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Student Achievement Chris McCauley May 09, 2023

Over the past two years, Dylan Baggiano earned some of the most prestigious public relations awards in the state of Alabama. But, surprisingly, his college career did not begin in communications.


Dr. Jacquelyn Shaia and Dylan Baggiano. Instead, while growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, Baggiano dreamed of a career in medicine. He attended high school at St. James School and considered himself a “science-oriented” student. So, when it came time to research his college options, he looked for institutions with renowned medical programs, leading him to the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

He enrolled at UAB in 2017 and declared a major in biology, and, in his second year, he secured a rigorous summer internship in a faculty member’s research lab. It was through this experience that Baggiano began to reevaluate his skills and interests, prompting him to seek new academic opportunities at UAB.

“[During the internship] we started a lab journal review series,” said Baggiano. “The other undergraduate [intern] and myself had to review a paper and present what was going on in that particular experiment and create a presentation on it. That’s when I started putting my communications skills to use. It made me realize I enjoy presenting, speaking, writing, and teaching.”

This realization led Baggiano to the Department of Communication Studies. After researching the department’s programs, he decided to change his major to mass media communication studies (and, eventually, selected a concentration in public relations).

“The storytelling component, the ethical component, and being the key communicator of an organization or group is what attracted me to [PR],” said Baggiano.

In addition, he found a new mentor through the program: Jacquelyn Shaia, Ph.D., J.D., associate professor and director of the UAB Public Relations program.

“The mentorship I received from Dr. Shaia is immeasurable,” Baggiano said. “For the skills I developed through working on projects with her and my classmates to better our community, I would not trade for anything. Through working with Dr. Shaia and other professionals in Birmingham, I’ve learned communication is truly a transformative tool that can be used to actualize the world we wish to create.”

Soon after he declared his new major, COVID-19 emerged, challenging Baggiano and his classmates to find new ways to reach target audiences and network with communications professionals. Despite the challenges, Baggiano still found ways to gets hands-on experience and also take on a leadership role with the Public Relations Council of Alabama/Public Relations Student Society of America (PRCA/PRSSA) at UAB.

“I really connected with the previous leadership of the [PRCA/PRSSA] chapter,” said Baggiano. “One former student really pushed me to have the confidence in myself and to set out and do what I wanted to do. And for the longest time, I was afraid of taking leadership positions, because I don’t really like to be the center of attention.”

That fear faded quickly, though. After joining PRCA/PRSSA at UAB, Baggiano became the Vice President for Award Submissions, a role that allowed him to nurture his leadership skills, interpersonal skills, intrapersonal skills, and writing skills.

“I knew that I wanted to improve my writing skills,” said Baggiano. “I was responsible for putting together a concept and theme for comprehensive annual reports… I quickly learned how to write a compelling program summary and really speak to all of the strengths of our chapter.”

In addition to his responsibilities with PRCA/PRSSA at UAB, Baggiano was excelling in the PR program. According to Shaia, “Working with Dylan over the past several years has been a joy. He took an introductory class to see if this was something he might be interested in, and it was a delight to watch this student discover his true interest and then work as hard as he did to learn everything he could—and perfect his skills—so that he could succeed in a career in that field."

Baggiano found the “Public Relations Campaigns” course to be particularly useful and engaging. Through the class, students research a community-based organization (generating an audit known as a “backgrounder”), develop a proposal for a campaign, execute a contract with the “client,” then implement the project.

“I [developed] leadership skills, project management skills, and time management skills,” said Baggiano. “The most impactful class that I had in the program was definitely the ‘Campaigns’ course, because it gave you practical, on-the-job work experience that… provides you the foundation needed to excel in the public relations industry.”

Through the course, Baggiano worked with Birmingham-based nonprofit Better Basics, an organization that aims to eradicate illiteracy among children in Central Alabama. Baggiano formed and led a team—known as Parma Public Relations (PR)—to support Better Basics, and, together, they proposed a plan to promote and support a community event titled “Blazers Read.” They actively listened to the organization to help them achieve their goals, and, as a result, the work garnered Baggiano and his peers numerous awards from the Public Relations Council of Alabama (PRCA), the Public Relations Society of America (Alabama Chapter), and UAB.

“I won the PR Strategist Award from PRSA Alabama for the Fall 2022 campaign for Better Basics,” said Baggiano. “The medallions I was awarded from PRCA [Birmingham] were for the work of my team [Parma PR]. We were awarded a medallion award for the campaign as a whole, and then we won a medallion for Blazers Read, for a special event. We also won in the category of media relations.”

In addition, Parma PR won the Judges’ Best in Show from PRSA Alabama, and PRCA/PRSSA at UAB won Chapter of the Year (from both PRCA and PRSA Alabama) and Outstanding Student Organization from UAB’s Office of Student Leadership and Involvement.

Along with his responsibilities in the PR program and with PRCA/PRSSA at UAB, Baggiano also participated in two internships. First, he worked as a media intern with UAB’s University Relations team, then he secured a position with American Cast Iron Pipe Company (ACIPCO). Through both experiences, Baggiano discovered a passion for internal communications, which is what he aims to pursue after graduation.

And, clearly, internal communications is a real strength for Baggiano. While at ACIPCO, he authored a feature story in the AMERICAN News Center highlighting the ways in which the company’s engineers create high quality products that support water and energy infrastructure. Unsurprisingly, the work sparked another award for Baggiano: the PR Wordsmith Award from PRSA Alabama. Shaia sees this award—and the many others Baggiano earned—as a sign that he has a long and fruitful career ahead.

"The program is structured such that students receive as much individual attention as possible so that the student is allowed to focus on a particular segment of the public relations field—whether it be health, nonprofit, education, business, government, etc. This is done through one-on-one mentoring as well as internships and opportunities for volunteer work in different areas,” said Shaia. “Oftentimes, as in Dylan's case, the student will complete several internships (sometimes as a student for class credit as well as a volunteer without class credit). The mentorship, together with the internship experience and the regular contact with a client in the ‘Campaigns’ class allows the student to graduate with not just the hard skills in public relations—but the soft skills needed to succeed in any field."

Baggiano graduated this past April, and he is looking to the future with excitement and optimism. As he evaluates his career options, he has a guiding principle that informs his approach to work and community engagement.

“If you go somewhere and you’re in a role, you should always leave it in a better state than it was before you were there,” said Baggiano.

Given all that he accomplished while at UAB, it’s safe to say that he left the PR program and UAB in a better state than when he arrived.

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