Classmates Michelle Reuter and Sharel Welch are each pursuing a Master’s in Public Relations degree in the Department of Journalism and Public Relations. This 30-credit-hour program prepares students for professional PR positions in a variety of industries. Students take part in real-world work, including PR campaigns and crisis communication plans for local organizations.
Reuter and Welch work full-time jobs and are taking one class a semester towards the degree. Both plan to graduate in 2024. We asked them about their experiences with the program:
Q: Tell us a little bit about your job.
Welch: I am the Student Services Coordinator for Undergraduate Academic Affairs and Programs in the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI. I communicate on a daily basis with students, faculty, and staff regarding numerous academic programs. My coordinating duties include the E&T Honors Program, annual school recognition event, dean’s list, and reports culled from student records.
Reuter: I am currently a Senior Communications Specialist at Cummins Inc. I am based out of our Indianapolis Distribution Business Headquarters but primarily work from home. My current job provides primary internal communications support for a segment team within our Cummins Sales and Service North America organization. This includes developing strategies, executing messaging to align with our business objectives, and educating employees through various internal communication tools.
Q: Why did you decide to enroll in the PR graduate program?
Welch: I missed the mental stimulation of working toward an engaging degree! IUPUI also offers tuition reimbursement for employees, which was a nice perk. My undergraduate degrees are from Butler University in journalism and English, and I worked in public relations for five years directly after graduation. I then chose to freelance while raising my children, returning to full-time work a few years ago. Although my current position is not overtly in the public relations field, the theories and tactical skills we cover in our graduate classes are directly applicable to and complement my work.
Reuter: Moving to the next level at my company, from my current contributor role to a manager, there is a strong recommendation for a master’s degree. Also, my company provides tuition reimbursement for programs that align with your current role or career goals. During the pandemic, when I began working from home, I started researching and exploring options for a master’s program. As a graduate of IU Bloomington in ’02, I quickly researched IUPUI as an option to continue my education. The description and work with the Public Relations degree were a perfect fit with the current work I am doing at Cummins.
Q: What has been your favorite class in the program so far, or your favorite project you’ve done in a class?
Welch: It is difficult to choose one favorite class; the coursework in each complements the others. In PR Management we covered quite a few excellent theories and practices for tacticians who want to rise to the managerial level. PR Tactics and Techniques was also fun. Again, we combined theory and application and created so many items such as an attention-grabbing media release, a well-designed media kit, and a persuasive op ed. We even conducted on-air interviews and reviewed them. I can see both of these courses translating well to other disciplines, as I have applied many things discussed in class to my current job, which is not in the public relations field. Everyone needs to communicate well in their work and personal life.
Reuter: I have enjoyed projects where we can implement practical knowledge learned in class towards a final client project. For example, in the PR Planning course, we are working on a presentation for a client that we will be able to pitch to them at the end of the semester. I like how the project allows us to work with the client along the way, so we stay in tune with their needs and get real feedback from them.
Q: What opportunities are there for public relations practitioners in Indianapolis?
Welch: Our capital city has a multifaceted array of companies, be they international corporations or small nonprofits or something in between, that utilize public relations professionals. There are jobs for those who show they have the tactical skills, and higher-level positions for those with additional public relations management abilities. Joining PRSSA at IUPUI and connecting with PRSA members are excellent ways to network with other PR practitioners and find those opportunities.
Reuter: Indianapolis is a great city for communications professionals, with many large companies headquartered or having offices here. Also, the city hosts many significant events where public relations practitioners can excel.
Q: What are the challenges of balancing work and being a student?
Welch: Time is the most precious commodity we have. It is not always possible to get the work, coursework, and family balance right on a daily basis, but by scheduling everything that is important – including time with my husband and kids – I can feel more relaxed throughout my week. I’m actually less stressed than I was as an undergraduate (double-majoring and in the honors program); I have let go of perfection in favor of doing my best in the time I allot for each task.
Reuter: I have a busy job, and at the end of the day, I am not always in the right mind for additional work. I have found that I can focus on my coursework by setting aside times in the week that may be a little less busy at work or making specific time on the weekend. I have found that the coursework has been very beneficial in utilizing best practices in my current role, so it has been very beneficial to apply to my job.