There have been plenty of industry changes since the program first began accepting students—how does it continue to stay on top of it all?
Since accepting its first cohort of students in 1995, MacEwan University’s Public Relations program, like the industry itself, has seen a lot of change. The PR program has evolved over the years, but one constant has been its ability to produce graduates who are ready to hit the ground running.
“Public relations really made sense—it fit my personality style,” says alumnus Neall Alden, general manager of Backside Tours, the largest ski tour operator in Western Canada. “I was using what I was learning in the program to create my business while I was sitting in class.”
“Our program is well-received and respected in the community,” says Brenda Panganiban, acting chair, Public Relations. “We strive to meet the needs of the industry by seeking feedback from the community and changing to keep the program current. In addition, our faculty members are connected in the industry either as in-house PR practitioners or as managers of their own PR companies.”
The program attracts all kinds of students—those straight out of high school, those who have already earned a degree and working professionals who “fell into PR” and want the formal education and credential.
What has changed in the past 20 years? “Everything,” says Colin Babiuk, faculty member. Social media exploded. Technology has changed both how information is sent, and how it is received and consumed by audiences. And the need for reputation management has increased.
Also new? Learning basic business acumen is a boon to grads who wish to understand (and climb the ladder of) the businesses they may soon work for. “It’s something we’ve heard around the world—how do you become a senior vice-president of communications for large organizations? Twenty years ago, you didn’t. There were none because PR professionals weren’t seen as being able to understand business matters.”
Most faculty members work in the industry when they’re not teaching, so they’re able to spot trends, know exactly which skills and knowledge graduates need, and adapt their coursework accordingly. Because faculty members are also members of the major professional organizations, like the Canadian Public Relations Society and the International Association of Business Communicators, they understand the knowledge, skills and abilities required for accreditation.
“We have worked the desired knowledge, skills and abilities into the curriculum,” says Colin. “The feedback we receive from companies hiring our grads tells us our students are getting the right training.”
Though it’s difficult to say what’s next for the industry, the PR program will continue to evolve to address future changes, whatever they may be, and in the next year, will be undergoing a program review.
“We’re constantly looking internally and externally at what the students need to learn and what they need to know when they leave this program—it’s ongoing,” says Colin. “We’re very much in tune with our local communications industry.”