Posted: December 1, 2014, 2:11 p.m.
by Doug Killough.
For every college student, especially those studying public relations, networking is essential. The public relations industry offers many opportunities for students to gain valuable, real-world work experience and connections with professionals — the most common being PRSSA, Public Relations Student Society of America.
PRSSA is a national organization with chapters at multiple universities. It is affiliated with PRSA, Public Relations Society of America, which is the professional organization. PRSSA has a national committee consisting of the national president, immediate past president, publications editor-in-chief and seven vice presidents overseeing the areas of advocacy, career services, chapter development, member services, professional development, public relations and regional conferences.
Meet Heather Harder. Harder serves as the PRSSA national president for the 2014-2015 academic year. As national president, Harder must have multiple skills to fulfill the position requirements.
“There’s a lot that goes into [being national president], but I’d narrow down the core skillset to strategic planning, team management, editing and speaking. I edit a lot of materials from the vice presidents, and my goal is to always enhance their work and help them take a strategic approach,” Harder said. “I also do a lot of outreach, attend meetings, and deliver speeches and updates.”
Being national president means taking on significant responsibilities. Those responsibilities can be overwhelming, but Harder remains focused. It’s her focus and passion for the industry that make her an asset to PRSSA and the public relations industry as a whole.
“Heather is not just focused on deliverables, but the meaning of the interactions that deliverables can, and should, be leading toward,” Brian Price, PRSSA Immediate Past President said. “It’s that kind of thoughtfulness that is making her successful as PRSSA national president and provides value to our industry.”
Harder has made a significant impact thus far in her term as president, but she has not done so without past experience. Harder previously served as national vice president of member services, as well as many positions at the university chapter level, from a committee member to secretary to chapter president.
For any student hoping to serve on the PRSSA National Committee, chapter involvement is crucial. Being involved at the chapter level helped prepare Harder for her role as the national president.
“It’s hard to get elected to National Committee if you don’t have experience leading a chapter. National Committee works so closely with our chapter presidents and members that we need to have a strong understanding of how things work at the chapter level,” Harder said. “Dedicated chapter leadership is the best preparation for National Committee.”
Experience and involvement at the chapter level helped Harder gain the knowledge she needs to serve as national president but it is the intangibles that set her apart.
“I think what makes Heather a very qualified national president and leader is that she is somebody you can count on, at all times. It’s engrained in her as a professional to not just meet the standard, but go beyond it to create additional value,” Price said. “She’s not satisfied with the results until something is of quality substance.”
Harder set high goals when she became the national president. “By the end of my term as PRSSA national president, I hope to have advanced our society and to have had one of the most successful terms there has been in regard to member engagement and advocacy for our profession,” Harder said.
Heather Harder has taken advantage of the opportunities provided by PRSSA. She joined PRSSA as a freshman at Elon University and immediately reaped the benefits. She worked her way up through involvement and now sits at the highest position available to PRSSA members, the PRSSA national president.
Harder will graduate from Elon University in December and will begin working as a public affairs account coordinator at Capstrat in Raleigh, North Carolina, in January. Through her past, current and future endeavors, Harder hopes to make a positive impact.
“After I retire, I want to look back on my career knowing I impacted the lives of thousands of students, made others stronger leaders and created breakthrough ideas that enhanced the public relations profession,” Harder said.