A panel of professionals answers questions at the Mountain West Public Relations Conference March 3. Photos courtesy of Jackie Berryhill, PRSSA.
“He’s the one professor who makes me feel like he cares about my education. … I think it would be poor judgment to let him go. He’s the reason why we have gotten what we have out of the program.”
By Rhett Wilkinson
Assistant Managing Editor, BluePrint magazine
LOGAN— ATK communications director Trina Patterson had just finished speaking about publicizing the importance of her company’s work in preparing rockets for NASA. Dozens of Utah State University students in various communication majors then rose from their seats in the Eccles Center Auditorium and mingled after the 2012 Mountain West Public Relations Conference’s final lecture. For USU public relations professor Preston Parker, however, Saturday afternoon marked the close of a chapter in his life. The determination of the USU Journalism and Communication lead faculty not to renew his contract to tenure track means that the six-year USU instructor will no longer be advising for the annual networking event.
While Public Relations Students Society of America (PRSSA) Treasurer Rob Goates believes that either Timothy Howard or Cynthia Pulley, the two candidates for Parker’s position, will fill the role as the event’s faculty advisor, PRSSA conference chair Jackie Berryhill said she will “quiz” one of the candidates the week of March 6 in hopes that they will have the conference in mind for the years to come.
“Preston is the heart and soul of the conference,” Berryhill said. “Whoever comes after him will have a great responsibility because Preston has done so much outside of school that some don’t even realize.” Parker founded the Cache Valley Social Media Club last year and teaches a variety of courses in the Journalism and Communication department, including a social media class that began last fall. He holds degrees in four different areas, including instructional technology from USU and mass communication from Indiana University.
Parker’s extensive involvement in a variety of projects and intensive care in his student’s academic and professional development is evidenced by the public relations conference, which just completed its fourth year, Berryhill said. “With most professors, you just go to class and work around them, but Preston is around 24/7,” she said, citing PRSSA and the conference as two examples of Parker’s constant utilization of the students’ USU enrollment to connect with the professional world. “He is there when I call and need him. He’s the one professor who makes me feel like he cares about my education.”
Even without Parker in one of the seats of the department’s offices in the new College of Agriculture Building, Goates said he hopes Parker can be connected to the conference in new ways if the soon-to-be-appointed professor intends to continue the event, perhaps as one of its guest speakers. “No doubt that Preston was an integral part of the preparation of the conference. But when it was all said and done, it was planned by the students,” Goates said. “Whether Tim or Cindy gets hired next week, we know they will be a valuable contribution to the PR conference.”
Outside of Patterson, this year’s event included, among others, Jake Moon, co-founder and vice president of Method Communication; Megan Herrick, director of media relations for Vivint; Eric Shultz, former marketing head of the Larry Miller Sports and Entertainment Group; and Amanda Peyton, Jonathan Vingiano and Mallory Blair, who work for self-created public relations firms and design studios in New York. Goates said he was pleased to hear from Greg Dart, the director of admissions and communications at Snow College, and his presentation about advertising and editing methods that have landed him in The Washington Post and New York Post, among others.
Cassandra Flitton’s experience at the conference helped her gain a more “dynamic focus” with regards to her education, she said. The senior has been debating between business management, public relations and communication studies as her major for the next two years. “That’s why I came here: to see my interests and how I approached (the trainings),” Flitton said. “Finding what you’re passionate about and seeing how to take advantage of it, that’s the common goal here. I liked that we had opportunities to find out how we should do that.”
Even still, some shudder at the thought of Parker, a main guide to such opportunities, no longer with USU if the conference runs next year.
“I think it would be poor judgment to let him go,” Berryhill said. “He’s the reason why we have gotten what we have out of the program.”
*** Rhett Wilkinson, as BluePrint’s assistant managing editor, represented the magazine at this year’s Mountain West Public Relations Conference.