writing book). I keep in touch with many of my former students, and I still teach classes online at Cal Poly during the summers. When I was in California, I also worked on the side getting paid or volunteering to do non-related PR things—working as a “merch” girl for bands, sitting in the audience at Judge Judy (yes, you get paid to sit in the audience), and even singing on a friend’s album. This taught me to make sure you keep doing the things you enjoy no matter how crazy life gets. When my youngest was one, our family moved to Boone, N.C., where I taught at Appalachian State University. There, I bulked up my research portfolio, and sailed through tenure.
Starting in 2003, I began working concurrently as a media analyst, and ended up working for several companies (most were acquired). Michelle Vangel, a Cision VP, was my supervisor for most of my analyst career. In 2013, I took on a more active role as a senior research analyst for pharma and financial clients. For a year-and-a-half, I wrote a report for one client every morning at 4 a.m.
I learned from my experiences that the people you meet along the way make the most difference in your career. I owe enormous amounts of gratitude to those I was fortunate to work with—smart professors; brilliant friends, family, and colleagues; and my fantastic bosses and mentors.
After serving on the board of the Institute for Public Relations (and earning an award from the organization in 2001), I was thrilled to land my current gig as President & CEO of the Institute for Public Relations. I attribute this to my strong research background, academic experience, and service to the profession. My time has just begun at the Institute, and I am excited to promote our mission of conducting and sharing research that matters to the profession—a mission that has never been as important as it is today.
- Masters student and instructor, University of South Alabama (2 years)
- Doctoral student and instructor, University of Miami (4 years)
- Corporate Relations Intern, Allstate Insurance Company (3 months)
- KDPaine & Partners (position concurrent with teaching positions for 3 years)
- Online program chair, ITT technical Institute (1.5 years)
- Cal Poly Pomona University (5 years)
- Ramkhamhaeng University (Bangkok, Thailand) (6 months)
- Cymfony (position concurrent with teaching positions for 2 years)
- Visible Technologies/Cision (position concurrent with teaching positions for 2.5 years)
- Graduate instructor, West Virginia University (position concurrent with teaching positions for 6 years)
- Appalachian State University (6 years)