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Self-Reflection is the Engine That Drives, Grows and Sustains DE&I among Leaders, Mentors and Public Relations Educators and Professionals

Editorial Record: Submitted May 19, 2022. Revised August 23, 2022. Accepted October 28, 2022.


Bruce K. Berger, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus
Advertising & Public Relations
College of Communication & Information Sciences
University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Email: berger@apr.ua.edu

Elina Erzikova, Ph.D.
Professor of Public Relations 
College of the Arts and Media
Central Michigan University 
Mount Pleasant, Michigan
Email: erzik1e@cmich.edu

Public relations education is a primary pipeline for preparing and developing future professionals. Yet, one of the most valuable leader, mentor, and educator capabilities—meaningful self-reflection (SR)—is neither highlighted nor strategically developed in many PR education programs. Mentoring programs at many organizations also do not appear to recognize SR as an invisible rudder that helps successfully navigate DEI challenges, day-to-day work issues, and unfamiliar situations like the pandemic. This paper closes the gap by reviewing a three-phase study focusing on self-reflection that highlights dozens of strategies and tactics that leaders, mentors, educators, and practitioners can use to enrich and increase SR in the workplace, classroom, and their personal lives. Doing so will drive, grow, and sustain DEI awareness, understanding, value, and practice in our profession and education even in challenging times.

Keywords: Public Relations, Self-reflection, Mentorship, Leadership, DEI


This research examines and underscores the crucial role of meaningful self-reflection (SR) by public relations teachers, leaders, mentors, and professionals to drive diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in public relations education and practice during the pandemic and other challenging times and environments. Recent research, webinars, trade publications, news stories, and conferences have highlighted the great need for increased DEI in public relations education and practice. 

The term, DEI, usually refers to a policy or program that, in short, signifies an organizational intention or commitment to respect differences, promote fairness and assure diverse voices are heard and valued (The language of diversity, 2021). Diversity and inclusion in the workplace represents both moral and business cases: treating people equally and with respect is the right thing to do, and such practice brings a business outcome in the form of positive organizational performance (Diversity and inclusion at work, 2018). In this regard, Bardhan and Gower (2022) called for an in-depth look into whether and how organizations strike a balance between the moral and business cases. They also emphasized the role of leaders in cultivating an organizational culture in which differences are valued instead of being feared or resisted. The process of creating (or maintaining) such a culture requires an introspection on both leaders and followers.  

The research is based on a three-phase project carried out by the authors in the past four years. The research argues that meaningful self-reflection is the crucial key to building, growing and especially sustaining DEI in education and organizations of all kinds. DEI must not become a here today, gone tomorrow idea. To ensure that does not happen, and to grow and sustain DEI in public relations, educators and professionals must practice meaningful SR, which means: 1) the individual honestly controls both the size of their ego and the extent of their self-criticism, and 2) they examine themselves (me-reflection) and especially how others may see them (we-reflection) regularly to increase self-awareness and other-awareness. SR is the unseen rudder that helps us navigate vital challenges like DEI, workplace issues, and unfamiliar situations like the pandemic.

Drawing from the three-phase research project, the authors provide a practical six-step strategic self-reflection process practiced by excellent PR leaders and mentors, that can be taught and practiced in the classroom and at home. In addition, the research identified a number of strategies and approaches for including SR in PR education. These were then organized into seven building blocks for improving SR capabilities and practice in the classroom to strengthen and sustain DEI and manage other professional issues. Finally, dozens of excellent classroom exercises and tactics to help build SR capabilities are noted and briefly described. 

This research-based paper is eminently practical for public relations educators and students. Too often SR is an overlooked skill in PR education, or taken for granted, not unlike listening and empathy capabilities, among others. Yet, meaningful SR is the foundation for continuous improvement in public relations leadership, mentorship, education, and practice, all of which are crucial to driving, growing, and sustaining DEI, which offers a brighter, richer, and more promising future in PR practice and education. 

Three Research Projects: Methods and Key Findings

Many studies in communication, psychology, and education confirm the benefits of self-reflection (SR), e.g., richer relationships, heightened emotional IQ, enhanced leadership and mentorship skills, and more engaged work teams. The sooner students and young professionals hone their strategic SR skills, the sooner they and their employers receive the benefits. Yet, as Mules (2018) found, SR is largely absent in PR research, textbooks, and the classroom. We know meaningful SR is not easy—the world is too noisy, we are too busy, and we battle egos—but it is crucial. This paper addresses that deficiency and identifies practical building blocks to advance development of SR in the classroom and organizational settings in order to enrich and sustain DEI in PR education and practice. The first two projects in the three-phase research program are briefly reviewed in this section. The most recent research project focusing on public relations educators and students and how they evaluate and use SR is then presented in more depth.  

Self-Reflection Study with 30 PR Leaders (2018)

First, the researchers explored SR in depth interviews with 30 PR leaders in two countries in 2018 to learn about the role, process, practice, and benefits of SR in the workplace (Berger & Erzikova, 2019). Various leadership theories highlight the importance of SR and self-awareness, notably authentic, servant and transformational theories. In public relations, SR is implicit in Excellence Theory and more explicit in the Integrated Model of Leadership in PR (Meng & Berger, 2013). This model combines six personal dimensions for excellent leadership, four of which incorporate SR: self-insights, team leadership capabilities, relationship building and ethical orientation. This model provided the theoretical framework for this phase of the study. 

For example, self-reflection is explicit in the self-dynamics dimension of the model, which includes the sub dimensions of visioning and self-insights. In this sense, self-insights refer to the extent to which PR leaders understand their own strengths and weaknesses and understand current issues, like the pandemic, to successfully adapt strategies and tactics to achieve organizational goals. Self-reflection is the process that helps build self-awareness and knowledge that can be put into subsequent actions and reflected in behaviors and communications by public relations leaders. In short, SR is a crucial driver of both continuous learning and improvement in the competency categories in this leadership model. 

To learn more about SR perceptions and practices among PR leaders, this study examined SR in diverse Russian and N. American PR leaders. Depth interviews, averaging 45 minutes in length, were conducted with 15 Russian (9-F, 6-M) and 15 American (8-F, 7-M) communication leaders, who represented diverse organizational types, possessed more than 10 years of experience and lead, or have led communication teams, functions, or agencies. The interviews probed for insights to help answer five research questions: how and to what extent the leaders practiced SR, barriers to productive SR, practical benefits of SR in their work role, and the extent to which mentoring might contribute to the development of SR and leadership capabilities.  

Overall, the study found all PR leaders in both countries believed SR is an important leadership capability, though it is practiced and valued somewhat differently in the two systems. The leaders regularly self-reflected and shared similar views about the role, process, practice, and benefits of SR. Three differences also were found, the most substantial being the me-reflection approach used by the Russians (a nearly total focus on the self) versus the we-reflection approach used by more N. Americans (incorporating others in their SR). Also, Russians raised far more concerns about “dangerous” SR, or excessive self-criticism, while Americans more strongly valued the role and influence of mentors, whom they suggested were the “best” SR teachers. Most of the Russian leaders were also in mentorship roles in their work. 

The study’s richest contributions are the practical, actionable implications for improving SR capabilities and practices among professionals, educators, and students. The most valuable may be a six-step strategic SR process that describes how to prepare mentally for SR, and then to plan and carry out insights from the introspection. Another rich implication for mentors and mentees is a “questioning approach,” or Socratic approach which teaches meaningful self-inquiry: mentors ask thoughtful questions to help mentees reach answers, rather than simply answering their questions. Study participants also suggested many specific approaches to stimulate and improve student SR in the classroom. Overall, the study sheds new light on SR in PR leadership practice and development and provides actionable implications for practice and education in dealing with DEI, a pandemic environment, and other big issues in the field. 

Content Analysis of Educator SR Exercises in the Classroom (2020)

Building on the 2018 study, the researchers conducted a comprehensive content analysis of online educator blogs, articles, and websites focusing on how to increase self-reflection skills of students and teachers in the classroom in 2020 (Berger & Erzikova, 2021). More than 200 online blogs, articles and websites were analyzed to identify what specific steps educators took to try to increase SR capabilities in students, and in themselves. 

The researchers discovered hundreds of specific exercises and approaches which educators used to advance SR student skills. These were then grouped into seven building blocks (detailed later) for advancing SR in the classroom. The foundational building block focuses on the teacher’s commitment to SR, and their corresponding commitment to enriching DEI awareness and focus in SR. This building block also reflects the idea of trying to build some SR exercise in each class session, rather than devoting one class session to discuss the topic. Other key building blocks include using more Socratic teaching approaches, depth debriefs of team projects, self-assessment tools like Meyers-Briggs and Strengths/Finders, and great literature, films, and poetry to trigger journal writing and self-discussion. 

Evaluation and Practice of SR by PR Teachers and Students (2021-22)

In 2021, the researchers used brief written surveys of 22 PR educators, and similar written surveys and focus groups with 23 PR students, to examine SR in PR education today, the extent of teachers’ and students’ SR, the perceived value of SR, and best classroom SR exercises or learning experiences, including those for dealing with DEI (Berger & Erzikova, 2022). The findings in this third phase of the research project are detailed below the brief introduction to self-reflection that follows. 

Self-Reflection: What is it and why is it important?

Self-awareness is “the ability to see ourselves clearly—to understand who we are, how others see us and how we fit into the world” (Eurich, 2017, p. 3). Self-reflection (SR) is the primary way we examine ourselves and how others see us. It is deliberate, conscious introspection to better understand our thoughts, experiences, and emotions—to become aware of them, learn from them, and increase self-awareness. 

Self-reflection also advances our emotional intelligence (EI) by helping us recognize and understand our emotions, listen better, and be more empathetic (Goleman, 1995). SR deepens critical thinking, improves communication and decision-making, builds confidence, and enriches relationships and leadership capabilities (Miller, 2013). In addition, SR may render us better workers and team players, who are less likely to lie, cheat, and steal (Eurich, 2017). 

Acknowledging the complexity of professional practice nearly four decades ago, Donald Schön introduced a concept of the “reflective practitioner.” This professional responds to workplace challenges by reflecting on the happening while it is unfolding (reflection in action) and afterwards using reflection on action. Schön (1983) argued:

In the varied topography of professional practice, there is a high, hard ground where practitioners can make effective use of research-based theory and technique, and there is a swampy lowland where situations are confusing “messes”, incapable of technical solution. The difficulty is that the problems of the high ground, however great their technical interest, are often relatively unimportant to clients or to the larger society, while in the swamp are the problems of greatest human concern (p. 42).

Given the unpredictable nature of public relations work and number of problems (“messy situations”) PR practitioners face every day, SR should be considered one of the essential features of professional competence. The earlier this skill starts developing, the better a PR practitioner is prepared to deal with dilemmas     , uncertainties, and crises. 

