[OP-ED] Why PRSSA is for You: An Opinion Editorial on the Benefits of PRSSA

With over 350 student organizations at James Madison University, there are many opportunities to become an involved student in the JMU community.  The JMU School of Communication Studies has six student organizations that allow SCOM students to be involved with the university and community as well as build professional relationships. One of the organizations is the Public Relations Student Society of America. PRSSA is a pre-professional organization focused on enhancing students’ education, broadening their network, and launching their career in public relations. It is made up of over 10,000 students and advisors organized into about 300 chapters spread throughout the country with one chapter in Argentina. JMU has its own chapter, which is currently in its fifth year.

JMU PRSSA believes in expanding the horizons of members by educating them through workshops designed to enrich their understanding of public relations related topics and agency visits where they can practice their skills and network with professionals. “Being in PRSSA has built my confidence level more than I ever could have imagined,” says Carolyn Chastka, senior PRSSA member.

PRSSA members have access to many benefits that lend them opportunities to advance their careers. First of all, according to the PRSSA website, members have access to the PRSA Jobcenter, which allows them to browse career resources and public relations employment opportunities. Internship opportunities are also posted on the PRSSA Internship Center, which allows members to post résumés and get career tips. “PRSSA opens so many doors. Even if you don’t go to meetings or have the opportunity to reap all the benefits, the job center alone will more than pay for dues,” says Cassie Lenski, president of JMU PRSSA.

Being involved in an organization can broaden students’ knowledge and interests and reiterate the importance of being an active member in the community. In a thesis written by Laura Andrews, Master of Arts communication student at Kent State University, about whether or not undergraduates should join PRSSA, she found that “members were more confident in their skills of PR tactics, starting a job, and found more importance in participating in student organizations.” Non-members had to rely on only the skills they learned in the classroom and previous work experience. Andrews also found that “PRSSA members placed more importance on gaining employment and showed more passion as they progressed through the stages of employment.”

Students who are a part of organizations are exposed, not only to what other members have to offer, but what benefits organizations have as a whole. PRSSA members have the opportunity to visit agencies that work in different industries, see what the public relations industry has to offer, and learn what it is like to work as a public relations professional. JMU PRSSA has taken trips to New York City and Washington D.C. throughout the years visiting many world-renowned agencies such as Burson- Marsteller, Edelman, Fleishman Hillard, and Ketchum networking with professionals and experiencing agency life. “Getting the hands-on experience of networking while at various firms allows me to constantly practice my networking abilities and really gives me a leg up in interviews when I’m on my own,” Chastka adds.

PRSSA chapters set up their own agency visits and trips, but members also have the opportunity to travel to different conferences and events hosted by PRSSA throughout the year. Five students from JMU’s PRSSA recently traveled to San Francisco for the PRSSA National Conference. “My favorite moment with PRSSA was hands down the trip to San Francisco. Every moment of that conference was invigorating and exciting. There was constantly new and fascinating information to pull from incredible people. The relationships I built within my own chapter, as well as with other members, are relationships I will cherish forever,” says Chastka.

Many organizations, especially if one is involved in leadership positions, require a decent amount of time commitment  An InternQueen article titled, Pro and Cons of Getting Involved, said that the cons of being involved in an organization is that “you become extremely busy, have less social time, and time management becomes hard.” However, if students can find that balance between extracurricular activities and school, organizations such as PRSSA can be greatly beneficial. “Active PRSSA involvement signifies a personal and professional commitment to the profession. This commitment to excellence is a clear sign to employers that students care, have a desire to learn and are dedicated to contributing at the highest level possible,” says Don Egle, Professional Advisor for JMU PRSSA.

There are many benefits to joining PRSSA. Not only do students get to practice their PR skills by networking with professionals and agencies, members have access to many resources to help them with their professional careers. PRSSA is not limited to students concentrating in public relations but for anyone interested in learning about the field. “ I was looking for an organization that provided real hands-on experience and prepared me for the work force,” says Cortney Marchetto, marketing major and treasurer of JMU PRSSA. “PRSSA has given me the fundamental tools and skills that I was not able to learn in a classroom.”

Participating in student organizations can help SCOM students explore their interests, develop professional skills, and enhance their college experience. JMU PRSSA is just one of the organizations offered through SCOM and is a great opening into the world of public relations for students.