When I first happened upon PRSSA, I had just returned to Knoxville after a whirlwind first few years of college. I chose art history as a major, simply because I had studied it in high school and absolutely loved it. However, due to a snow storm, I had to register for classes the night before they began. In the final desperate hours of registration, with no art history class on my schedule and the cold winter night creeping in, I searched subjects that had always interested me. While I cannot recall the other classes I looked for and failed to get into, I do remember happily announcing to my family that I had registered for 270, an intro to PR class. I knew nothing about the industry, except what I vaguely knew from television and my parents’ jobs as writers. On my first day ever at UT, I attended 270 with Dr. Hilyard. For two years I had searched for what I wanted to do. That day, it stuck.
Though I was an art history major, I made it my mission to get into the PR industry and make it happen. First, I met with professors. Dr. Hilyard was a fantastic resource for extracurricular ideas, resume editing, and interview tips. Though I wasn’t in PR, she was incredibly willing to help me and hear my story. She suggested I join PRSSA, the pre-professional student organization. This simple suggestion allowed me to connect with local professionals, receive internship blasts, and travel across the country to hear from the nation’s top PR professionals. On a more personal note, it gave me an extracurricular activity at which I truly felt I was receiving quality, relevant information. With like-minded fellow members, I received resume, branding, and PR advice from local professionals each month. Next, I scavenged my contacts, parents’ contacts, and friends for connections to the industry. After compiling a list of people, I sent blind emails to each with simple questions asking for advice. These individuals were essential to my learning process. With different backgrounds and insights, each had fallen into PR in a different way. They gave me advice on UT, internships, and provided support in my journey. Lastly, I just plain went for it. I applied to each internship I could find and perfected telling my complicated and often confusing story. Though many didn’t work out, one did. I’ve had the same internship since Fall 2011 and have been able to learn about PR writing, media relations, customer service, and so much more. My experience in my internship has been the most important part of my time at UT by far. They took a chance on an art history student, and I am so lucky that they did.
The point of all this is that if you want to get into any field–except, I guess, biomedical engineering or something terribly complicated like that–you’ve just got to go for it. Dive in, use your resources, and see what sticks. If it doesn’t work out, I can guarantee that something was learned along the way. I am so grateful to have accidentally signed up for PR 270 that January night. It allowed me to find exactly what I love and has given me the tools, connections, and skills needed to pursue it as a career. Ask for help. Take time to plan. You never know what you might find.