New public relations major up for review

A new public relations major is on track for approval and could be offered in the fall of 2017.

Garry Gilbert, director of the journalism program and editorial adviser of The Oakland Post, is chair of the committee to propose the major.

The push began about two years ago.

“We had been looking at the growing interest in our PR portions and the student demand for the Intro [to PR] class,” Gilbert said.

When exploring the possibility of expanding the program to include a PR major, the committee questioned journalism and communications undergraduates and confirmed high levels of enthusiasm.

The group also looked at employers, surveying 36 PR agencies to see whether OU offering a PR major would make a difference in deciding to hire the university’s students. They all said yes.

To create the 40-credit major, the committee hopes to include the theories classes offered in the communication department, as well as the applied skills classes in journalism. Other PR-specific courses would also be added, including crisis communications, event planning and speech writing.

If approved by the Board of Trustees and the university president, the program will be able to launch. The plan is to accept students by application, initially accepting 30 people per year in order to carefully manage the program’s growth.

“I would project that within about five years, we would have 150 students majoring in PR,” Gilbert said.

Oakland has already begun to gain expertise in the field by hiring Chiaoning Su this year. She is the school’s first tenure-track professor with a specialty in public relations.

After getting her master’s degree in organizational communication at Emerson College, Su went back to her home country of Taiwan, where she worked for a worldwide PR agency, Ogilvy, for three years. She has also been involved in political communications, as both her father and sister were politicians.

Su said many of the faculty at OU have years of solid working experience in the industry.

“I think I can bring an international perspective and theoretical frameworks into our new major,” she said. “Together we can create something interesting.”

Su’s vision includes creating courses in international perspectives, like global PR and branding.

“I’ll be counting on her to help shape this program,” Gilbert said.

Su said that with enough students, OU would eventually be able to establish a chapter in the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). This student organization would be able to attend events with other schools’ chapters and PR professionals.

In the long term, she has the idea to create a program that combines a study abroad trip with a PR internship.

“I have very good connections with PR agencies back in Asia, like China, Taiwan and Hong Kong,” she said. “So I could take students to Asia over the summer, where they can not only take a few classes, but also have an internship opportunity for a few weeks.”

All of this is culminating at a good time, as the PR job market is growing.

Employment as a public relations specialist is projected to grow six percent from 2014 to 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is in contrast to a nine-percent decline in journalistic professions, like reporters, correspondents and broadcast news analysts.

Su said a communication degree can be a little broad.

“Communications is good because it’s a little bit of everything, but in such a competitive job market, employees want to see expertise,” she said. “So PR as a major being specified on their certificate would be a way for our students to stand out and attract more PR companies.”

This program will help to set OU apart from other universities in southeastern Michigan, as only Wayne State University and Eastern Michigan University currently have PR majors.

OU is also surrounded by many companies in need of interns who write and speak well, such as the Detroit Zoo and the Palace of Auburn Hills.

“Our location is optimum for students to get a great internship in PR, and we know those internships tend to lead to jobs,” Gilbert said.

Ultimately, Gilbert believes it will help to attract more incoming freshman to the school.

“It will really help make Oakland a first-choice university,” he said.