Published on April 29, 2016, at 10:15 a.m.
by Kelley Breeding.
It’s no doubt The University of Alabama is full of opportunities for students wanting to major in public relations. According to a university report, Alabama’s PR program was recognized by PRWeek as one of the top five programs in the nation from 2009 to 2014. One of the many opportunities the PR program possesses is its PRSSA chapter. PRSSA stands for the Public Relations Student Society of America, a student-led organization that helps prepare students for the professional world of public relations. There are about 11,000 students involved in PRSSA and more than 300 chapters in the United States.
This year, Sarah Dougherty has been chosen to fill a position on the national PRSSA committee. She is a rising senior at The University of Alabama who has actively participated in PRSSA each semester. She was the fundraising committee chair her sophomore year and is ending her junior year as vice president for the UA PRSSA chapter. Dougherty said PRSSA has given her the opportunity to attend events and network with peers on a “not so intimidating” level. She has gradually developed skills in PRSSA that she wouldn’t have necessarily learned in class.
Dougherty laughed and said how she jokes about herself being in a serious relationship with the communications building, Reese Phifer, because she is there all the time. She also mentioned that if she is not talking about PRSSA or checking emails, she is probably getting coffee somewhere. That’s some serious dedication.
As PRSSA.org explains, “On the National Committee, students hold the national president, immediate past president, publications editor in chief and seven vice president offices.” Dougherty ran for and was chosen as vice president of career services. This position’s main focus is working on the PRSSA internship center on the PRSSA website, a members-only portal to internship postings.
Tracy Sims, UA instructor since August 2004 and faculty adviser for PRSSA since October 2008, believes Dougherty is the first UA student to hold a PRSSA national committee position. Sims describes Dougherty as being one of those people that just seems to have it together. “Sarah has distinguished herself on the University of Alabama campus with a consistently strong academic record and leadership positions with UA PRSSA and our student-run firm, Capstone Agency,” Sims said.
Dougherty doesn’t take all the credit for her success though; there have been several people who have inspired her along the way. She discussed how the national president of 2013-2014, Brian Price, came to UA her freshman year to talk about the national committee, and running for a national position has been in the back of her head ever since. Other inspirations are last year’s UA PRSSA president, Jacquie McMahon, and UA alumna Betsy Plank. “Betsy Plank’s involvement with PRSSA has inspired me to follow in her footsteps,” Dougherty stated.
Dougherty is excited to fulfill her role as the VP of career services and to continue developing her network. She will be able to attend conference calls with other committee members and travel to meet with them in person. Dougherty said, “As vice president of career services, I will work to connect members to resources and internship listings that will make a difference in their career development.”
Her advice to anyone interested in applying for a future national committee position is to get well-rounded experience in internships and become actively involved in PRSSA as soon as they can. Opportunities are not going to fall in your lap, so get out there, intern, make connections, join organizations and get inspired.