Despite the recognized importance of SR and self-awareness, little research has been conducted regarding reflection in and by PR and communication leaders (Mules, 2018; Mules et al.,      2019).). Mules (2018) found that popular PR textbooks do not address the importance of reflective practices, and there is “very little research into the role of formal reflection in the daily practice of public relations practitioners and public relations curricula” (Mules, 2018, p. 175). 

Furthermore, Mules et al. (2019) discussed an action research project implemented in a PR course and shared useful insights into benefits and challenges of formally incorporating reflective practice in PR curricula: While the task “was neither easy nor comfortable,” the project “provided a fresh and exciting way to interact with the students” (p. 10), which might be especially valuable in pandemic times. As an implication for the PR profession, Mules et al. (2019) argued that classroom reflection is crucial for “the professional standing of public relations because it provides a way to integrate theory and practice at the beginnings of students’ professional careers, and because it provides specific strategies for scrutinizing assumptions” (p. 11). 

Some barriers to meaningful self-reflection also exist. These include such “inner roadblocks” as a (perceived) shortage of time, a lack of understanding of the process and its benefits (Porter, 2017), and being delusional about personal traits (Eurich, 2017), among others. In addition, Eurich (2017) pointed out that an “insidious societal obstacle” – “the cult of self” (p. 73) – impedes self-awareness as inflated self-esteem makes individuals feel special about themselves and blinds them to the truth about their capabilities. This may be an increasingly acute problem in our fragmented world. 

Mentors can play important roles in facilitating reflection by asking mentees seemingly simple – “what” and “why” – questions (Kail, 2012). Coached reflection, or a formal help an individual receives during a difficult situation to work through and learn from, is an essential component of both coaching and mentoring (Day et al., 2009). In other words, mentors’ help is vital during what Eurich (2017) called alarm clock events or “situations that open our eyes to important self-truths” (p. 44). These trigger moments can be negative, neutral, or positive (Avolio & Wernsing, 2008). 

Mezirow (1997) argued, “thinking as an autonomous and responsible agent is essential for full citizenship in democracy and for moral decision making in situations of rapid change” (p. 7). The educator or mentor assures that learners achieve this goal by creating a supportive environment to help mentees develop critical reflectivity and self-confidence to “take action on reflective insights” (Mezirow, 2000, p. 25).  

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in public relations

A recent study (The language of diversity, 2021) revealed several concerns regarding DEI initiatives in U.S. organizations. At the individual level, some PR practitioners felt uncomfortable discussing DEI, and some were confused about DEI basic terms. At the organizational level, only about a third of respondents said their organizations codified DEI definitions, while two-thirds admitted their organizations did not move from a verbal commitment to meaningful action. Other companies do worse – their actions contradict their DEI statements. For example, Starbucks made a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and later forbade employees to wear pins and clothes with the phrase (Murphy, 2020). 

Clearly, there is an urgent need for PR leaders to step in to support and drive DEI initiatives that, in the words of Bardhan and Engstrom (2021), help organizations eliminate bias and discrimination. To approach this task, PR practitioners should start with self-reflection or examination of their own perceptions of DEI. There is little doubt that DEI is here to stay and eventually, the majority of U.S. organizations will define basic DEI terms and make them public for both employees and society. Still, a question is whether this formal appearance of commitment to DEI would result in action. This study argues that without adopting DEI at the individual level, the commitment at the organizational level would be rather superficial. SR seems to be helpful in identifying/articulating personal relevance to DEI as a prerequisite for an organization-wide pledge to the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is expected that PR leaders will be in the forefront of change by modeling a desired behavior and inspiring their followers to deeply embrace DEI (Bardhan & Gower, 2022).

Research Questions 

Building on these and other insights from substantial previous research in the area, and the authors’ three previous studies (Berger & Erzikova, 2022; Berger & Erzikova, 2021; Berger & Erzikova, 2019), this paper draws from all three studies but highlights the recent study of educators and students, and tries to answer five research questions in this regard: 

RQ1: Do PR educators and students differ in their rank order of self-reflection as one of

the important professional skills and capabilities?

RQ2: To what extent do PR educators and students practice self-reflection in their everyday lives? And what approaches do they use?

RQ 3: In students’ opinions, what are practical benefits of SR? What approaches do PR students experience in the classroom?

RQ 4: In educators’ opinions, why and how is SR a valuable skill and practice for PR students as future leaders? 

RQ 5: In educators’ opinions, what are the most powerful SR learning experiences, especially those related to DEI?


Twenty-two PR educators (12 were women) from ten states and 23 PR students (seniors, 19 were women) from a public university provided written responses to six questions about the extent of teachers’ and students’ SR, the perceived value of SR, and best classroom SR exercises or learning experiences. PR teachers’ experiences working at colleges and universities ranged from five to 30+ years, and six of them were of foreign origin. Sixteen educators received terminal degrees from U.S. universities and were tenure/tenured track faculty. Six educators received M.A. degrees and were instructors in undergraduate programs. Professors and instructors taught a variety of PR courses at the undergraduate level, which was the focus of the study (e.g., PR principles, PR writing, PR campaigns, PR case studies). They were recruited via a personal network. 

Completing the written questionnaire required about 12 minutes for both teachers and students. In addition, students participated in four focus groups (each 45 minutes in length) to discuss SR approaches they were part of in the classroom. Four student-leaders had a 30-minute training on SR and focus group as a research method prior to the conversations. Student-leaders helped a researcher guide focus group discussions, making the process less stressful and more engaging. Focus groups were not recorded. Instead, each group developed a thorough written summary. Student participants found this task beneficial as it helped them pin down most important discussion outcomes they might use in the future. The researcher took notes during the conversations. All students were born in the U.S.; three of them were people of color. 

Using Lincoln and Guba’s (1985) guidelines, the researchers first conducted independent analysis of two data sets (educators’ written responses and students’ individual written responses as well as focus group summaries and researchers’ notes). After patterns in each set were identified, the researchers exchanged preliminary findings to assess the adequacy of analysis. Next, they examined both data sets to categorize differences and similarities. This analysis was important as “Comparisons not only uncover differences between social entities but reveal unique aspects of an entity that would be virtually impossible to detect otherwise” (Mills et al.,      2006, p. 621). 


RQ1: Do PR educators and students differ in their rank order of self-reflection as one of the important professional skills and capabilities?

The first stage of this research asked PR educators and students to rank order the relative importance of seven skills and capabilities that are usually considered important for young public relations professionals (Table 1). Neither group ranked the “soft” leadership skill of self-reflection as the top skill; educators ranked SR a bit higher (4th) than students (6th). Out of 45 participants (both teachers and students), only one educator ranked SR as 1st.  

Collectively, PR educators ranked the technical skill of writing as 1st, followed by three so-called “soft” skills: critical thinking 2nd, listening 3rd, and self-reflection 4th. The last three were technical skills: measurement 5th, channel knowledge 6th, and design 7th.

Students ranked the “soft” leadership skills of critical thinking and listening as 1st and 3rd respectively, with the technical skill of writing 2nd. The top three were followed by the technical skills of measurement (4th) and channel knowledge (5th). Self-reflection was 6th on the list, followed by design know-how (7th).

Table 1      

The relative importance of the seven important professional skills and capabilities      

SkillsEducators (n=22)Students (n=23)
Writing skill12
Critical-thinking capabilities21
Measurement knowledge and application54
Design know-how77
Channel knowledge (SM, print, etc.)65
Listening skills33

Note: The most important skill was ranked “1,” the least important skill was ranked “7.”     

RQ2: To what extent do PR educators and students practice self-reflection in their everyday lives? And what approaches do they use?

A majority of educators and students reported using SR extensively in their everyday lives. They reflect daily through journaling and/or thinking about important events. One teacher said, “At work, I constantly make note of which practices seem to work best with my students. I am happy to adjust to keep up with the industry or evolving learning styles. At home, I try to do the same thing.” A student echoed this line of thinking about SR: “I often think back on past decisions and actions I made. I re-evaluate how I handled conversations, relationships, etc. and think to myself maybe where I went wrong. I do it as a learning experience and so I can always try to better myself.”

Further, careful analysis of responses revealed shared and unique themes in the two data sets. The shared topics included two approaches – “Looking back” and “Looking forward.”

A looking-back approach. This method appeared to be most popular among educators and students. A majority of respondents reported reflecting on past experiences. An educator said, “I reflect on my teaching every so often (maybe several times a month) to identify what I could have done differently/better.” Another one said that SR is “something of a compulsion” and happens while “reviewing situations, what motivated my decisions/behaviors and thinking through the why, and what I might have done differently or better.” A student shared, “After finishing a conversation with people, I’ll think if I was too awkward, or if it went well. After tests I’ll also think back on how I did, or how I could have done better.”

A looking-forward approach. Several educators said they use SR as a planning tool. For example, one teacher shared, “I seek feedback at least once a semester and constantly make notes after classes, meetings, etc. Then, I try to reflect on it before a new semester begins.” Another teacher said, “Each time I give an assignment in class and see what my students learned—did I do a good job, or do I need to revise my methods?” A student said she self-reflected when “mulling decisions for me and life. You must self-reflect to move forward with life.” 

The following unique approaches were detected in educators’ responses: 

A cautionary approach. Two participants indicated that SR should be undertaken with caution to avoid negative consequences. One explained: “I have small segments of time slots to manage since there are multiple tasks to be accomplished, so if the plan changed either based on choices or unexpected, SR will take place. However, I must admit that it is hard to separate positive SR from self-criticism.” Another educator echoed this concern: 

There is a thin line between self-reflection and obsessing: One needs to reflect upon organizational and personal relationship interactions but not become bogged down by them or become emotionally self-critical. We must learn to give ourselves grace, keep things in perspective, not be perfectionists, but still be in an ever-growth mindset for ourselves and our organizations.

An imaginative approach. One educator said, “Through reading books or learning others’ situations, I often imagine what I would do if were in their positions. And, more importantly, I think about how to make a situation better.”

The following unique approaches were detected in students’ responses: 

A dealing with a stress approach. The theme of an ongoing stress/feeling overwhelmed was directly or indirectly communicated in several student responses. One student shared, “Whenever I get stressed or overwhelmed, I self-reflect of all the things I’ve accomplished so far to get myself in a better mood, or at work, or in church.” Another student said, “I try to do this before I start to feel overwhelmed.” 

A dealing with the pressure to succeed approach. A number of students indicated SR is beneficial for them as they strive to find ways to succeed in life and profession. One student defined SR as “Looking inward to address personal/professional strengths and weaknesses, and how you approach life knowing them.” Another provided a similar answer: “SR is being able to know yourself and your own strengths and weaknesses along with knowing what you need to thrive.” While answering how she practiced SR, a student said, “I often do this through therapy, self-help books, or looking at others who have been in my position and what they did to succeed.”

