By Samantha Adams, Assistant Life Editor
Union University’s public relations undergraduate degree program received Certification in Education for Public Relations in mid-April from the field’s premier professional organization, the Public Relations Society of America.
PRSA has given the certification, referred to as CEPR, to 31 public relations programs. Union’s program is the first in the International Association of Baptist Colleges and Universities and the second in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities to receive the certification. Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., is the other certified CCCU school. The University of Memphis is the only other school in Tennessee that holds the distinction.
The letter announcing the conference of CEPR said the program’s well-developed curriculum, facilities and professional affiliations for students were “particularly impressive.”
The public relations major at Union is housed within the Department of Communication Arts. Public relations professors work and teach in Jennings Hall, where two labs allow students to practice skills necessary for a career in public relations.
Professors also encourage public relations majors and minors to join Union’s Public Relations Student Society of America chapter to learn about the profession and connect with the broader professional community, as well as the Bulldog Communication Group, a student-run public relations firm that has clients in the community.
“CEPR is not accreditation but certification of our program by PRSA, which means they endorse what we’re doing,” said Dr. Katherine Chute, professor of communication arts. “According to PRSA, some employers are showing preference to graduates from programs that have earned this important designation.”
Ashley Blair, assistant professor of communication arts, said CEPR is significant because it tells future employers that the students who graduate from Union’s program have been prepared well for a job.
Blair also said the certification will inform employers that though Union’s program is small, it can be compared in quality with some of the largest schools.
“Being able to say you’re from a CEPR program on your resume provides a specific and significant correlation with PRSA,” Blair said. “Even employers who are not familiar with Union University, but are familiar with CEPR, will connect an added credibility with the applicant.”
Elizabeth Oakes, sophomore public relations major, said the certification boosted her confidence in the education she is receiving.
Oakes said she hopes to apply her public relations degree to several jobs, ranging from event-planning to a public relations position in a company that would require her to travel often.
The certification may give her more opportunities to see her dream jobs become a reality, she said.
The process of receiving certification was not easy.
Chute and Blair said they spent hours last summer and fall gathering information about the program and filling out a lengthy application as the first step in the certification process.
“I would say the most difficult aspect was gathering all the data PRSA requires,” Chute said. “The certification is as much about Union University as it is our specific program, so there was a lot they wanted to know.”
The completed application was more than 30 pages long before the certification team arrived, Chute said.
“Then, during the site visit, the team also wanted to see samples of student work, syllabi for our classes and departmental assessment information,” Chute said.
The long process will be complete in October, when the ceremonial conferring of certification will take place at the PRSA International Conference in San Francisco.