Organizing “Communications Futures? 2010″

By Erika Watson

At the beginning of the spring semester of 2009, my dear friend Kayla Smail (under the direction of Dr. Allen Larson) embarked on a mission to bring to our fair campus a series of panel discussions meant to “give current and prospective students and interested individuals a better understanding of careers in communications and general trends in media.”  (Or at least, that’s what the pitch was…)

That year, Kayla organized and executed three winning panel discussions that taught the community about current and future trends in public relations, radio and newspapers, and helped students network with professionals who spend every day of their lives working in these fields.

With the first “Communications Futures” turning out to be a resounding success, both Kayla and Dr. Larson came to the conclusion that this event was something that needed to be continued.

But Kayla needed a minion, a protégé she could mold in her image and trust to carry on the “Communications Futures” tradition when she was gone, making her mark on the world with her shiny new Journalism degree.

That’s where I come in.

I don’t know if it was my inability to say no or the fact that I’m a sucker for punishment, but for whatever reason, when Kayla asked, “Do you want to do the Communications Futures panels with me next semester?,” I said yes.

For “Communications Futures? 2010,” I was primarily responsible for the blogging panel, while Kayla and I collaborated on the Advertising panel.

I knew from the start that I would be way out of my comfort zone; I was e-mailing people I’d never met before every day,  waiting for responses that would never come, and trying to gather five strangers together on the same date at the same time to speak (which is not a simple task, I assure you).

I hated it; it was stressful, and scary, and I felt like I was never doing enough.  While the initial potential panelists that did respond to my e-mails were not unfriendly, I couldn’t shake the fact that many e-mails went unanswered.  (Was I doing something wrong…why else wouldn’t people want to talk to me?)

“Hang in there,” Kayla said reassuringly. “It’s hard now, but it’s all worth it once it all comes together.  You’ll be so relieved and so proud, I promise.”

I was skeptical, but I took her advice and hung on, eventually filling all five seats for the panel with talented, friendly bloggers who were eager to share their experiences.

Still, the stressing was far from over…   Press releases had to be mailed out; we needed to come up with a list of questions for each panel and send out directions to the panelists.  Not to mention, what if one of the panelists dropped out or no one came to the sessions?  What if the panelists didn’t know what to say?

By the time the first panel started, I was on the border-line of having a panic attack, and the sad truth is, I did all of that worrying for nothing.

The panels went off without a hitch (well, maybe not completely without a hitch, as one of the panelists did get lost on the way to the campus), and afterward, I was able to finally meet all the people that I’d been corresponding with for over a month and hear their thoughts about the panels.

But perhaps even more exciting to me was when I was able stand back and watch as other students and members of the Penn State community got the chance to converse and ask questions of those incredibly smart individuals.  In the end, I think that everyone took something more away from the panels than the bonus points they were offered in some of their classes.

Kayla was right.  I was so relieved and happy about what we had accomplished.

The panels were a lot of work (although it doesn’t seem like as much, looking back on it now), and it totally worth it in the end.

Any volunteers for next year?


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