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Courtney A. Barclay, Ph.D., J.D.
Associate Professor of Communication
Jacksonville University

I’m what you call a “pure academic.” As I made my way from undergrad (I majored in PR) to grad school, I found my passion – teaching. I continued directly into a PhD program with the goal of teaching at the college level. In my degree program and my first teaching job, I specialized in media law. I taught classes specifically tailored to my research interests, clerkships and academic training. But, ready for new challenges, I moved to a smaller university. My teaching responsibilities expanded to include introductory and advanced courses in public relations.

To be honest, it was a bit overwhelming. I didn’t have the professional background that most of my PR professors at the University of Florida had talked about in lectures. How was this “pure academic” going to teach classes like PR Campaigns? I knew how PR was supposed to work, but I also knew enough to know that wasn’t always how it worked in the real world.

Like any good researcher, I sought out the resources I needed. And, I found them – and so much more – with FPRA. I joined FPRA for the workshops and networking, but in the last five years, I have found mentors, friends and leadership opportunities.

I started attending the monthly professional development series hosted by my local Jacksonville chapter. I learned about branding successes and failures, the challenges of public education campaigns and how professionals deal with budget and time limitations. These were all lessons I took back to the classroom. I repeated these stories alongside the lectures about RPIE and Gantt charts.

Little by little, I gained more confidence in the workshops (did you know a lot of academics are introverts?) and started making deeper connections. I invited some of the members and guest speakers at those workshops to my classes, exposing them first-hand to the different opportunities in PR. The students engaged with the professionals in a different way than they engage in traditional classes. Several of the chapter members have served as clients for our engaged learning classes. Students have completed case studies and campaign pitches for sporting organizations, retailers, national restaurant chains and community nonprofits.

Seeing this engagement, I reactivated the student chapter of FPRA at Jacksonville University and started growing the membership and participation on campus. It has been a rewarding part of my job. My involvement with FPRA has helped me create a stronger connection between my students and the industry. I see them participate in meetings, reach out to the professional members for internships and career advice and get inspired by member success stories. A few years into the building process, the students are launching their own online event series to augment the professional chapter’s workshops.

But my professional growth didn’t stop with the students. I have continued to learn new strategies and approaches with each new workshop. And, although I continue to serve as the faculty advisor for FPRA at Jacksonville University, I also am preparing to be sworn in as President of the Jacksonville Chapter. Joining the leadership of the local chapter has given me an opportunity to enhance my skills in communication, event planning, social media strategy, finances and so much more. FPRA gave me the confidence to move beyond the text and beyond the classroom and to help my students do the same.

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