Students, graduates of UAB’s award-winning public relations program command attention

Awards and honors continue for the PRCA/PRSSA at UAB chapter, where students put their classroom learning into real-world practice, preparing them for careers and vaulting them into the professional world.

inside prsa 1Students in UAB’s chapter received 28 of the 41 awards at the PRCA annual conference this spring.Students earning degrees in public relations at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are winning top awards — and top jobs.

Through the student-led Public Relations Council of Alabama/Public Relations Student Society of America at UAB chapter, they put their classroom learning into real-world practice.

The PRCA/PRSSA at UAB chapter is a registered student organization and an extension of the academic public relations program in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Communication Studies. Students are provided with professional development and networking opportunities, including membership to both PRCA and PRSSA.

For the sixth year in a row, UAB is the Public Relations Council of Alabama’s Chapter of the Year.

Students in UAB’s chapter received 28 of the 41 awards at the PRCA annual conference this spring: 10 Medallion Awards, the highest honor; 10 Excellence Awards; six Merit Awards; Judge’s Choice to Madeha Javed; and Student of the Year Second Place to Katherine Kirk, incoming president of the chapter. 

In the PRSA awards, UAB’s students won honors in the categories of Community Service, Campaigns, Website and Diversity. UAB won an award in every category for which it was eligible and submitted an entry, competing against all other public relations programs and schools in Alabama, says Jacquelyn S. Shaia, J.D., Ph.D., professor and director of the program.  

“I am so proud of these students for their exceptional hard work and commitment to UAB and the chapter,” Shaia said. “Their high level of professionalism and the quality of their entries earned the respect of the judges.”

Javed won the Judge’s Choice Award, a huge honor, for her research and fact sheet on Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School. Javed also won a Medallion Award. 

inside 2 prsaLeft, Katherine Kirk, incoming president of the chapter, won Student of the Year Second Place, and Lillie Ben Harris, president of the chapter, won a Medallion Award. UAB was named Public Relations Council of Alabama’s Chapter of the Year for the sixth year in a row.Lexie De La Riva of Gadsden, Alabama, won PRCA Awards of Excellence for her campaign for nonprofit On River Time, including for her crisis communication plan, media pitch and brochure. Sophia Hogan of Dothan, Alabama, won PRCA Medallion Awards for her nonprofit campaign for the Magic City Acceptance Center in the News Release, Newsletter and Fundraiser Graphic categories. Both are December 2023 graduates.

Medallion Awards were earned by Ali Pappas, who won two; Lillie Ben Harris, who is president of the chapter; plus Mariah Payne, Heloise Sierra and Ingram Holt, Madeline Maitrejean, and Bobby McEwen and Kierra Turner. Pappas and Payne also won Excellence Awards, along with Ashley Fallin, Angel Pine, Gareth Daniel and Sam Pugh. Fallin won two Merit Awards, and Pappas, Pugh and Daniel won one each. 

Excellence year after year

Chapter of the Year, Judge’s Choice and Medallion Awards are just some of the major honors heaped onto UAB’s chapter.

In 2022 and 2023, the chapter earned national honors and Dr. F.H. Teahan Chapter Awards, including Outstanding Chapter Firm, from the Public Relations Student Society of America. The Teahan Awards recognize outstanding work and achievements of PRSSA chapters in several categories. The group was named a STAR Chapter by the Public Relations Society of America for the fourth consecutive year — a testament to the program’s growing excellence. The award recognizes the outstanding programs, networking and professional development opportunities, and community service of the members. The chapter was also recognized institutionally as 2023’s Outstanding Student Organization at UAB by the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership

In 2022, Alabama PRSA honored UAB with Best Chapter Campaign, Community Service, Chapter Diversity and Chapter Website awards. UAB was awarded the PRCA Bettie W. Hudgens Student Chapter of the Year. Chapter members received 45 individual awards for their public relations work. In October, the chapter received the Star Chapter Award from PRSSA.

In 2021, UAB won the Alabama PRSA Outstanding Chapter for the first time, and Outstanding Chapter Campaigns, which recognizes students’ community service in representing seven nonprofit organizations in Alabama. In 2020, PRCA awarded UAB chapter members six of the nine Medallion Awards, 15 of the 23 Awards of Excellence and four of 11 Awards of Merit.

