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PRSSA chapter hosts Leadership Summit

Nov 11, 2019

Posted in: News

By Taylor Burress, Communications Intern

The Public Relations Student Society of America at Virginia Commonwealth University hosted the Central Virginia Leadership Summit on Oct. 30. VCU’s PRSSA Chapter student leaders chose “Road Bumps and Rejection: Turning Challenges into Positive Change” as the topic of discussion and theme for the summit. 

"We felt it was a missing part of the story," said Chris Rasnick, vice president of PRSSA at VCU. "Our mentors and professors are always outlining what we have to do to achieve success and how they came to the position that they acquired, but we never hear about what went wrong along the way."

Group photo of PRSSA and Judi Crenshaw

Last year's summit was hosted by the PRSSA chapter at James Madison University. This year, it was suggested that PRSSA at VCU could host the summit. And the VCU group leaders said they jumped on the opportunity, while adding their own spin on it.

Judith Crenshaw, a Robertson School instructor who serves as president of the Public Relations Society of America Richmond chapter and as the faculty advisor for VCU PRSSA chapter, organized speakers and panelists for the event. Speakers included: Christina Dick, owner of Tiramisu for Breakfast Agency and an adjunct professor at VCU; Kelsey Leavey, public relations and social media specialist at The Hodges Partnership; and Sarah Murphy, communications manager at VCU and chair of PRSSA student relations. Dick gave a presentation on the importance of networking while Leavey and Murphy presented about the New Young PR Professionals program with PRSA Richmond.

Photo of Christina Dick at PRSSA event


In addition, a panel discussed road bumps and rejections, and the talk was moderated by PRSSA VCU president Heather Derflinger and Rasnick. The panel consisted of:

Jeff Wilson, APR,vice president of Padilla Communications;

Paula Otto, APR, senior director of special projects in VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School and adjunct instructor at the Robertson School;

Raymond Hawkes, senior communications strategist at Dominion Energy;

Marc Cheatham, director of constituent services for U.S. Senator Tim Kaine and founder of The Cheats Movement; and

Joshua Smith, public relations sequence coordinator and assistant professor at the Robertson School.

Group photo of PRSSA panelists

When the leaders asked Smith to be a panelist, he said he saw a chance to show a more personal side of himself to the students and audience as well as the opportunity to open up about his path. He also thought it was an important conversation for soon-to-be graduates to hear and be apart of.

"Even those pedantic trivialities and growing pains in the early years of your career can be meaningful, if you choose to reflect that way," said Smith. “Live, learn, grow and repeat."

Rasnick agreed.

"There's so much pressure on us as students to achieve perfection that we often forget that it's okay, and that we are expected to fail along the way," he said.

Group photo of PRSSA panel with Paula Otto

The Central Virginia Leadership Summit wasn't the only public relations event happening that day. PRSA Richmond hosted events in conjunction with Student Connections Month, including an agency tour at Madison+Main, an award-winning brand communications, marketing, and public relations firm.

Group photo of PRSSA in front of Madison and Main


The day continued with the PRSA Richmond luncheon and networking event, which was free to all students. PRWeek editor Steve Barrett joined as speaker to discuss industry trends. The conversation was moderated by Chet Wade, principal at AftonRock Communications LLC and adjunct instructor and advisory board chair at the Robertson School.

"I enjoy every event about today, especially the agency tour because that was my first time actually being inside of [a] PR agency," said Naja Pace, a mass communications major and vice president of PR and communications of PRSSA at Virginia Union University. "Just seeing how different and diverse PR is really makes me love the major even more.

Photo of PRSSA with Chet Wade interview and discussion

Wayneisha Turner is also a mass communications major and vice president of PRSSA at VUU. This is her second year participating in PRSSA events. She said her favorite aspect of the day was the luncheon because she got to reconnect with her mentor.

"We don't have to talk all day, every day, but she's definitely helped guide me since I first met her,"  Turner said. "Being able to network and learn different things from different business professionals in this field and this industry was just amazing."

Crenshaw said it was a successful day for PRSSA at VCU and the Robertson School.

"It exceeded our expectations to have not only a strong showing from VCU's Robertson School and the PRSSA at VCU membership, but students from VUU, Virginia Tech, JMU, Longwood, Liberty University and Radford."

Photo of PRSSA members D'Eric Watson and Sierra Lewis in attendance at the Summit

Rasnick knew that drawing crowds to a school event can be difficult but that did not deter him or the other student leaders. He said they were determined to create the best conference they possibly could.

The summit sold out; hitting room capacity at 75.

"We cannot express our gratitude to our panelists and speakers enough,” Rasnick said. “For being so open about a very difficult topic and helping us as students have a better idea about what we can expect in our future."

The event left a big impression on all those in attendance.

"I know that the speakers and panelists were blown away by the organization of the event, the insightful questions coming their way, and the commitment of the students and faculty members supporting the summit,"  Crenshaw said.

For more information about PRSSA at VCU click here. To stay up to date on events and happenings within the club, follow them on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.