RQ 3: In students’ opinions, what are practical benefits of SR? What approaches do PR students experience in the classroom?

Overall, students assign a high value to SR practice. They see it as “helpful with mental health” and being “one of the best ways to know yourself.” One student said SR is a way to identify her weaknesses and thus, knowing “when to ask for help.” Another respondent saw SR is a necessary component in the process of goal setting that leads to life improvement. SR also helps students to “hold yourself accountable to move forward,” find “perspective, learn and grow from past experiences,” and live “to the fullest potential.” In addition, they believed “it’s important to self-reflect to be a better person and a successful PR professional.”

Students said they are engaged in SR in some classes, mainly through peer review, professor feedback, case study analysis, debriefs on projects, and reflection papers. Respondents shared that SR activities help them learn from mistakes, understand their strengths and weaknesses, and prepare for real-world challenges. In particular, one focus group participant      said: 

Being a student is about gaining knowledge, experience and confidence. It’s a valuable skill because it’s important to stay on top of industry trends, new techniques and crises. In a PR class, you are putting your skills to the test. It gives us an opportunity to make mistakes. Also, reviewing our own morals and values and what kind of company you want to work for.

Another group also believed it is always a valuable experience – working in a class with three-four people and “see how different minds come up with incredible ideas through reflection.”

Importantly, students said class discussions and assignments should incorporate a better variety of SR activities. Given the fact that SR benefits both individual and group projects, the SR approach should be used on a regular basis in all PR classes.

RQ 4: What do PR educators see the benefits of self-reflection for students as future leaders? 

All teachers said SR helps PR students as future change agents to enhance self-awareness and emotional intelligence, among other qualities. One educator provided a detailed answer: 

PR professionals must have and hone emotional intelligence, of which empathy is a big part, for they are responsible for creating, maintaining, and nurturing various relationships within and external to their organizations (i.e., among various stakeholders) and providing insight and counsel to management. They also represent the organization, so they need to reflect on how they might communicate more effectively with others, what messages might best resonate, and how they might project a more professional, engaged image. SR involves what one can do differently or better in response to others—not how they can change others. The change should be internal (themselves or their organizations) in response to others, as a result of SR.

In addition, several respondents reported using SR to help students understand “their own set of values and how to use those values, as well as professional communication values (particularly those in the PRSA Code of Ethics), during ethical decision-making.”

One teacher argued SR is a way to meet challenges of a complex and ever-changing industry environment: “The PR industry is constantly changing. Also, there is no one right answer in PR. There are many unpredictable situations and PR practitioners need to communicate with different people all the time.”

Another educator believed that the importance of teaching SR “has been elevated considerably by the toxic environment we live in today. We need to look at ourselves and ask what we are doing to be moral agents.” 

However, the extent to which educators practiced SR and “taught” it in the classroom, varied widely. About one-third incorporated SR in their courses and used challenging projects and exercises to help students develop both me- and we- reflection capabilities. These in-class exercises and projects summarized below (see the RQ5 discussion) may be the most valuable and practical findings in this research. 

Other examples of rich classroom exercises the educators described included: 1) unconscious bias training and reflection on DEI; 2) self-assessment exercises based on four working-style preferences; 3) requiring seniors in a campaigns class to write a letter to their “Freshman Self,” explaining what they would learned about communication and PR practice in their four years of college; and 4) completing a “privilege knapsack” class exercise, which helps students realize privileges they may take for granted and which may impact their professional PR performance.  

On the other end, about one-third of educators did little if anything in the classroom to help build or encourage development of the skill, though they recognized it was probably important to do so.

RQ 5: In educators’ opinions, what are the most powerful SR learning experiences, especially those related to DEI?

Eighteen out of 22 educators shared specific practices they believed are powerful in helping students to do both – master content and improve SR skills. This twofold benefit appeared to be the most prominent theme in teachers’ responses. For example, one educator said an effective method of learning SR is to “build it into a real-life business or professional example, case, situation. This approach allows students to discern SR in a constructive setting and through an experiential.” Another participant echoed, “I found having students evaluate their own campaign execution the most effective. Students brought up many ‘could have done better’ points such as teamwork, messaging, channel selections, and research part in campaign design.”

Other educators reported using simulation and role plays, peer feedback, discussions, written summaries, and soft grading which is giving “students a chance to revise, instead of letting them sit with their grade and do nothing to improve.” One respondent shared she considers discussions of projects she did as a practitioner a form of SR. Another teacher reported using online tools after discovering that “students venture into SR more on Discussion Boards.”

Analysis of teachers’ responses revealed several characteristics of effective SR learning experiences. Regardless of a project type, the effort should be intentional, encompassing, consistent and creative. For example, one educator said she is “intentionally allocating some time (e.g., 5 minutes) each week for students to reflect on what they learnt from the lectures, readings, exercises, assignments, teamwork, etc., summarize, and write down such reflections.” 

Educators use an encompassing approach by incorporating SR strategies into assignments related to public relations directly (e.g., case studies) and indirectly (e.g., general management skills). Two participants said they built SR into assignments aimed to improve students’ conflict management skills and create awareness about different working styles. 

Another respondent’s answer is an example of a consistent and creative effort: 

At the end of a semester, I ask campaigns class students to write a letter to their freshman self. For (name) Agency they write a letter to their pre-(name) Agency self. It is an amazing exercise as they see how far they have come. It usually involves both laughter and tears on their part and mine. For (name) Agency we print it out in a book that we give all the seniors at a Senior Send off. They sign each other’ books like a yearbook. It’s epic. 

Several participants mentioned that SR helped them address DEI-related issues in classroom. One educator said: 

So far, I think the most powerful SR learning experience will be related to the unconscious bias training or discussion related to DEI. It’s a topic we are aware of, but we are uncomfortable to talk about. The common (or easy) answer is we treat everyone the same, which is colorblindness and a lack of authenticity and failure to recognize differences. Because in the real world, everyone is not the same. 

The educator continued by sharing a DEI approach to help students open up and thus, make an SR exercise more meaningful:

Since my class on diversity and leadership is an online course, the SR exercise is not a public discussion in class. I found it actually makes students more comfortable to share and reflect on their past experience or circumstances when they feel privileged (or underprivileged), biased, or those common stereotypes they attribute to other minority groups, since I am their only reader. They tend to be more open and authentic. This is the topic I get to read more authentic self-reflection than other topics such as leadership styles or ethics.

Based on teaching experience of a PR instructor, an effective DEI-related pedagogy is a writing assignment in the format of a reflection paper on student’s “cultural identity, including the influences that shaped that identity, the core values internalized from those influences, and how one personally expresses or resists or transforms those values.” The instructor also asks students to “think about how those values impact how they react and respond to others not like themselves” and “give the paper a title that is reflective of its content.” The instructor added, “I remind them that white is a race.” 

Another respondent shared using online resources to discuss DEI:

An exercise that encourages students to realize privileges that they may take for granted and how that may impact their PR communication in negative ways. For example, the privilege knapsack class exercise. See: Diversity Toolkit: A guide to discussing identity, power and privilege (2020). 

Overall, analysis of responses revealed those educators who have made SR-related activities part of the curriculum, appeared to be committed to developing both hard and soft skills in their students. As for DEI activities, only a few participants linked SR and DEI, but their approaches seemed to be quite powerful.  

Discussion and Practical Implications

This research found most surveyed PR educators and students value SR and practice it in varying degrees in their personal lives and work/professional lives. SR is considered a valuable skill, though ranked as 4th by educators and 6th by students among the seven skills surveyed (all important skills). Educators expressed more caution than students about focusing too much on self-criticism in SR. Most students use a “me-reflection” approach, focusing on their personal lives and how they can improve relationships, communicate better, reduce stress, and create a better and brighter future. They “look back” to help “look ahead.” Students expressed more use of SR to help deal with stress and the pressures to succeed. They described using SR to “react” to such challenges, while educators used SR more to “respond” to such challenges. As an implication for mentorship programs, one of the tasks would be to help mentees to be less reactive and more responsive to issues and problems associated with their work-related challenges. As U.S. organizations are adopting the DEI agenda, SR becomes an indispensable tool in helping position the organizational effort as a moral case (Diversity and inclusion at work, 2018). 

 All teachers said SR was important. Those educators who use SR to talk about DEI in class, did not appear to utilize a variety of approaches, but their practices seem to be effective. Accordingly, one can imply teacher’s passion and consistency in addressing DEI are more important than an assortment of pedagogies.

The extent to which teachers personally practiced SR and “taught” it in the classroom, varied widely. About one-third incorporated SR in their courses and used engaging projects and exercises to help students develop both me- and we- reflection capabilities. On the other end, about one-third did little if anything in the classroom to encourage development of the skill. The structures of educators’ own SR practices were wide-ranging—from daily walks to morning journaling sessions, daily meditation or exercise periods, to reflecting during wait times in airports. 

Implications for Teaching and Mentoring  

This study underscores the value and importance of self-reflection in PR education and in mentoring, and the researchers’ two previous studies provide related insights and specific processes and approaches to advance SR skills in the classroom and in mentoring relationships. During depth interviews with 30 leading professionals in Russia and N. America (Berger & Erzikova, 2019), the researchers found all the professionals practiced SR, though in different ways and settings. All 30 also were mentors to students and young professionals, and part of their mentoring focused on enriching SR skills among the mentees. 

Based on these interviews, the researchers developed a six-step strategic SR process that bears implications for practice and education, and provides a distinct pathway to more meaningful SR. The six steps are:

1.  Make time for SR. It is too important to be too busy. It is difficult getting started, but SR can become part of your daily routine. Walking, exercising, tending the garden, riding to work, reading books, writing in a diary—choose an approach that works best for you. Then do it.

2.  Create the “right” mindset. Like putting on a game face, in SR we must create a mental space where SR fills the foreground. We cannot empty our brains, but we can adjust focus.  

3.  Be self-honest and balance your self-assessment. This is the most difficult step, and two issues are involved. First, do not let ego overpower your self-critique and, second, don’t let self-criticism (rumination) lead to inaction or loss of confidence.  

4.  Formulate actions based on your assessment and evaluation. Calendar them. Consider discussing them with a mentor or colleague, especially if they deal with DEI or a related crucial issue. For example, you can decide to meet periodically with a colleague/classmate whose worldview differs from yours.

5.  Carry out actions. Be professional, timely and authentic. Rehearsing the actions to test and refine them may be useful, whether for small or large events or issues.  

6.  Self-reflect on the outcomes and renew the cycle. Writing things down may help at this point. Over time, this process becomes routine. Individuals can use this process, and mentors and teachers can help students and young professionals frame each step with relevant questions to ask the self along the way.  

The researchers also completed a content analysis and comprehensive review of online SR development approaches and tools for use in the classroom (Berger & Erzikova, 2022). This review helped identify seven building blocks for including more, and more effective SR in the classroom and in organizational mentoring programs. Dozens of specific exercises were identified that can be built into real or virtual classrooms, and mentoring settings to develop SR power among students and teachers. The seven building blocks are briefly described below. 

