Senior Isabella Pacinelli chose to explore the path of writing when she started school at Ashland University in 2017. In the pursuit of her dream career as a magazine writer, she invested in Digital Media Journalism as a main concentration with a minor in Public Relations (PR).
Together, these two fields have contributed to the knowledge and realizations that Pacinelli has had in her time on campus.However, she felt as though her degree was not going to be enough to set her above others graduating and applying for similar positions.
“When I came in here knowing that I wanted to do journalism, I didn’t know if that was enough. I wanted to study something broad that I knew would take me a lot of different places,” Pacinelli said. “PR struck me because there is a lot of opportunity.”
With the assistance of Shawn Orr, professor of public relations, the two explored career options and next steps that would be a good fit for Pacinelli.
One step that Orr thought would benefit Pacinelli was achieving the certificate in the principles of public relations, which is a universal accrediting board certificate.
“She told me to think about it, so I talked to family and friends and then we went into the process of setting me up and getting me registered. I was just thinking about the future,” Pacinelli said
In November of 2020, Pacinelli began studying and preparing for the examination.
10 hours of courses, 13 learning modules, numerous presentation PowerPoints, learning checks and two weeks of studying materials later and Pacinelli was ready for the test in early December.
She became the first student in Ashland University’s public relations program to ever successfully earn the certificate and was one of almost 500 students in the country to pass the exam.
“Getting the certificate itself is a staple of the dedication and determination I have to set myself up for a good future,” Pacinelli said. “There was a lot of preparation and it was a time commitment and quite a bit of money, but it showed that I’m willing to invest in myself.”
Orr spoke about the qualifications for taking the test, which is to be in a major or minor of public relations and to be within six months of graduating college or having had graduated college.
“The goal is to help students stand out and differentiate them from newly graduated students who haven’t taken this examination,” Orr said. “A student has to be a member of PRSSA [Public Relations Student Society of America], you have to have an advisor and then fill out information for taking the test.”
Orr said this examination and its practice modules has inspired AU’s program to introduce a new curriculum.
“For me, as a faculty in this, we have updated much of the curriculum in our public relations degree to really make sure that students are marketable and prepared to go out to the workforce.”
New classes teach students critical information like the history of PR, the PR process, campaigns, theories, models, media, ethics, laws and crisis management. A few additions to the course load are: Strategic Social Media, Digital Media and Crisis Management.
Orr put Pacinelli in contact with a colleague who owns a PR company and the two had an informal interview, where Pacinelli was told what the entry level steps were. Both Orr and her colleague recommended the examination to Pacinelli.
“When I did it and decided to do it, it wasn’t a big deal—it’s just something I had to do for myself,” Pacinelli said. “I had no idea I was the first at the school to complete it. I had no idea that less than 500 PR students passed this.”
Her next step is to graduate and to begin applying to as many PR and communications-oriented jobs as she can. She has a desire to continue in the field of writing, hoping to work her way up to her dream job in New York City at a magazine.
Right now, she is interning for a nonprofit firm in Mansfield, and with the help of Orr, has improved her resume enough to feel confident applying to jobs within the realms of both public relations and communications.
As for the university’s new accomplishment of earning its name on the certificate list and Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), PRSSA websites, there is now a second student who has begun the process of preparing for the examination.
“I would love to see this become a capstone course at the end of a student program. In the PR program we focus on working with real clients and hold real importance and value with internships,” Orr said.