Chapter members worked exceptionally hard to achieve excellence in this program and field, Shaia says. The time, effort and focus the students have devoted to their studies is apparent through this recognition.

“National recognition from PRSSA and the Dr. F.H. Teahan Chapter Awards Program allows our students to successfully compete as they enter the workforce,” Shaia said. “These awards are judged by longtime practicing public relations professionals.” 

Students are successful for two major reasons, says Tehreem Khan, a December 2022 graduate who was president of the PRCA/PRSSA at UAB chapter and now works in the UAB Office of Marketing and Communications.

“First, the UAB public relations program’s professor-to-student ratio is an asset,” Khan said. “Each student has the chance to get extensive feedback on their work, fostering a culture of learning and improvement. Second, students are exposed to real-world clients, such as nonprofit organizations, to create tangible, meaningful work for them.”  

Producing quality work for professional clients as students does not go unnoticed and gives students well-deserved recognition, says Khan, who had internships with UAB Marketing and Communications, UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine Communications, and the Frank M. Johnson Jr. Institute in Montgomery, Alabama. As a student, Khan received the PRCA Foundation Diversity and Multicultural Scholarship and the PRCA Michael K. Simmons Student of the Year Award, plus two Medallion Awards, two Excellence Awards and a Merit Award from PRCA, and the Wordsmith Award from PRSA Alabama. 

Public relations graduates from UAB are in demand

UAB public relations graduates who were hired immediately upon graduation include Dylan Baggiano, class of 2023, who “won every award possible,” Shaia said, including PRCA Judge’s Choice, Alabama PRSA Wordsmith Award, Alabama PRSA Award of Excellence for PR Strategist, and three individual Merit Awards. Baggiano was first an intern at ACIPCO in his senior year and was then hired as a communications specialist.

Inside 3 prca 3UAB’s students won PRSA awards in every category for which it was eligible and submitted an entry, competing against all other public relations programs and schools in Alabama.December 2022 graduate Sam Adams was an outstanding nontraditional student who came to UAB after serving in the Navy. Active in leadership with the PRCA/PRSSA at UAB chapter, Adams won two awards of Merit and one Medallion Award from PRCA and the PR Strategist Award from Alabama PRSA. Adams is employed at Thompson Tractor Co. and was recently promoted to marketing coordinator. 

Emily Liming Johns, class of 2021, won PRCA Merit, Excellence and Medallion Awards. Johns held an internship with UAB and was hired upon graduation, then promoted to communications specialist in the Heersink School of Medicine Dean’s Office. 

Purnima Janarthanan held a master’s degree but decided to return to school and enroll in the public relations curriculum as a non-degree-seeking student in 2019. She received Medallion, Excellence and Merit Awards for her work in representing the South City Theatre. She was hired as a communications specialist for the UAB Center for Exercise Medicine when she completed the program in 2021.

Briana Bryant, a May 2018 graduate, was a nontraditional student with experience in the public relations industry in California before moving to Birmingham. Winner of four Excellence Awards from PRCA, she served in the PRCA/PRSSA at UAB chapter leadership and held a national position as PRSA Regional Ambassador. She was hired upon graduation by the UAB Collat School of Business, lead as head of marketing for the UAB Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, then was recruited first by Southern Research as director of communications then again by NP Strategy, a Maynard/Nexsen subsidiary; her last role there was director, leading the company’s Alabama market expansion. In June, Bryant will assume her new position as head of marketing and business development for Sikora Law, a leading commercial real estate firm. 

April 2017 graduate Charles Cronin, a nontraditional student, was president of the PRCA/PRSSA at UAB chapter and received two PRCA Merit Awards. Hired upon graduation by Vulcan Materials, Cronin was promoted and is a project analyst at Vulcan Materials Co. in the East and Southern Gulf Coast Divisions. 

An education in public relations is proven to offer opportunities in many different areas, Shaia says.

“This program — and UAB — are devoted to these students and their success,” Shaia said. “It is designed to challenge the student and simulate what the field is truly like once they graduate. Most importantly, it offers each student the opportunity to succeed in life and make a difference in our community and world.”