The Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter at Montclair State University hosted their annual Distinguished Alumni Awards on Dec. 15 to honor public relations alumni, recent graduates who won a Jersey Award for their work with the Motown Museum and current students who are continuing this initiative.
The Distinguished Alumni Awards are an opportunity to honor professionals who graduated from Montclair State’s Public Relations program, were a part of PRSSA during their time at the university and have gone on to make significant strides in the fields of public relations and communications.
In addition to PRSSA alumni, two student groups were also honored at the event for their work with the Motown Museum, a cultural institution that preserves and celebrates the legacy of the first black-owned record label in the United States, Motown Records.
The first group consisted of Montclair State class of 2021 graduates who won the first place Jersey Award for an amazing curriculum guide they created for the museum. The second group was made up of soon-to-be graduates who created a successful strategic public relations campaign for Motown.
The night began with a speech from professor Larry Weiner, who is PRSSA’s faculty advisor, Dr. Keith Strudler, the director of the School of Communication and Media, and Francesca DiPisa, the program assistant for the Office of Annual Giving and Alumni Engagement. After the congratulations, each of the 14 distinguished alumni were called up to the stage to receive their certificate.
Some of the distinguished professionals honored that night reflected on their time at Montclair State and in PRSSA.
Stephanie Michael, a 2019 graduate who is currently working as an account executive at DeVries Global, made many friends through PRSSA.
“I’ve stayed in touch with all the people I met there,” Michael said. “And not in a professional working sense, but in a genuine friendship way.”
Tom Santoro, a graduate from the class of 2014 who is a media activation manager at Essence, reflected on how his life would have been different if he had not gone to Montclair State.
“If I didn’t go to Montclair State, I don’t know if I would have been a communications major and I don’t know if I would have gotten my MBA in marketing,” Santoro said. “I’ve always known I wanted to come here because my dad is an alumnus. He took me here when I was in high school to come back and visit the campus, and to me, it felt like home right away. I knew that’s where I wanted to be.”
The four winners of the first place Jersey Award were also called to the stage to be recognized. Their Motown music class curriculum guide will soon be product-tested in middle school classrooms. The project and partnership were all made possible through Weiner’s Transmedia Project class.
ZW Gleason, a 2021 graduate who majored in journalism who was a part of the team that won the first prize Jersey Award, shared what they wanted students to get out of the group’s curriculum.
“I think that when we were creating this curriculum, our vision was not only to educate young adults and students about the history of Motown but about the beauty of different walks of life coming together and creating something bigger than themselves,” Gleason said. “Something that can inspire, that can drive people, that is a timeless example of what you can do when you set aside your differences and focus on what we all have in common.”
Finally, the students who continued the partnership with the Motown Museum were called up to be recognized. They gave a presentation outlining their successful strategic public relations plan to increase community relations and public perception of the institution.
Christina Giordano, the PRSSA chapter president, concluded the event by thanking all the people who helped make everything possible. Attendees were invited to join PRSSA following the ceremony for refreshments.
The Distinguished Alumni Awards started in 2018 when Weiner wanted to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the PRSSA chapter’s founding at Montclair State. What began as a one-time event to commemorate a milestone quickly turned into an annual celebration that highlights the professional accomplishments of alumni who were a part of the organization during their time at Montclair State.
Weiner shared what it is like to see former students go on to achieve such amazing things in the field of communications.
“In a way, it’s surreal because you see them and remember when they were students sitting in the classroom. You see them now and it’s a disconnect, but a good disconnect because you see they’ve gone on to be very successful,” Weiner said.