Alumna earns opportunity, enjoys start of fellowship in New York City

Just weeks after graduating in May, Rachel Brown already has a career goal in mind -- an ambitious outlook to “change the world” using her public relations skills -- and she’s off to a good start as she completes a six-month Alfred Fleishman Diversity Fellowship in New York City.

Brown, from Slippery Rock, Pa., earned the fellowship through a competitive application process that required a plan, and some patience.

After completing a lengthy application and some short-answer questions, she passed along six different attachments and several recommendations in February. Then she waited. And waited.

A couple of weeks before commencement in May, she participated in a Skype interview with five different people that lasted three hours.

“I thought I wasn’t going to get it, and I was working on a Plan B,” said Brown, who has a passion for corporate social responsibility (CSR) and diversity issues. She thinks her world-changing efforts will take place as part of a nongovernmental or nonprofit organization. Or, she can envision making a difference by focusing on CSR in the private sector.

She’s already made strong connections in the field, including with fellow College of Communications alumnus Bob McKinnon, a 1990 graduate of Penn State, of GALEWill Design, a for-purpose company that designs social change programs, communications, advocacy and action.

Plus, Brown, who majored in advertising/public relations, credits the influence of faculty members like Marcia DiStaso, assistant professor in the Department of Advertising/Public Relations, for helping her appreciate the importance of private-sector experience as she pursues her goal.

“I was the only one among my peers who was not interested in working for a firm. That was not part of my plan,” Brown said. “Still, as I learned more, with encouragement from professor DiStaso, trying for the fellowship really appealed to me. So far, it’s fast-paced and exciting. Everybody’s really enthusiastic. They encourage you to ask questions, but they definitely want you to figure things out.”

A firm such as Fleishman-Hillard, one of the world’s largest public relations agencies, offers many opportunities for training. In just her first week, Brown was able to complete sessions that ranged from focusing on the company’s approach to media monitoring to reading a financial report.

She started her six-month fellowship working on brand marketing based in Fleishman-Hillard’s office in New York City, and she’ll have the ability to rotate through other departments during her fellowship. Commitment to the fellowship program, named for the firm’s cofounder, is deeply engrained at the firm. With that comes ample support, and also high expectations.

“It definitely feels like a first job,” Brown said. “I’ve been able to interact with associates as well as many different people at senior levels. They just ask that you learn as much as possible, and I know this experience and these skills are going to be so important as my career progresses.”

DiStaso, who taught Brown in two different upper-level public relations courses, expects Brown to thrive during the fellowship -- just as she did in class. “She was an amazing student and one who I’m confident will do great things professionally,” DiStaso said.

Last Updated June 26, 2014