Public relations students, faculty and alumni feel strong connection
There’s nothing like the strong ties of a close-knit family bond. Although many people think of families as tied together by blood relation, the members of Ohio Northern University’s public relations (PR) family are bound together by something different – the pride that comes with being part of a highly successful small academic program.
The average graduating class size for the PR program is eight students. This year’s class graduated five. All members of the program see each other virtually every day, attending the same classes together, participating in the same extracurricular activities, traveling together for class trips, you name it. Naturally, this closeness in proximity translates to closeness on a personal level too.
Alisa Agozzino, BA ’01, associate professor of public relations, has seen this incredible bond firsthand. Along with Kathie Fleck, her faculty counterpart in the PR program, Agozzino appreciates this inevitably personal connection with each student that comes through the program. An ONU alumna herself, she has fostered the past 10 graduating classes of the PR program. Each one has been special and memorable in its own way.
“It is family,” she says. “At the end of the day, you’ve got their back. You really want to see the students succeed, and you really do care about them.”
The bond starts to form the first day the students walk through the door; instantly, they become part of the PR family, whether they realize it or not. The program is ultra-student-focused, meaning that classes, activities and trips are fashioned around the individual students and their interests.
“One of the beauties of Ohio Northern is, because we’re so small, we morph our curriculum to that class and what their interests are,” Agozzino says. “Not every program is going to do that. We’re unique, and we know that.”
There also is ever-present guidance from faculty and staff who will gladly take students under their wing to help get them where they want to go professionally.
The PR program’s alumni have an impressive track record of success, going on to work for organizations such as the Chicago Cubs, Disney, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Cedar Point, just to name a few. The program boasts a 100 percent placement rate within six months of graduation.
Ultimately, though, the students walk away with more than just an education. They come away with a lifetime family, all bonded by what that brought them together: Ohio Northern University’s PR program.
The Ohio Northern PR program is unlike anything I have ever experienced before,” says Allison Gellner, BA '17, a recent public relations graduate from West Jefferson, Ohio. “From the moment I joined the program, I felt like I was part of something truly special. Some of my favorite memories and closest relationships have stemmed from the PR program. Without them, my time at Northern would have been much different.
This strong bond is not something new to the program. A majority of ONU’s PR alumni remain connected with the program in some way, and after 10 years teaching in the program, Agozzino knows where almost all of her former students are today.
They also make a special effort to financially support the program, knowing the importance of grooming the upcoming generation of new PR professionals hailing from their alma mater.
“Alumni feel so connected to the program that they still want to see it grow,” Agozzino says. “They just feel passionate about the program. It’s their affinity.”
Even today’s PR students stay connected with alumni in that they want to maintain the high standard set by each graduating class before them. To cite just one example, ONU’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter has been one of only two out of more than 300 chapters nationwide to win the Star Chapter Award every year since its inception in 2006. The bar has been set progressively high for each group, and nobody wants to drop the ball.
“We stand on the shoulders of giants,” Agozzino says. “There was someone here before us that built that foundation. No one wants to be the class that lets the giants down.”
The program has adopted the motto “in it to win it” as a kind of rallying cry for all the hard work they put into national competitions and conference presentations. The students are seeking success, but not just for its own sake. It’s all part of something the PR family calls the Northern PR tradition, and with every new graduate, that tradition lives on and another piece of Ohio Northern is dispatched to make its mark on the world.
I love that our students are so dedicated that they will devote hours of their lives toward these projects, and they really don’t do it just to win – they do it because they really care,” she says. “They get invested, they get engaged and then they care, and I love that we’re small enough that we can do that.
“The education, opportunities and resources I have gained from the PR program are invaluable, but at the end of the day, I just want to uphold the Northern PR tradition,” Gellner says. “It’s something we pride ourselves on.”
The bottom line: Everyone involved deeply cares – the faculty, the alumni and the students. The end result? Each class sets a higher bar for those that follow, allowing a legacy of excellence to be carried on year after year.
Ask any alumnus: There’s just nothing like a PR Polar Bear.