Aerial photo of SIU

October 08, 2018

Four students set to represent SIU at diversity and inclusion summit in Chicago

CARBONDALE, Ill. — The need for trained and equipped public relations practitioners is growing in the United States. That’s why Southern Illinois University Carbondale and the Department of Communication Studies is sending four of their brightest students to The Plank Center for the Leadership in Public Relations’ Diversity and Inclusion Summit.

This inaugural summit will be held in Chicago on Oct. 26. Speakers and attendees will include leaders from the public relations industry, such as The Interpublic Group (IPG), Weber Shandwick, HBO Latin America, Ketchum PR and the Chicago Urban League, along with educators and students.

The four competitively selected students are:

  • Aaliyah Locke, senior from Murphysboro, Illinois.
  • Maggie Burke, junior from Bettendorf, Iowa.
  • Mia Porter, senior from Champaign, Illinois.
  • Nisa Fareeha, senior from Malaysia.

Students learn from the industry’s best

The summit is an excellent opportunity for PR practitioners, educators and students to convene to discuss the state of diversity and inclusion in the industry. Barriers to diversity and inclusion and best practices will be the focus of the summit. Keynotes speakers are Heide Gardner, chief diversity & inclusion officer at the Interpublic Group, and Don Thompson, former CEO of McDonald’s, current CEO and founder of Cleveland Avenue, LLC.

The Plank Center at the University of Alabama is the leading global resource for practitioners, educators and students who are passionate about advancing their careers and the public relations profession. The Plank Center’s mission is to help develop and recognize outstanding diverse public relations leaders, role models and mentors to advance ethical public relations in an evolving, global society.

Summit provides practical training for students

Two communication studies faculty, Nilanjana Bardhan and Denise McClearey, helped select the four deserving students. Bardhan, who serves on the board of The Plank Center, feels the experience is an important way to give students exposure to other professionals in the field.

“It’s been exciting to be an organizer for this Summit. Diversity and inclusion are key concerns in the PR industry, and The Plank Center is taking a lead on addressing this matter,” Bardhan said. “I’m so glad some of our students are able to avail of this unique opportunity to network and learn from diverse leaders in the profession.”

For Aaliyah Locke, a southern Illinois native, even brief access to a city and PR executives is significant for her future career development.

“It is hard to travel to larger cities such as Chicago and St. Louis for an internship due to the high costs associated with moving for just a few months,” Locke said. “This opportunity will finally allow me to hear from and network with people interested in increasing professional opportunities to young black women like myself.”

Maggie Burke hopes this summit will provide answers to important questions, while also setting her up for the future.

“Public Relations is a field unlike many others: it is dominated by women,” Burke said. “Women hold anywhere from 61% to 85% of all PR jobs; however, only 30% of all global agencies are run by women. If most public relations professionals are women, then why isn’t this fact represented in the executive suite?”

Craig Engstrom, director of undergraduate studies, feels these motivated and thoughtful students are the rule rather than the exception in the Department of Communication Studies.

“We are delighted that we will be able to send four deserving students to the summit this year, Engstrom said. “Diversity and inclusion are key values of our department. I only wish we could send more students.”