College of Media collaborates to create PR certificate

Students can now gain a certificate in the skill of producing, conveying and protecting a company’s image and reputation. The Department of Communication and the College of Media collaborated to create a public relations certificate program.

Matt Hutton, founder and creative director of the Champaign-based agency Spinlight Studio, said public relations is about projecting an image of a client to the press and the public.

“A lot of that happens through sending information out to the press in the form of releases and getting information out there hoping someone picks it up, but the purpose is to steer opinions,” Hutton said.

Rhiannon Clifton, program director for the department of advertising, said the certificate program is open to any undergraduate student at the University that meets the criteria outlined in the application.

In order to obtain the 15-credit hour undergraduate-level certificate, students must take the core courses, JOUR 200, ADV 310, ADV 350 or JOUR 400 and ADV 410. They will also need to take an additional course from a list of electives. Students must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 in order to get the certificate. Anyone can get the certificate, even non-University students.

Clifton said people from a variety of different majors could benefit from the public relations certificate program.

“You might have a student who has a technical background as their major but wants to get the PR certificate to be able to communicate better with audiences about the technical field,” she said.

She said public relations is an industry that is continuing to expand.

“As digital media proliferates, reputation management, crisis communication and public relations are becoming more and more important in every facet of industry,” she said. “So students that have an education grounding in this area could be more marketable in just about any industry you look at.”

Hutton said public relations continues to change as different forms of communication emerge. and he highlighted social media as a large part of it.

Geena Wakeley, sophomore in LAS, said she heard about the certificate program from her adviser. Wakeley said she was not positive she was going to participate in the program at this time, but she was definitely going to look more into it.

“I think it’s another great thing to have on your resume, and it’s something I am interested in,” she said. “It’s not that much more work than I’m already doing, and it kind of relates to everything.”

Clifton said when a student is putting a resume together, the certificate program makes a better impression, showing “a core, plus electives, rather than just saying ‘I took three classes in PR.’”

She added it also gives students a chance to specialize in an area of communication, advertising or journalism.

Wakeley said as a communication student, she thought others would be interested in the program, as it offered a “hands-on and skill oriented” experience for students.

Clifton said the first step for students to apply for the certificate is to check the requirements on the program’s website. Then, they should speak with their adviser to make sure it fits in their academic plan and they could feasibly complete it. The application has a deadline of March 1.

She added eventually the program will move toward an online base, with some classes being offered online for flexibility or for students to get an early start on the certificate.