A big fish in a little pond

Freshman represents club at national conference

Photo courtesy of Vanessa Smith

The first time Vanessa Smith traveled by herself, she flew to Miami, Florida, as the sole representative of the organization she joined just months before.

The freshman public relations and advertising major scouted tables during the involvement fair in the fall, looking for the club she heard sent students to Indianapolis for “Half Day with a Pro.”

After multiple unsuccessful attempts to find the right organization, Smith finally found the table that answered “yes” to her question. Right then, Smith signed up to join the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA).

PRSSA is a national pre-professional student organization with chapters on college campuses throughout the United States that allows students to network with PR professionals.

Smith was chosen as the university chapter’s representative for the PRSSA National Assembly on  March 8-11. The national assembly takes place in a different state every year.

During the four-day conference, Smith was responsible for voting in the national committee members election, attending workshops and bringing new ideas back to her chapter.

“Honestly, I never planned this for me,” Smith said. “I was really involved in high school but coming to college, I never thought I would get any opportunities like this. I always thought I would be a little fish in a big pond, and I kind of turned myself into a big fish.”

Introducing herself to the juniors and seniors from different states who attended the conference, Smith was met with faces of surprise that she came as a freshman.

“I would take their business cards, and they just said to keep up the hard work and work my way up, and if I ever needed advice or help on a resume or anything like that just call,” Smith said. “I honestly felt like I formed some lifelong friendships there.”

Chapters usually send upperclassman to the conference. However, Smith said she was the one that took the most interest in the opportunity and fought for it the most.

“Our chapter here is really small,” Smith said. “So, I tried to learn a lot of things about chapter development, getting more people involved and interested, and teaching people what PR actually is and what PRSSA does, because it really is a great organization and you have a lot of opportunities like this.”

Smith attended leadership workshops that taught her how to market herself as a public relations professional as well as creating networks for her future career.

“Even though I am putting myself out there so early, I do have a lot to learn,” Smith said. “I have a lot of time to grow. This society has a lot to offer and hopefully one of these days, I’ll be one of those people running for national committee.”

In addition to her goal of becoming a national committee member, Smith said she would like to pursue an executive position at the university chapter.

The trip to Miami really helped me realize what was out there,” Smith said. “I didn’t even know that there was a PR agency. It really just opened up my eyes to what all is out there because PR is really broad. So I feel like it is really hard for people to find what they really want to do because there is so many to choose from.”

Smith said she would like to pursue a client-based career after she graduates. While she is leaning more towards wedding planning, Smith said she is open to whatever comes her way.

I definitely want to do something with events,” Smith said. “I just got an internship with a wedding venue, The Barn at Hamner Ridge, in my hometown. Either that or just helping out my community.”

Nicholas Goebel said he wasn’t as career-oriented as Smith is when he was a freshman.

The junior public relations major from the University of Florida formed a friendship with Smith almost immediately,

“I met her in one of our breakout sessions,” Goebel said. “I had no idea she was a freshman when I first met her. I was so impressed with her and the way she represented her chapter.”

Goebel said he thinks it is important that Smith is forming professional connections so early in her college career.

“I jumped into this organization pretty late into my college career,” Goebel said. “(Smith) is going to have a much more vast network than I ever will. She will get it right off the bat where I fumbled around for a while. She also has the opportunity to get involved more in the national level.”

Goebel said he admires Smith’s confidence and drive.

“She came to Miami alone as a freshman and that is huge,” Goebel said. “She did an amazing job of bonding with the other members, and I can’t wait to see what she accomplishes in the years to come.”

Smith said she hopes to go to the next national conference this fall in Austin, Texas.

“I would probably be really lost with what I want to do with my career had I not put myself out there,” Smith said. “Knowing I have a strong foundation and a strong resume as a freshman is going to show people I am determined and that I don’t just wait around for opportunities to find me.”