By Channing Gatewood


The American University chapter of PRSSA– inspired by the National PRSSA organization — has aimed to not only provide information about the public relations field to its own university, but to expose regional high school students to the field– students who may not be well-informed about public relations and similar degree programs before entering college.

For our high school visit project, AU PRSSA visited Bishop McNamara High School, in Forestville, Maryland. While Bishop McNamara students are at an advantage by having opportunities to enroll in Journalism and similar media/communications courses, a number of schools in the area do not offer such classes. And McNamara, still, does not offer “public relations” as a course. Therefore, PRSSA aimed to educate the students about the field of public relations so that they could have a more holistic understanding of the field, the types of degree programs available, and the skills they will need to succeed in such programs.

This April, AU PRSSA publicity director Kabira Barlow and myself presented to a class of approximately 13 students, students who were enrolled in either Journalism, Broadcast Journalism, or were participating in the Yearbook club. My co-leader and I discussed a number of topics– definitions of public relations, different aspects of PR (including health, entertainment, and sports), and what the students could expect from a college degree program. Additionally, we led a short trivia game, testing the students’ knowledge of social media, recent PR crises, and other current events.

In short, the students were incredible. Their level of engagement, their interest in the topic, their questions, and their enthusiasm about their knowledge of current events allowed Kabira and I to feed off of their energy, resulting in a reciprocally engaging conversation about public relations, college, and our experiences as students in both high school and college.

Coming away from this experience, I would highly encourage AU PRSSA– and other chapters– to organize a high school visit, if possible. As PRSSA members, we have taken the courses, participated in the leadership positions, and generally– have lived the experience that high school students have not yet touched. Also, we are part of an academic program — public relations — that is not made available to many high school students. (Personally, I had never taken anything similar to a public relations course prior to college.) Why not use what we have gained to help high school students have a better understanding of one of their college major choices?

In turn, PRSSA members will receive public speaking, teaching, and lesson-planning experience. The experience could also foster good connections between PRSSA chapters and local high schools, as it did for our chapter with Bishop McNamara High School.

The high school visit is an opportunity for PRSSA chapters to use what we have learned and pass it on to future PR professionals. From my own experience, I can assure you the act is as professionally stimulating as it is rewarding.

**Special thanks to our AU PRSSA faculty advisor, Gemma Puglisi, for her support with this outreach project.**