PRos: Eight professors and professionals who have changed my life forever / by Jasmine Tate

April 7 was a nationwide day of celebration in the world of public relations. Betsy Plank Day honors the life and legacy of a legend in the profession that we know and love. Plank was instrumental to the establishment of the Public Relations Student Society of America, a pioneer in the public relations industry and an inspiration to many.

PRSSA has changed my life forever and truly exceeded the promises of the tagline to “enhance your education, broaden your network and launch your career.”

The USM Chapter of PRSSA joined in a month-long celebration of Plank initiated by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. The “Planks of Thanks” campaign encouraged students, educators and practitioners to show appreciation to those who have influenced their public relations knowledge, experience and successes.

Betsy Plank is the Godmother of public relations and set high standards for students and professionals through her experience, passion and mentorship. Today I would like to pay tribute to eight public relations practitioners and professors who have tremendously impacted my life and career, beginning with Amber Narro, Ph.D., Southeastern Louisiana University Associate Professor.

1.       Dr. Narro was my first professor in the communication program at Southeastern. She introduced me to PRSSA, gave me opportunities to become involved in public relations beyond the classroom and pushed me to compete in my first public relations competition at the Southeast Journalism Conference -- as a freshman!  She was instrumental in my academic career at Southeastern and helped me gain experience as a volunteer in the communications’ department at North Oaks Health System during my first year as a college student.

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2.       Melanie Zaffuto, North Oaks Health System Public Relations Manager, welcomed me with open arms and allowed me the opportunity to gain valuable experience under her supervision. Although I had not taken my first public relations course and had no idea what a PSA or news release was, she gave me assignments with high expectations, resources and tools to succeed. She was always supportive of my academics, listened to my ideas and suggestions and even joined PRSA under my recommendation. I gained experience and opportunities as a volunteer that I will cherish forever. 

3.       I have to thank Carol Madere, Ph.D., Southeastern Louisiana University Associate Professor, for my amazing career at Southeastern because she is responsible for the blessing the Department of Languages and Communication with the public relations curriculum. By incorporating hands-on experience into her classes, she extended my knowledge, skills and portfolio samples. When the stresses of my colloquium experiences began to settle, Dr. Madere helped me to narrow my topic and complete my thesis.

4.       There are many things I could say about the influence that Joseph Mirando, Ph.D., Southeastern Louisiana University Professor,  had on my success in and outside of the classroom at Southeastern. He not only encouraged me and my peers to start the university’s chapter of PRSSA, but also joined PRSA so that he could serve as the Faculty Advisor. Dr. Mirando was always there to answer my emails, proofread documents and provide motivation and resources to ensure continued success for our PRSSA Chapter. He is an exceptional educator and genuinely cares about the education and success of his students.

5.       Kathy Pittman’s dedication, pride and commitment to Southeastern Louisiana University are unlike any alumni I know. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to intern at the Southeastern Alumni Association and learn from her expertise in her role as the director. Although I knew Ms. Kathy  from appearances as a guest speaker in classes, my relationship with her deepened during my time at the Alumni Association.  It is an experience that I will never forget. She included me in the complete process of public relations from research to planning, implementation and evaluation. Outside of work-related events, she opened her professional network to me and introduced me to dear friends and colleagues.

6.       Cindy Blackwell, Ph.D., Assistant Director of the College of Mass Communication and Journalism at The University of Southern Mississipppi, is a great example of the power of PRSSA, networking and relationships. I met Dr. Blackwell at LSU during the 2014 PRSSA Regional Conference, “Hollywood Under the Oaks.” During a brief conversation with her, she validated my decision to pursue graduate studies and became instrumental to my success in the program. Dr. Blackwell assisted me in the search for an assistantship position, gave me the opportunity to continue my involvement in PRSSA and became a trusted mentor and friend.

7.       Kristie Aylett, APR, Fellow PRSA and Agency Principal of the KARD Group, exceeded my expectations of what a professional adviser should be. Ms. Kristie goes above and beyond to assist students. She is extremely active with our chapter and takes time to support students by providing internship and job opportunities, professional development activities, educational resources and mentorship. Her passion for the profession is apparent through her words and actions.

8.       In less than six months, Bill Imada completely changed my understanding of what it means to be a mentor. Mr. Imada gave me a life-changing opportunity to be a member of the National Millennial Community and has been an exceptional resource for my peers and me. He has connected me with millennials and executives across the globe and is never too far away from his email. As the Chairman, Chief Connectivity Officer and former CEO of IW Group, Inc., I’m not sure how he does all that he does without an assistant, but he makes it look easy.

April has almost come to an end, but there is still time to join the Planks of Thanks Initiative. Who are you thankful for? Write a note of thanks or share with the world of social media using the hashtag #PlanksOfThanks. I’ll be looking.


Jasmine C. Tate