Block      1: Commitment The foundation block is a firm commitment by educators/mentors to develop students’/mentees’ SR capabilities, along with improving their own SR knowledge and practice. Educators can make a similar commitment to developing DEI awareness through their SR teachings. A powerful overall strategy is to structure courses to include SR moments and practices into most class sessions, rather than highlighting SR in a single class. A blog by Tricia Whenham (April 9, 2020): 15 ways to spark student reflection in your college classroom, provides examples.

Teachers’/mentors’ own SR practices and enrichment efforts also are crucial to strengthening students’ SR capabilities. One approach for teachers/mentors is to consistently examine and question their own teaching/mentoring approaches, capabilities, and outcomes. As John Dewey famously argued, we do not learn from experience, but rather we learn from reflecting on experience. A good resource in this area is the report by Julia A. Hatcher and Robert G. Bringle, “Reflection Activities for the College Classroom” (1996). 

Block      2: Socratic Teaching Use Socratic teaching more often—less lecturing/less teacher talking, and more listening and questioning—to stimulate critical thinking and draw out ideas and underlying assumptions. Erick Willberding’s Socratic Methods in the Classroom (2019) is an excellent resource. Six types of basic Socratic questions concern: 1) clarifying thinking by using basic “tell me more” questions to drive deeper thinking; 2) challenging or probing assumptions to identify presuppositions, including DEI related issues and beliefs; 3) probing evidence or reasoning in arguments to assess strength and weight; 4) exploring alternative viewpoints on the topic or issue; 5) examining implications and consequences to assess relevance and desirability; and 6) questioning the question(s) itself. 

For example, educators can use Socratic questions to discuss the impact of current events (the pandemic and anti-transgender legislation) on mental health of LGBTQ young people. The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, provides online educational resources to make such discussions informative and meaningful. 

The Socratic teaching approach challenges the accuracy and completeness of thinking in ways that help people move forward and promote higher order thinking skills and capabilities. The more such questions are used, especially those dealing DEI issues, the more critical thinking is strengthened, and a wide-lens perspective is adopted. About half of the 30 PR leaders interviewed (Berger & Erzikova, 2019) used a Socratic approach in mentoring students and young professionals. They helped students answer their own questions by raising questions with the students, by way of providing answers. This may be an especially valuable approach during pandemic times.  

Block      3: Artistic Stimulation Use poetry, great literature, films, art, and music to trigger journal writing, creative thinking, and reflection and discussions about the self, dreams, hopes, values, and behaviors. Art often stimulates self-reflection because it often is a product of SR. For example, have students read and discuss a poem or short story, listen to music, or view a painting, and then discuss what it means to them, or what it feels like to them. Challenge them to create a tweet to capture the essence of their feeling about the work. Then consider how the tweet might frame or describe a PR or advertising campaign.

A powerful example of artistic stimulation to drive DEI self-reflection and group reflection in the classroom is the poem, I am diversity. Please include me. Written by the former pastor and poet, Charles W. Bennafield, it was apparently used at the Conference Board’s Diversity Boot Camp in 2012. Many version of individuals’ reading this poem is available on Facebook. 

Block      4: Deep Debriefs Lead students/mentees through depth debriefs of in-class team projects/work for a client, or review of case studies, which build analytical and reflective thinking and deepen understanding—opening the door for improved planning and execution in future projects. Questions that focus on identifying the most important facts and issues in a case, and then specifying alternative courses of action, closely assessing each course, and finally recommending the “best” course of action, help build analytical and reflection skills.  

This approach to SR was evident in responses by about one-third of the PR students and educators involved in this study, and in similar numbers of professional leaders in Russia and North America who described their mentoring approaches with PR students and young professionals (Berger & Erzikova, 2022).   

Block      5: Self-Assessment Tools Sharpen students’/mentees’ self-insights and team-insights with assessment tools available online or in booklet form. These self-assessments can drive self-reflection and awareness and help students or professionals better understand themselves and others/different types. Self-awareness can help improve performance, relationships, team building, diversity, and trust. Several educators and students highlighted this approach in their survey responses. Here are four commonly used assessments:  

  • Myer-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): Reveals personality type (16 types) and helps individuals better understand and accept themselves (and others) and who they are.
  • Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP): measures conflict behaviors, increases self-awareness and helps develop conflict management skills. Focuses on behavior, not styles.
  • Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (KAI): reveals one’s style of problem-solving and increases self-awareness and teamwork. Useful especially for building teams and carrying out change management. 
  • Diversity and Inclusion SelfAssessment (DISA): helps individuals understand their team’s or organization’s relative commitment to DEI and where improvements can be made.   
  • Strengths Finders (SF): helps individuals identify their top strengths (from a list of talent themes) and become more engaged and improve performance. This positive approach is a good first step in team building and leadership development.  

Block      6: Recurring Workplace Questions Lead students/mentees to create a list of the kinds of recurring SR questions they are likely to deal with in their professional work world as individuals or team members. Consider how you might answer them, and the relevant behaviors needed to convince others you mean what you say. Here are five such questions: 1) Do my words and actions on the job reflect my core values? 2) How do I contribute to my work team’s or organization’s culture? 3) How can I develop a better work relationship with my boss? 4) How do others likely see my actions and behaviors? 5) How do I contribute to the DEI agenda? Educators/mentors may ask similar questions of themselves and their performance. 

Block      7: Calendar Approach Use a straight-forward “calendar approach” to help students/mentees reflect on and rehearse important, upcoming events, assignments, or challenges in their current educational/professional world. This might include leading a team session, or study group of mixed race students where DEI is the central issue, applying for a job, delivering a speech, being a social host at some event, participating in a club meeting, a call with a mentor or client, and so forth. This forces students/mentees to consider such events before they take place, as well as their words and actions, behaviors, what to look for, and so forth. 

Limitations and Directions for Future Research 

While this study provided valuable insights into how self-reflection can help sustain and enrich DEI, the sample included only U.S. students and educators. Future research therefore should include a larger U.S. sample and examine the interrelations between SR and DEI in other countries to shed light on attitudes and practices and attempt to uncover similarities and differences among various audiences—PR students, educators, and practitioners. In addition, this qualitative study revealed patterns that should be further investigated through a quantitative study to provide a generalizable view of DEI initiatives’ sustainability through SR. Finally, future research should specifically focus on best DEI teaching practices of diverse PR educators. 

Conclusion: More Research and Practice in Self-Reflection

This was a brief, descriptive study of self-reflection in PR educators and students, and therefore, the findings cannot be generalized. However, combined with extensive SR research in education, psychology, and other fields, and the authors’ two previous studies in this area (Berger & Erzikova, 2022; Berger & Erzikova, 2021), we have a growing sense of the state and importance of SR in public relations practice, education, and mentoring. We also have a strong set of SR learning tactics and strategies to enhance SR in the classroom, mentorships, and practice, which may be crucial in the pandemic world we live in today. 

In the end, the study provides intriguing findings and suggestions that may help frame and design future qualitative or quantitative in-depth SR studies. The PR profession and related education programs would benefit greatly from more SR research to identify best SR practices in teaching and mentoring and how such practice might best be shared or incorporated into DEI learning and training, and educational and organizational programs. Many studies in other fields have confirmed the great value and positive power of SR for leaders and professionals, suggesting that SR may be the difference between good and great leadership. At the least it surely carries some weight in making a difference. More research can shine a light on this crucial, albeit often invisible or tacitly taken-for-granted professional and leadership capability and practice.

SR is a kind of invisible rudder that helps guide our thinking and decision-making, especially in difficult or uncertain times. For example, during the current pandemic and growing concerns about the need for greater DEI, or other future dramatic changes in the world, the importance of SR likely multiplies. The building blocks and corresponding teaching tactics herein provide a framework of practical guidance to develop and/or enrich self-reflection about the effects of COVID-19. 

Studies reveal that disease outbreaks can have a long-term impact on the workforce’s mental health and well-being (Restubog et al., 2020; Sibley et al., 2020). In this regard, educators/mentors can reflect on the ways to prioritize students’/mentees’ mental and emotional health and help students/mentees do the same. Mentors can help students and young professionals identify SR guides via alumni, PRSA, companies, nonprofits, etc. The guides can assist with reflecting on what DEI means to mentees, their classmates/colleagues, and college/workplace. In addition, the guides can help mentees to reflect on personal biases and outline the ways to manage them. 

Teachers also can encourage learners to reflect on changes in class modalities (moving online and back to classroom) and study routines. Brief reflection sessions might be held at the conclusion of classes, stimulated by music or artwork. Topics might include how to stay motivated, cope with stress, or self-evaluate our empathy toward others. 

Building this capability in students and young professionals—our future leaders—will enrich the profession and infuse it with power, especially during these trying times. The sooner one begins meaningful SR in education and mentorship, the better for the individual, their organization, and their profession, and for driving and sustaining DEI in the workplace and profession.


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© Copyright 2023 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Berger,B.K. and Erzikova, E. (2023). Self-reflection is the engine that drives,
grows and sustains DE&I among leaders, mentors and public relations educators and professionals
Journal of Public Relations Education, 8(4), 59-90. https://journalofpreducation.com/?p=3425 

Journal of Public Relations Education, Volume 8, Issue 4

Special Issue on Leadership, Mentorship and DEI in the Post-Pandemic Public Relations Classroom

Note from the Guest Editor:

Juan Meng, Ph.D.
Head & Associate Professor
Department of Advertising and Public Relations
Grady College Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Georgia
Email: jmeng@uga.edu

Nilanjana Bardhan, Ph.D.
Communication Studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
Email: bardhan@siu.edu

The world changed in 2020 in unprecedented ways. In the United States, the combined impact of COVID-19 and the racial unrest following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery left us reeling with regards to questions of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace and in our societal institutions, including higher education. Discourse on public relations education and DEI peaked. This watershed year witnessed numerous webinars, conversations and discussions sponsored by our profession’s organizations such as the Public Relations Society of America, the Institute for Public Relations, and the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, all of which queried with renewed vigor on how well we are preparing our students to be racial-justice-oriented and DEI-minded public relations professionals as they transition from college to the industry. This was the moment when we approached the Journal of Public Relations Education with the idea of this special issue. 

Rationale for the Special Issue
As educators and scholars, we believe leadership and mentorship are especially important during times of upheaval, uncertainty and radical change. Educators and students are grappling with new pedagogical challenges, and we need scholarship that can aid in navigating these challenges and discovering opportunities (Bardhan & Gower, 2020). As editors of this special issue, we hope the research articles and teaching brief collected in this volume address the pressing need to make DEI an integral part of public relations education as emphasized by the Commission on Public Relations Education (Mundy et al., 2018). We also hope the broad range of perspectives and solutions offered in the articles collected in this special issue will aid in deepening our understanding of and the discussion on the intersections of leadership and mentorship in fostering DEI in public relations education. 

It is hard to argue against the proposition that it is difficult for progress to occur in the domain of DEI without committed leadership and stellar mentorship. With regards to public relations education, this means that both students and educators need to understand this crucial relationship between DEI, leadership and mentorship in public relations pedagogy and learning environments. Meng (2013, 2015) has already emphasized that educators play a critical and instructive role in enhancing students’ competitive advantage by incorporating leadership content and training into undergraduate curriculum. In addition, Bardhan and Gower (2020) also addressed the need for public relations educators to lead efforts to advance DEI in education by diversifying curriculum, enhancing inclusive learning environments, and advocating for structural change for DEI-centered pedagogy. The events of 2020 compelled us to weave together both these emphases of DEI and leadership and add the layer of mentorship. We wove in these layers into our call, which encouraged submissions addressing both the challenges and the opportunities in the DEI-Leadership-Mentorship mix in the domain of public relations education. Some key questions were asked as we launched the special issue call:

  • What are the current practice, challenges and opportunities associated with enhancing public relations education at the intersections of leadership, mentorship, and DEI?
  • What kinds of pedagogical, theoretical and practical implications and recommendations can we offer educators in empowering them to foster DEI in public relations education by jointly engaging leadership and mentorship in teaching and training?
  • What are the best practices and resources that aid in teaching public relations at the intersections of leadership, mentorship and DEI?
  • What are some innovative approaches and strategies to connect educators, practitioners and students to enhance public relations pedagogy by integrating the critical thinking and discussion of leadership, mentorship and DEI?

Contribution of the Special Issue
This special issue, Leadership, Mentorship and DEI in the Post-Pandemic Public Relations Classroom, strives to address the above questions. We are pleased to offer our readers a collection of seven articles, which includes six original research articles and one teaching brief. This collection offers a variety of perspectives on exploring both the challenges and opportunities for public relations pedagogy focusing on leadership and mentorship and how the mix could foster a more diverse, equal and inclusive environment in the post-pandemic public relations classroom. 

This issue is organized into three sections, which reflect the complexities of the intersections of leadership, mentorship and DEI in public relations education. The first section, Current Practices and Challenges of DEI in Public Relations Education and the Need for Self-Reflection and Mentorship, includes three articles addressing the broad landscape of public relations pedagogy at the intersections of leadership, mentorship and DEI. 

The first article titled “Enhancing Diversity and Inclusion in the Public Relations Classroom: Current Practices of Public Relations Educators,” contributed by Shana Meganck and Yeonsoo Kim, provides an overview of the changing higher education landscape in addressing the DEI efforts from multiple perspectives (e.g., recruitment, admissions, climate, curriculum, research, strategic planning, administrative structures, etc.). The study focuses on investigating the pedagogical approaches adapted by public relations educators to integrate DEI practices in the public relations classroom through a self-administered online survey. To provide a snapshot of the current DEI practice in public relations education, the authors reviewed structural elements of courses in public relations curriculum such as value statements and policies in course materials, course objectives and learning outcomes, assignments and course evaluations and investigated how those pedagogical approaches are integrated into public relations education to support DEI in the classroom. The results of the survey indicate that educators are performing better when it comes to practicing DEI pedagogical approaches and that they need to work harder at including clearer DEI structural elements.

The second contribution, titled “Self-Reflection is the Engine that Drives, Grows and Sustains DE&I among Leaders, Mentors and Public Relations Educators and Professionals,” by Bruce K. Berger and Elina Erzikova, offers a critical perspective on examining the relationship between meaningful self-reflection and its underestimated function in navigating DEI challenges and unexpected situations. The authors designed and carried out a three-phase comprehensive research project in the past four years (i.e., self-reflection interviews with 30 PR leaders, a content analysis of educator blogs, articles, and websites addressing self-reflection skills, and surveys of PR educators and focus groups with PR students). Based on the results, the authors argue that educators and professionals in public relations must practice meaningful self-reflection to not only grow but also sustain DEI in public relations. More significantly, the authors provide a practical six-step strategic self-reflection process that can be taught and practiced in the classroom. From the perspective of leadership development, the authors argue that self-reflection is the foundation for continuous improvement in public relations leadership, mentorship, education, and practice. 

In the third article in this section, titled “Cross the Stage: Underrepresented Students’ Challenges and Mentoring Needs in Strategic Communication Programs,” Jiun-Yi Tsai, Janice Sweeter, and Amy Hitt focus on investigating the challenges encountered by underrepresented students in public relations programs in college education. The authors conducted 14 semi-structured interviews with students who self-identify as first generation, Hispanic/Latinx, or Black/African American college students majoring in strategic communication. Their research offers insights on the importance of mentorship support from faculty to help underrepresented students build resilience. The research results also mention that identity-based clubs and classroom peer relationships could foster relational connections that support underrepresented students. 

The second section of this special issue, Curriculum Innovation and Accreditation Standards in Public Relations DEI Pedagogy, features two contributions addressing innovative pedagogical approaches in public relations curriculum. The first article contributed by Lee Bush and Vanessa Bravo, titled “Systematically Applying DEI Accreditation Standards to a Strategic Communication Curriculum,” shares the authors’ experience in leading a new initiative to research, develop, and test modules to achieve DEI learning outcomes in their strategic communication courses as an effort to meet the new guidelines for diversity and inclusion approved by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC). The reflective results showed that it is important to integrate DEI into curriculum in a more systematic way. The assessment results of what worked and what did not provide important pedagogical suggestions to public relations educators for developing a DEI-focused curriculum.

Leadership, mentorship and DEI can intersect in extracurricular spaces and learning environments inhabited by public relations students, and this is demonstrated in practical detail in the second article in this section, titled “Student-led Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Education in Public Relations: PRSSA as a Space for Teaching and Learning.” Authors Arshia Anwer and Timmy Kwong describe how the student leadership of a Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter at a private liberal arts college in the United States took the initiative to enhance its DEI vision, action and pedagogy during the watershed events of 2020. By inviting multiple DEI focused guest speakers, conducting a survey that gauged chapter members’ interest in DEI issues, recruiting diverse students to the chapter from across campus, and nominating its VP for DEI for a PR News Social Impact Award, this chapter sets an example for other PRSSA chapters to emulate.

The third section of this special issue, Teaching Cases for Exploring DEI Complexities in Public Relations Education, is composed of two contributions that center on incorporating inclusivity and cultural sensitivity into public relations campaigns courses. In the article, titled “Shaping Tomorrow’s Industry Leaders by Incorporating Inclusivity into Campaign Planning Curriculum: Student Reactions to the SMART+IE Mindset in Strategic Communication Efforts,” Richard D. Waters and Tricia M. Farwell present an innovative teaching activity that demonstrates how students can be pedagogically engaged to discuss the nuances of DEI in campaign planning and strategic communication. By incorporating hypothetical case studies that include DEI complexities and teaching students how to lead in DEI communication, this pedagogical innovation emphasizes the importance of inclusive communication.  The authors share not just the case study and its DEI pedagogy value, but also describe how students who worked on this case in classes responded to it and what they learned from it about themselves and about the role of DEI in strategic communication.  Additionally, the authors reflect on their own experience, as educators, of including this DEI case study in their classes.

The last contribution in this edited issue is a teaching brief, titled “Eco-Tourism Campaigns as a Framework for Global PR Course.” The authors, Nandini Bhalla and Arien Rozelle, address diversity education at the international level and argue for the importance of helping students build cultural sensitivity and equality in the public relations classroom. Their teaching brief provides scenarios for public relations educators to consider and adopt when helping students understand cultural and structural differences in an international context. 

Overall, the research articles and teaching brief collected in this special issue present a wide range of perspectives on understanding the intersections of leadership, mentorship and DEI in public relations education. We could not locate any research that addressed the intersections of DEI, leadership and mentorship in public relations education when we sent out the call for this special issue. Now we are pleased to state that this is no longer the case. The intersectionality nature of the topics present the complexity at multiple dimensions such as the practical, the pedagogical and the theoretical levels. It is our sincere hope that the articles in this special issue will serve as a springboard for further scholarship on this critical intersection in public relations pedagogy. 

It has truly been an honor to have had the opportunity to work on this issue and we would like to thank all those who supported it by sending in submissions. We would especially like to thank our team of reviewers with expertise on this topic. We could not have published this issue without their valuable insights, constructive feedback, comments and suggestions, and overall solid reviews to help the authors revise and improve their research and writings. Finally and most importantly, our heartfelt thanks go to Dr. Pamela Bourland-Davis, Editor of the Journal of Public Relations Education and her editorial team for offering the opportunity to edit this special issue. It would have been impossible to produce this special issue without their encouragement and guidance throughout the process. 


Bardhan, N., & Gower, K. (2020). Student and faculty/educator views on diversity and inclusion in public relations: The role of leaders in bringing about change. Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 102-141. Available at https://aejmc.us/jpre/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2020/08/PDF-of-Bardhan-and-Gower-2020-from-JPRE-6.2-1.pdf

Meng, J. (2013). Learning by leading: Integrating leadership in public relations education for an enhanced value. Public Relations Review, 39(5), 609-611. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2013.09.005

Meng, J. (2015). Integrating leadership in public relations education to develop future leaders. Journal of Public Relations Education, 1(1), 31-37. Available at https://aejmc.us/jpre/2015/08/04/integrating-leadership-in-public-relations-education-to-develop-future-leaders/

Mundy, D., Lewton, K., Hicks, A., & Neptune, T. (2018). Diversity: An imperative commitment for educators and practitioners. In Fast Forward: The 2017 Report on undergraduate public relations education (pp. 139-148). Commission on Public Relations Education. Available at: http://www.commissionpred.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/report6-full.pdf 

Table of Contents

Research Articles

Section I: Current Practices and Challenges of DEI in Public Relations Education and the Need for Self-Reflection and Mentorship

Enhancing Diversity and Inclusion in the Public Relations Classroom: Current Practices of Public Relations Educators
Shana Meganck and Yeonsoo Kim

Self-Reflection is the Engine that Drives, Grows and Sustains DE&I among Leaders, Mentors and Public Relations Educators and Professionals
Bruce K. Berger and Elina Erzikova

Cross the Stage: Underrepresented Students’ Challenges and Mentoring Needs in Strategic Communication Programs
Jiun-Yi Tsai, Janice Sweeter, and Amy Hitt

Section II: Curriculum Innovation and Accreditation Standards in Public Relations DEI Pedagogy

Systematically Applying DEI Accreditation Standards to a Strategic Communication Curriculum
Lee Bush and Vanessa Bravo

Student-led Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Education in Public Relations: PRSSA as a Space for Teaching and Learning
Arshia Anwer and Timmy Kwong

Section III: Teaching Cases for Exploring DEI Complexities in Public Relations Education

Shaping Tomorrow’s Industry Leaders by Incorporating Inclusivity into Campaign Planning Curriculum: Student Reactions to the SMART+IE Mindset in Strategic Communication Efforts
Richard D. Waters and Tricia M. Farwell

Teaching Brief

Eco-Tourism Campaigns as a Framework for Global PR Course
Nandini Bhalla and Arien Rozelle

Read the full issue here:

Publication of the Public Relations Division of AEJMC
© 2023 AEJMC Public Relations Division

The Journal of Public Relations Education (JPRE) is devoted to the presentation of research and commentary that advance the field of public relations education. JPRE invites submissions in the following three categories:

  • Research Articles
  • Teaching Briefs
  • Book/Software Reviews

Learn more by visiting the About JPRE page and the Authors/Contributors page for submission guidelines. All submissions should follow the guidelines of the most recent edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Questions? Contact the Editorial Staff

Building Bridges and Relationships Through Balanced Communication: Understanding Psychosocial Factors in Positive Public Relations Mentorship

Editorial Record: Submitted September 2, 2021. Revised January 25, 2022. Accepted March 11, 2022.


Melissa Adams, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Communication
Appalachian State
Boone, North Carolina
Email: adamsmb2@appstate.edu

Melanie Formentin, Ph.D. 
Independent Researcher
Orlando, Florida
Email: mformentinphd@gmail.com

Brigitta R. Brunner, Ph.D.
Professor & Associate Director
School of Communication & Journalism
Auburn, Alabama
Email: brunnbr@auburn.edu


Mentoring relationships are correlated with positive outcomes and career success in both industry and academia. Although public relations mentorship is not studied as broadly as other managerial disciplines, it is a large and growing field. Results of a study of an academic public relations mentorship program indicate that structural factors such as distance or frequency of contact are not as important to perceived positive outcomes as were psychosocial factors. Two surveys (N = 25 and N = 33, 62.5% and 53.97% response rate, respectively) revealed that trust emerged as a central factor for building positively perceived mentoring relationships. However, emphasis is placed on how to build trust through responsive communication. And building trust leads to more positive perceptions of mentoring relationships. Notably, mentors and mentees had significantly different perceptions of relationship outcomes, suggesting the need to further explore power differentials in mentoring relationships. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Keywords: mentorship, public relations education, skills, trust, mentor


A significant body of research exists to explore best practices in and outcomes from mentoring relationships, but gaps persist in the literature (Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, 2016). For example, scholars have yet to concretely define the concept of mentoring, in part because mentoring can take multiple forms and consist of multiple activities. Further, the Plank Center’s white paper on mentoring and best practices specifically points to the “lack of convincing empirical evidence that mentoring programs make a positive difference” (p. 17). Although it only breaks the surface of these issues, this study explores some of these issues through an analysis of a faculty-focused mentoring program housed in a major national communication association.

The Association for Education in Mass Communication and Journalism (AEJMC) Public Relations Division’s (PRD) mentorship program began in 2014-2015 with 26 participants (13 pairs) and grew to 36 pairs and 72 active participants by 2019-2020. Annually, PRD members are recruited via the PRD listerv, newsletter, and social media platforms. Program participants complete an online application form and membership committee leaders pair them based on responses regarding mentorship needs (e.g., primary research area interests, job market preparation), demographics (e.g., age, gender, academic status) and interpersonal factors and preferences (e.g., scholar with professional background, female scholar only). 

Mentorship pairs are announced via email introductions prior to AEJMC and all are invited to attend an hour-long meet and greet held at the conference. For those able to attend, the “mentorship coffee break” provides a formal face-to-face meeting opportunity for the mentoring pairs to make initial contact before moving into a distance relationship.

During the first five years of the program, PRD leadership followed its progress anecdotally through membership committee feedback (received directly from participants) and surveys. However, long-term membership committee members noted trends that might provide opportunities for improvement and to share best practices for mentorship with other programs and academic mentors in general.

Mentorship in higher education has long been studied as a pathway to success for junior faculty and doctoral students transitioning into academic positions. Formal mentorship has emerged as a determinant of positive career outcomes (van der Weijden et al.     , 2015), especially in regard to teaching (Pierce & Martinez, 2012). Contributing factors such as gender, race, the added responsibility of dependents, and the structure of the mentorship relationship (such as co-learning and peer-to-peer mentoring) have been investigated in various academic fields (Ogan & Robinson, 2008; Sarikakis, 2003; Totleben & Deiss, 2015), but few studies have examined mentorship in public relations education to identify best practices or the structure of successful and positive relationships.

To fill this gap, this study examines participant perceptions of relationships formed through the AEJMC PRD Mentorship Program. Two surveys distributed during a five-year period (2015-2020) were used to explore how structural and psychosocial factors such as frequency of contact, responsivity, length of relationship, and trust correlated with positive perceptions of relationships and their outcomes. Additionally, as this program pairs mentoring partners between institutions, distance was considered a factor impacting relationship outcomes. In practice, survey results were used to understand the overall attitudes of program participants and identify any factors that should be addressed or changed in the program’s structure to improve both outcomes and participant experiences. Results indicate that psychosocial factors related to relationship building are key to positive mentoring relationships. Further, practical outcomes highlight the need for responsive communication between mentoring partners and the importance of understanding differing perceptions among mentors and mentees.

Literature Review

To better understand best practices and quality in mentoring relationships, this section outlines existing literature on mentoring, mentoring relationships in public relations, and the psychosocial and structural factors that contribute to or inhibit success in these important relationships.

What is mentoring?

Mentoring is considered important for developing skills, gaining psychosocial and socioemotional support, supporting career advancement, and ultimately, encouraging success (Haggard et al., 2001; Jacobi, 1991; Kram, 1985; Packard, 2016). The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations’(2017) recent report on mentoring describes mentorship as “when a mentor, or someone with experience in a certain field, creates a bond or relationship with a mentee, an individual who is looking to grow [their] expertise in that field” (     p. 2). To note, it is important to distinguish mentoring from advising, which typically emphasizes sharing information about the activities needed to complete an educational program or pursue a career path (Montgomery et al., 2014). Mentoring may include aspects of advising but extends that type of support due to its personal nature and deep engagement (Montgomery, 2017; Montgomery et al., 2014). While mentoring is a term often used in conversation, there is no universally accepted definition of mentoring (Miller 2002; Zimmerman & Paul, 2007), and the term is difficult to define consistently (Crisp & Cruz, 2009; Jacobi, 1991). Some define mentoring as a process (Anderson & Shannon, 1988; Baker, 2015; Baker      et al., 2013; Roberts, 2000), while others define it as a series of activities, an intense relationship between a more experienced and less experienced person, or simply powerful informal communication that leads to career or personal advancement (Allen et al., 2004; Bahniuk & Hill, 1998).

One commonality across definitions of mentoring is the emphasis on one-way, top-down communication (Montgomery, 2017). However, both early career professionals and those in senior positions seek mentoring; and in practice, the benefits of mentoring are often reciprocal (Zachary & Fischler, 2009). Because mentoring is mutually beneficial to both mentors and mentees (see Jones & Brown, 2011; Mullen & Kennedy, 2007; Tong & Kram, 2013), a more holistic definition of mentoring is as a relationship in which one participant shares their expertise and time to help another participant further develop and master skills and knowledge (Kram, 1985). 

Ideally, mentoring relationships include a joint sense of caring, sharing, and helping between the mentoring pair. These distinctions allow for mentorship to be viewed as more than a one-way, top-down relationship. To note, because of the strong connections between the Plank Center and the PRD Mentoring Program, program leaders have generally embraced Plank Center research (2016) and values (2017) when developing and maintaining the program and sharing insights into mentoring best practices. These values are routinely communicated at the annual breakfast and in participant-facing communication that happens throughout the year, both to provide context for the values guiding the program and to encourage best practices while mentoring pairs build and maintain their relationships.

Mentors, Protégés, and Mentoring Relationships

In simple terms, a mentor can be described as a more experienced person, while the protégé or mentee has less experience and may be in a junior position (Eby & Allen, 2002). A mentor is someone who teaches, supports, counsels, protects, promotes, and sponsors another person in their career and personal development (Zey, 1984). Scholars have expanded this definition to note that mentors are role models and someone a protégé can seek when they do not know how to work through an issue independently (Noe, 1988; Wilson & Elman, 1990). Although mentors are often identified and selected based on demographic or structural qualities, research suggests that selecting mentors based on psychosocial qualities can lead to more meaningful outcomes (Allen et al., 2004; Kram, 1985).

For example, while several scholars note that mentors can attend to both career and personal development, some have found that male mentors are more likely to provide career guidance and female mentors are more likely to also attend to psychosocial needs of protégés (Allen et al., 2004). However, such gender-based differences in mentoring may contribute to the continuation of gendered social roles (Pompper & Adams, 2006). For example, public relations is a predominantly female field, but males are more often in leadership positions (Arenstein, 2019). This situation creates a competitive dynamic between males and females, including among females vying for roles to advance their careers. As females are expected to be naturally more nurturing than males, assumptions of female excellence as mentors is often assumed. Unfortunately, this occurrence is not always the case in competitive work environments. Although females report that emotional support is indeed a benefit of same-sex dyads, conflict is also reported due to the competition for advancement (Pompper & Adams, 2006). Arguably, this example highlights the value of seeking mentors based on psychosocial rather than demographic needs. 

Specifically, psychosocial needs emphasize interpersonal aspects of mentoring relationships (Allen et al., 2004). Psychosocial needs may refer to functions that are specific to mentoring relationships (Kram, 1985) or, more broadly, social identifiers that individuals bring to relationships (Upton, 2013). For example, psychosocial factors such as social support, loneliness, marriage status, social disruption, bereavement, work environment, social status, and social integration have been identified. However, specific to mentoring relationships, Kram (1985) found that psychosocial mentoring functions included role modeling, acceptance-and-confirmation, counseling, and friendship. And when mentors helped mentees based on psychosocial needs, the mentor boosted the mentee’s confidence, helped them define identity, and helped them evaluate their professional capabilities (Kram, 1985). Mentors who support psychosocial needs are likely to model behaviors and offer emotional acceptance or confirmation while also providing the mentee with counseling and friendship (Allen et al., 2004). Further, compared to career or structural factors, psychosocial aspects of mentoring are more highly related to protégé satisfaction with mentoring relationships and       deepen bonds between mentoring partners (Kram, 1985). Additionally, the ability to communicate well and competently is essential for both mentors and mentees (Wiemann, 1977). Mentors must possess self-worth and believe in their abilities to help others (Kalbfleisch & Davies, 1993). Mentees must trust and respect their mentors for mentoring to be successful because emotional connections such as familiarity, closeness, and trust are the foundation of mentoring relationships (Bell      et al., 2000; Kram, 1985; Ragins et al., 2000). Both mentoring partners must invest time, energy, and emotions to form and maintain relationships (Schulz, 1995). 

Finally, mentoring relationships develop through four phases: initiation, cultivation, separation, and redefinition (Kram, 1985). In the initiation stage, the mentoring pair learns about each other and are more likely to share information akin to advising, such as career or disciplinary knowledge (Dixon      et al., 2012). Interpersonal bonds grow in the cultivation stage as the partners exchange ideas and build trust (Dixon et al., 2012). The pair may become co-creators as they share experiences. Next, separation is perhaps the most important phase (Kram, 1985), allowing the mentee to demonstrate their independence and gain confidence (Schulz, 1995). If the mentoring pair does not part after the separation phase, the relationship moves into the redefinition phase. In redefinition, the pair form a long-lasting, perhaps even life-long, relationship of continuous mentoring (Montgomery, 2017). Mentoring relationships often grow even stronger when the former mentee becomes a mentor themselves (Ragins & Scandura, 1999). 

Types of Mentoring

Two types of mentoring relationships—informal vs. formal—exist based on how those relationships were formed. Informal mentoring generally happens spontaneously when people identify a connection and decide to enter into a supportive relationship. This connection can occur whether a mentor approaches a mentee or vice versa (Chao et al., 1992; Edmondson, 2012; Grant, 2015; Monroe et al., 2008; Ragins & Cotton, 1999). However, some researchers caution that informal relationships can allow organizational and cultural barriers to continue (Füger & Höppel, 2011). 

Alternately, formal mentoring gained popularity in the 21st century (De Vries & Webb, 2006; Haynes & Petrosko, 2009). In formal mentoring, an independent third party matches mentors with mentees, often using the needs or wants of the mentee to make that match (Chao et al., 1992; Grant, 2015; Monroe, et al., 2008; Montgomery, 2017: Montgomery et al., 2014; Ragins & Cotton, 1999; Redmond, 1990; Wallace, et al., 2014). People in formal mentoring relationships may have weaker emotional connections due to the matching process, and these pairs may focus on career needs rather than psychosocial ones (Ragins & Cotton, 1999).  

Although mentoring is typically imagined as being either informal or formal, other types of mentorships exist. Developmental mentoring is considered an effective form of mentoring that builds on learning and experience (Clutterbuck, 2008), focusing on networking and providing guidance and advice (Alean-Kirlpatrick, 2011). Developmental mentors often challenge mentees to take the lead and determine their mentorship goals by planning and acquiring resources. This task empowers the mentee by developing personal accountability, building self-resourcefulness, and leveling the power balance between the mentoring pair (Clutterbuck, 2008). 

Among other types of mentoring, comprehensive mentoring refers to when a mentee recognizes many mentoring needs and seeks different mentors at different times to meet these needs (Anderson, et al., 2012; Griffin & Toldson, 2012). Maintenance mentoring helps a mentee advance through a plan of study or career path, working toward accomplishing one major goal, such as earning a college degree (Montgomery, 2017). Similarly, transitional mentoring helps a person move from one career stage to another, such as advancing from graduate student to faculty member (Montgomery, 2017), while aspirational mentors help their mentees plan for future roles or positions, such as a move to administration (Montgomery, 2017; Yosso, 2005). Finally, continuous mentorship reflects long-term relationships between mentoring partners that may span the entirety of a mentee’s career (Montgomery, 2017).

Benefits and importance of mentoring

While mentoring relationships often emphasize benefits for mentees, they also benefit mentors, organizations, and society (Schulz, 1995). Because mentoring allows for collaboration and experiential learning, it may be one of the most important developmental aspects of adulthood (Bova, 1987). Mentorship is often bidirectional or reciprocal in nature, and both mentees and mentors benefit from their engagement and experiences (Chesler & Chesler, 2002; Greco, 2014; Lechuga, 2011; Long et al., 2013; McGee, et al., 2015; McKinsey, 2016). Research broadly suggests that mentorship can lead to career advancement, a sense of satisfaction and belonging, and boosted confidence (Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, 2017), but there are also more nuanced benefits for both mentees and mentors.

As expected, mentorship benefits mentees in various ways. Mentoring allows mentees to learn and grow from failure in safe environments (Schulz, 1995). Mentees may ask mentors questions they are afraid to ask of others, such as seeking advice about or protection from political or other uncomfortable situations (Kram, 1983; Schulz, 1995). Mentees also benefit from their mentor’s shared knowledge, career planning, improved professional skills, and competence awareness (Schmidt & Faber, 2016). Good mentorship can also help mentees advance their careers through networking and visibility (Schmidt & Faber, 2016). In addition to gaining self-confidence from mentoring, mentees often strengthen their well-being by learning more about life-work balance from their mentors (Schmidt & Faber, 2016). When mentees receive good mentoring, they are often inspired to give back and, in return, offer their time as mentors, building a source of mentorship for a new generation (Plank Center, 2017; Schulz, 1995). 

Notably, the bidirectional and reciprocal nature of mentoring relationships also yields distinct benefits for mentors. Research suggests that mentors achieve self-awareness and learn to capitalize on their personal strengths through mentoring duties (Schmidt & Faber, 2016; Kram, 1983; Schulz, 1995). As mentors are typically established in their careers, they often share their experiences and knowledge with others, affording the mentor added respect (Schulz, 1995) and recognition as a leader or knowledge expert (Kram, 1983). Mentors also improve their leadership, collegiality, and communication skills through mentoring engagement (Schmidt & Faber, 2016). Additionally, mentors learn from their mentees as they become exposed to new skills, ideas, and self-discoveries when they answer questions, think through their career paths, and re-examine how and why they made certain choices (Schulz, 1995). Expanded networks, stronger relationships, institutional recognition, increased awareness of gender structures, and personal satisfaction are also outcomes of mentoring relationships for mentors (Schmidt & Faber, 2016). 

This is not to say that there are only positive outcomes from mentoring relationships; however, scant research exists examining the negative effects of mentoring (Eby & Allen, 2002). For example, research shows that distancing and manipulative behaviors and poor dyadic fit are consistent factors leading to perceived negative mentoring experiences (Eby & Allen, 2002). And research on graduate student mentoring suggests that poor mentoring can have negative career and psychosocial effects (Tuma et al., 2021). Even so, because this area of research is still growing and generally privileges the protégé perspective, and because most mentorship research focuses on positive outcomes and best practices, the negative effects of mentoring are not fully discussed here.

In short, mentoring relationships cannot be defined in simplistic terms or linear constructs. They are dynamic, needs-based, reciprocal relationships that are as defined by time and experience as they are by emotional and psychosocial factors important to both mentoring partners. And it is with these qualities in mind that the PRD mentoring program has been designed and developed. Although the program is formal because it serves as an independent third party that recruits and pairs mentoring partners, the goal is to facilitate the growth of less formal mentoring relationships. Both mentors and mentees can indicate which demographic characteristics, psychosocial factors, and professional issues they wish to prioritize. Each year, mentoring pairs are encouraged to meet during a planned conference event, which is designed to facilitate the initial contact between participants while sharing best practices for maintaining the relationships. Finally, there is no system for tracking the progress or outcomes of mentoring relationships, although program managers share resources and tips throughout the year to encourage mentoring pairs to meet in some capacity. With this context for the study in mind, it also seems discipline-specific factors should be included in any understanding of mentorship.

Mentoring in Public Relations Education

Formal mentorship is considered a determinant of positive career outcomes (van der Weijden, et al., 2015), especially regarding teaching (Peirce & Martinez, 2012). Contributing factors such as gender, race, the added responsibility of dependents, and the structure of mentorship relationships (such as co-learning and peer-to-peer mentoring) have been investigated in various academic fields (Ogan & Robinson, 2008, Sarikakis, 2003; Totleben & Deiss, 2015). For example, research on female public relations professionals shows that while there are distinct career-related benefits to mentoring relationships, many in the field do not have meaningful mentoring relationships (Meng & Neill, 2021).      Yet, few studies have considered mentorship in public relations education, which often requires professionalization in both corporate and academic contexts. 

The few studies of public relations scholar-to-scholar mentorship have focused on the learning modalities involved (Pardun      et al., 2015) and the impacts of gender and ethnic identity on mentoring pair relationships (Pompper & Adams, 2006; Waymer, 2012). For example, the importance of factors such as shared racial identity experiences and ongoing emotional support can make academic mentors into close friends or even role models (Waymer, 2012). To date, no formal research of public relations mentorship has produced best practices to emulate or has considered the topic from a longitudinal perspective, examining how relationships evolve as participants’ careers progress.

Based on this review of mentorship, types of mentoring, and mentoring outcomes, there exists an opportunity to understand the quality and experience of public relations scholars participating in a formal mentoring program. Mentoring partnerships can focus on both professional and personal development opportunities. Additionally, because mentoring partners in the target program are encouraged to build partnerships that best meet personal needs, both structural and psychosocial factors that impact the success and positive perceptions of mentoring relationships can be examined. These items can include the structure of the relationship (e.g., frequency of contact and physical distance between partners) and the importance of psychosocial factors (e.g., responsivity, confidentiality) leading to satisfaction in mentoring partnerships. This study examines these concepts to identify the factors shaping perceptions of positive mentorship relationships and relationship outcomes in the context of an academic public relations mentoring program. Three broad research questions guided this exploratory study:

RQ1: What structural factors are associated with positive PR educator mentoring relationships? 

RQ2: What psychosocial factors are associated with positive PR educator mentoring relationships?

RQ3: How do perceptions of mentoring relationship outcomes differ between mentors and mentees?


To understand perceptions of the mentoring program, two surveys about the program were used to understand program participant experiences. This section includes an overview of mentoring program participant data. Next, data collection and analysis methods are described.

Mentoring Program Data

Data collected since the beginning of the PRD Mentorship Program shows a relatively consistent number of participants per year (see Table 1). Since 2017, n = 96 individual members have participated in the program. Mentoring partners were primarily female (n = 75, 78.12%). Following a concerted recruitment effort in 2019-20, the program saw a significant jump in mentoring pairs (n = 36). That year, n = 7 (7.29%) participants participated as both mentors and mentees. Additionally, three mentoring pairs formally continued in the program starting in 2017-18; however, anecdotal evidence shows that additional mentoring relationships have continued outside of the program.

Mentoring Program Survey

To monitor the growth of the mentoring program, the PRD membership committee distributed surveys to explore participant perceptions of their experiences. These surveys were designed to understand participant engagement with the program and opportunities for program growth. Of the distributed surveys, those sent in 2016 and 2020 received meaningful response rates, offering this opportunity for longitudinal analysis. 

Surveys were distributed with minimal modifications. Changes to the 2020 survey were based on open-ended responses to the 2016 survey, an interest in exploring anecdotal evidence, and an effort to include items that align with existing mentoring literature. Data was collected anonymously, and both mentors and mentees were recruited via email addresses provided via program applications. To understand the quality of the program, participants were asked whether they found the program useful, would recommend the program, and would participate again. They were also asked about the results of their mentoring relationship including whether they put enough time into the relationship, planned to stay in touch with their mentoring partner, and found their relationship successful. Items exploring psychosocial relationship-building factors focused on whether partners were responsive to communication, seemed committed to relationships, and fostered a sense of trust. Items were also designed to understand structural  factors such as how communication occurs, including which partner was more likely to initiate contact, which tools were used to communicate, and how frequently communication occurred. Participants were asked about the areas in which they received mentoring (e.g., strengthening scholarship, strengthening teaching, strategizing job searches). Due to the number of participants in the program, and to protect participant anonymity, the only demographic information gathered in 2016 was academic rank. Additional demographic data was gathered in 2020. Table 2 shows participant data from both the 2016 (62.5% response rate) and 2020 (53.97% response rate) surveys.


In this section, results from both the 2016 and 2020 surveys are presented concurrently. The results explore the structural and psychosocial factors addressed in the research questions. Additionally, why participants chose to be part of the mentoring program is outlined for context.

Among the most popular reasons for seeking mentorship, participants sought support for strategizing job searches, strengthening scholarship, and adjusting to faculty positions. Further, additional categories were added to the 2020 survey based on “Other” responses provided in 2016. As shown in Table 3, the range of motivations for joining the mentoring program shows a balanced need for both structural and psychosocial outcomes. 

Structural Factors Influencing Mentoring Relationships

To begin understanding qualities that contribute to positive mentoring relationships, RQ1 focused on exploring the structural factors that lead to more positive mentoring experiences. Structural factors of a mentoring relationship may include organization-based influences such as location of the program, physical distance between mentoring partners, and frequency of contact. As expected, the mentoring program examined in this study is just one source of mentoring for public relations educators. Most participants completing the 2020 survey indicated they received mentoring at their home institutions (n = 24, 72.7%), and others received non-academic mentoring (n = 10, 30.3%).

First, 2020 participants (n = 33) somewhat agreed they put enough time into the mentoring relationship (M = 4.73, SD = 1.68) and found their mentoring partner was responsive to communication (M = 4.76, SD = 2.09). These findings represented a small dip in perceptions from the 2016 survey, when participants (n = 24) agreed they put in enough time (M = 5.29, SD = 1.73) and found their mentor responsive (M = 5.88, SD = 1.70). However, using a bipolar scale with 1 indicating the participant was most likely to initiate contact and 7 indicating the mentoring partner was most likely to initiate contact, 2020 participants generally indicated they were more likely than their partners to initiate contact (M = 2.76, SD = 1.786). However, mentees from both surveys indicated they were slightly (but not significantly) more likely to initiate contact (2016: M = 3.0, SD = 1.81; 2020: M = 2.54, SD = 1.67) than mentors (2016: M = 4.25, SD = 1.87; 2020: M = 3.00, SD = 1.89).

Next, participants in both surveys indicated that communication primarily occurred via email, but phone and in-person conversations were also used for mentoring meetings (see Table 4). Video conferencing was reported by fewer participants, although it is worth noting that data was collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  Regarding frequency of contact, participants indicated various communication timeframes, with most participants indicating that communication occurred at varying frequencies (see Table 4). For example, some participants met once, such as at AEJMC. Others met at frequencies that “varied throughout the year,” while some participants reported making initial contact but never actually having a meeting.

Another structural factor considered here is the academic rank of participants. As expected, Chi-square analysis showed that in 2020 mentors were significantly more likely to be senior faculty members at the rank of associate professor (n = 8, 24.2%) or higher (n = 6, 18.2%), while mentees were either graduate students (n = 10, 30.3%) or assistant professors (n = 3, 9.1%), χ2 = (8, N = 33) = 27.73, p = .001. The same trend occurred in the 2016 survey, (χ2 = 15.49, p = .008)

Psychosocial Factors Influencing Mentoring Relationships

To continue exploring qualities that contribute to positive mentoring relationships, RQ2 emphasizes an analysis of psychosocial factors. Psychosocial needs generally include attending to more personal issues such as boosting confidence, defining identity, or evaluating abilities. Results suggest that building interpersonal relationships and fostering a trust-based environment were key psychosocial factors influencing the perceived quality of mentoring relationships. 

In the 2020 survey, participants were asked to reflect on the quality of their mentoring relationships to set a baseline understanding of participant perceptions. On average, participants neither agreed nor disagreed that their mentoring partner seemed committed to the relationship (M = 4.45, SD = 2.11) but they somewhat agreed they were able to have confidential conversations with (M = 4.76, SD = 2.08) and trusted (M = 4.85, SD = 2.05) their mentoring partners. Notably, large standard deviations suggest that participants had widely varying experiences in the program.

Both surveys also showed that participants were interested in receiving mentoring about issues beyond how to meet specific job requirements related to teaching, research, and service (refer to Table 3). As previously outlined, participants were particularly interested in strengthening scholarship and strategizing job searches. However, they also sought mentoring for adjusting to faculty positions, considering career paths, and dealing with specific situations. Notably, participants’ responses suggested that psychosocial factors such as having shared life experiences (such as being a mother) and shared academic goals and ambitions were beneficial to both positive outcomes and relationship development. Unsurprisingly, and as will be discussed, trust was a significant factor for both mentors and mentees who reported positive partnership outcomes. 

In 2016, strong relationships emerged among those who would continue participating in the program; they were more likely to recommend the program (r = .916, p < .000) and find the program useful (r = .916, p < .000). Those who planned to stay in touch with their partner were also more likely to report the relationship leading to positive results (r = .911, p < .000). However, these numbers dipped in the 2020 survey. Those who would continue participating in the program were somewhat less likely to recommend the program (r = .776, p < .001) and find the program useful (p = .612, p < .001). 

Correlation analysis from both the 2016 and 2020 surveys showed that increased responsivity and trust correlated with more positive mentoring relationship experiences and longevity. For example, in 2016, the strongest relationship existed between trusting one’s partner and the partner being responsive to communication (r = .955, p < .000). There was little change to this relationship in the 2020 survey (r = .830, p < .001). This finding was notable because other relationships related to trusting the mentoring partner existed but were not as strong. For example, trusting a partner correlated with increased plans to stay in touch (2016: r = .884, p < .000; 2020: r = .815, p < .001) and believing the relationship led to positive results (2016: r = .881, p < .000, 2020: r = .819, p < .001). 

Building on the 2016 results, the 2020 survey showed the importance of mentoring partners being responsive to communication and offering a sense of confidentiality in the relationship. Those who experienced responsive relationships were significantly more likely to recommend the program (p = .800, p < .001), believe their relationships were successful (p = .796, p < .001), and believe their relationships led to positive results (p = .894, p < .001). Further, those who trusted their partners were significantly more likely to recommend the program (p = .849, p < .001), and believe the relationship was successful (p = .884, p < .001). Trust was also positively related to being able to have confidential conversations (p = .924, p < .001) and perceiving the mentoring partner as responsive (p = .830, p < .001). And being able to have confidential conversations with mentoring partners increased the likelihood of believing the mentoring relationship was successful (p = .906, p < .001). In short, psychosocial qualities of both responsivity and confidentiality were key factors related to trust in these relationships, and pairs that planned to continue their relationship were more likely to report benefits and consequently recommend the program to others. 

Perceptions of Mentoring Outcomes

Existing definitions of mentoring emphasize one-way, top-down communication (Montgomery, 2017), wherein a mentor with more experience supports a mentee who may be a junior colleague (Allen et al., 2004). This nature of mentoring relationships may lead to power differentials between partners. Because of this situation, RQ3 explored how perceptions of mentoring relationship outcomes differed between mentors and mentees. To answer this question, results are described both among and between groups.

Overall Perceptions of Mentoring Outcomes

Participants in both surveys indicated they would recommend the PRD’s mentorship program and would consider participating in the program again (See Table 5). However, in 2020, they only somewhat agreed that their mentoring relationship was successful (M = 4.55, SD = 2.03) and that the mentoring program led to positive results (M = 4.61, SD = 1.92). Large standard deviations suggest a wide range of perceptions about success of the relationships. Even so, participants across both surveys agreed they planned to stay in touch with their mentoring partner; and in 2020, n = 16 (48.5%) participants indicated they planned to continue their partnership. 

Next, although both mentors and mentees agreed the program was useful (2016: M = 6.3, SD = 1.16; 2020: M = 5.61, SD = 1.48), overall positive perceptions of the program were not as pronounced in the 2020 survey (See Table 5). Additionally, results from the 2020 survey showed significant, practical differences between mentor and mentee perceptions of positive program outcomes.

Differing Perceptions between Mentors and Mentees

In 2016, independent samples t-tests showed no significant differences in perceptions of partnership outcomes between mentors and mentees. However, significant differences between mentor and mentee perceptions emerged in the 2020 survey results. 

As previously discussed, trust was a key psychosocial factor related to positive outcomes. However, mentors were significantly more likely to agree that they trusted their partners (see Table 6). Similarly, across multiple items mentors at least somewhat agreed they had positive experiences, whereas mentees reported somewhat disagreeing or neither agreeing nor 

disagreeing with the same items. Additionally, large standard deviations among mentee perceptions also suggest that mentees had widely varying experiences—more than participating mentors. On average, mentees were significantly less likely to consider participating in the program again, were not sure of whether they planned to stay in touch with their mentoring partners, and did not consider their relationships successful. For example, among the noted discrepancies, mentors (n = 12, 36.4%) were more likely than mentees (n = 4, 12.1%) to plan to continue their partnership. Moreover, among the n = 4 (12.1%) participants who did not plan to continue their partnership because it was not a valuable experience, n = 3 respondents were mentees. Additionally, mentees generally disagreed that their mentoring relationships were successful, while mentors somewhat agreed their relationships were successful. Mentors were also more likely to feel they could have confidential conversations and that they trusted their mentoring partners.

Despite these differences, results suggest similar perceptions of mentoring relationship outcomes on a few key items. For example, both mentors and mentees somewhat agreed that their mentoring relationships led to positive results and that the program is useful. These findings suggest that while there are potential differences in perceptions of nuanced partnership outcomes between mentors and mentees, a holistic analysis of mentoring partnerships yielded generally positive responses.


This study offers an opportunity to explore perceptions of an academic public relations mentoring program across a five-year period. Analysis of two quantitative surveys distributed to program participants suggest the value of emphasizing psychosocial factors over structural factors when evaluating the positive perceptions of mentoring relationships. Specifically, key findings point to (1)      the importance of building trust in relationships and (2)      the need to understand differing perceptions among mentors and mentees. