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College of Media students receive scholarships to attend DEI summit

A group stands together at a conference. From left to right: Jordan Stosic, Dean Diana Martinelli, Lana Aboushaar and Dr. Felicia Blow at the Plank Center DEI Summit.

College of Media seniors Lana Aboushaar and Jordan Stosic were among 10 scholarship recipients from across the country to attend the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations 2021 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Summit in Chicago.

The annual summit provides a space for practitioners, educators and students to further their professional development, network and enhance their knowledge of DEI issues and best practices. The Plank Center was founded in 2005 at the University of Alabama and is “the leading international resource working to support students, educators and practitioners who are passionate about the public relations profession.”

Aboushaar, a double major in public relations and marketing, and Stosic, an advertising major, learned tips and heard stories and advice from current industry professionals about how to better support and cultivate diverse leaders in the field of public relations.

“It's important for students to observe the dynamics of working professionals and see how they interact with one another, maintain relationships and discuss topics related to our field of study,” Aboushaar said. “At the summit, speakers talked a lot about racial diversity, as well as religious, gender/sexuality and differently-abled diversity. It was an interesting peek into the current situations and issues that I will soon be facing as I transition from student to professional.”

As scholarship recipients, Aboushaar and Stosic were invited to attend exclusive events, including a breakfast to network with public relations executives. The summit included a keynote presentation, a workshop about how the next generation of communicators can advance public relations and a panel on emerging leaders moderated by College of Media graduate Eric Winkfield (M.S. IMC, 2016), vice president of M Booth and recipient of the 2018 Plank Center Emerging Leader Award.

The students also attended the Milestones in Mentoring Gala at the conclusion of the summit, where more than 100 professionals gathered and talked to students about careers. 

“I learned a lot about what the Plank Center called a ‘diversity mindset,’” Stosic said. “Diversity is not always outwardly visible, which is why empathy and understanding fuel DEI. Perspectives different from your own educate you. Having people around you who you can trust to tell you if something is distasteful or not right is important. Something that was said at the summit that stuck with me was, ‘D.E.I. is protection.’ Diverse eyes see what you don’t.”

“Something that really stood out to me was how the speakers were addressing current practitioners in the field—urging them to take on inexperienced mentees and to really do the work to bridge the knowledge and resource gap for minority students,” Aboushaar said. “I learned about the importance of reaching out to senior leaders in the industry, even if it seems intimidating. As a visible minority in the U.S. — visibly Muslim — I tend to be afraid to reach out to professionals because most of them don’t look like me.”

Geah Pressgrove, associate professor and chair of the advertising and public relations program, recommended both Aboushaar and Stosic for scholarships for the summit, and Dean Diana Martinelli supported their nominations. The Plank Center sponsored Aboushaar and the College of Media sponsored Stosic.

Both students are currently in Pressgrove’s Martin Hall Agency (MHA) capstone course. MHA is a faculty-led, student-run integrated communications firm where students provide pro bono advertising and public relations work for West Virginia nonprofits and small businesses.  

“Lana and Jordan both demonstrate a passion for equity and inclusiveness,” Pressgrove said. “Giving them the opportunity to attend such an important gathering of experts was a way for them to further their training for the systemic changes they aspire to. Talking to them since they’ve returned has only reassured me that the intended impact has been realized. They are absolutely on fire with ideas.”

Aboushaar plans to enter the workforce after graduation in December 2021 and has been applying to jobs. During her time as a student, she has served as the communications coordinator for the WVU Student Government Association and a teaching assistant in a high-level Arabic language course.  

After his May 2022 graduation, Stosic hopes to live in a major market city and work in entertainment. He is currently the president of WVU’s student chapter of the American Advertising Federation, is the recruitment chair and treasurer of WVU’s Public Relations Student Society of America chapter and a student brand ambassador for the College. In the end, he came away from the DEI Summit with a renewed sense of purpose.

“This event showed me that if there are conversations I don’t see happening that I think should be—I need to make them happen,” he said. “It showed me how I can do that. If I see injustice, it is my job to stand up to it for the good of everyone around me.”