It has been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
My journey to the PRSA College of Fellows began when I walked into a federal office building in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to assume my first job in public relations. Other jobs followed across the country and around the world, as I built my career step by step. In 2008, I took a big step when I joined PRSA and the Portland Metro Chapter. In 2009, I took an even bigger step when I walked to the front of the room at Portland’s Governor (now Sentinel) Hotel during the PRSA Portland Metro Chapter Spotlight Awards to accept my APR pin from President Tom Unger.
Cut to 2012 and two signature moments at the PRSA International Conference. On a cool Saturday evening in San Francisco, I was privileged to be present when Dianne Danowski Smith and Tom Unger – both colleagues and friends – were inducted into the College of Fellows.
The next moment came one day later during a College of Fellows mentoring session. The mentor (a member of the College of Fellows) listened carefully as I described my career and service then confirmed what I suspected: I wasn’t ready yet. But that conversation stayed with me and laid the groundwork for my experience nearly three years later.
In simple terms, the PRSA College of Fellows application is about documenting your lifetime of contributions to our profession. You can find out more on the PRSA website.
Because my career spans so many years and employers, it took longer than I estimated to find documents and determine dates, contact information for past colleagues and more. I was fortunate that I had retained professional materials across several decades. If you’re considering pursuing the College of Fellows path one day, be sure to document your accomplishments and keep good records.
My 2012 mentor encouraged me to seek a GoodFellow. GoodFellows are members of the College of Fellows who coach candidates through the application process. In my experience, having a GoodFellow was invaluable. A GoodFellow brings the highest level of professional standards, understands the application process and knows what the Fellows Selection Committee will consider. Additionally, your GoodFellow’s knowledge of your career and service is based solely on what they read in your application, which is the same experience that the Selection Committee will have.
I took part in College of Fellows events offered by the Portland Metro Chapter as well as the online webinar provided by PRSA National. Both were helpful in different ways.
But beyond the application materials provided by PRSA National, the most valuable document that I received was the successful College of Fellows application that Dianne Danowski Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA, generously shared with me. Insights from Dianne’s
application strengthened my own, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to thank her publicly.
My most heartfelt advice to potential candidates is to enjoy the experience. This process will mean the most if it’s about the journey – not the destination.
The outpouring of generosity and support from my peers throughout the process was overwhelming and deeply touching. The support that I received from my husband, Joe Smith, means more than I can ever say. His pride when he read my final application and his excitement when I got the news that I was being inducted into the College of Fellows are shared moments that I will never forget.
The day PRSA announced the news was amazing. There were phone calls, cards, emails flowers and balloons. I am profoundly grateful to my family, friends and colleagues – and our chapter – for embracing the celebration as their own because it truly was. They all played a role in it. I hope everyone gets to experience that at least once in their career and in their life: a day of pure joy.
Jim Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, has referred to members of the College of Fellows as those who have left a “footprint” in the profession. My application allowed me to revisit signature moments in my career and life, assessing my own footprint and, most important, sharing the experience with those who mean the most to me.
On Nov. 7, a warm Saturday evening in Atlanta, Georgia, PRSA held its 2015 College of Fellows Induction Dinner. At one table, six Portland Metro Chapter presidents dined together, representing the past, present and future of the chapter: Jenna Cooper, APR; Dianne Danowski Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA; Taraneh Fultz, APR; Mark Mohammadpour, APR; Tom Unger, APR, Fellow PRSA; and me. Rich with chapter history, that table also hosted three William W. Marsh Lifetime Achievement Award honorees: Dianne, Tom and Kathy Hubbell, APR, Fellow PRSA.
One by one, the 2015 inductees walked to the front of the room at the Capital City Club to receive their College of Fellows Medallions.
Suddenly, it was my turn. Six years after presenting my APR pin to me at the Spotlight Awards, Tom Unger took my arm and escorted me on my final steps into the PRSA College of Fellows.
* Barbara Kerr, APR, Fellow PRSA, served as 2014 president of PRSA’s Portland Metro Chapter.
A celebration of PRSA Portland Metro Chapter leadership at the 2015 College of Fellows Induction Dinner. Standing (left to right): 2015 President Taraneh Fultz, APR; 2009 President Tom Unger, ABC, Fellow PRSA; 2012 President Jenna Cooper; 2014 President Barbara Kerr, APR, Fellow PRSA; 2015 President-elect Mark Mohammadpour, APR; and 2006 President Dianne Danowski Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA. Far right: Kathy Hubbell, APR, Fellow PRSA, has served on the national PRSA Board of Directors. She, Dianne Danowski Smith and Tom Unger are all recipients of the chapter’s William W. Marsh Lifetime Achievement Award. Seated: Gerard Corbett, APR, Fellow PRSA, was the 2012 chair and CEO of PRSA.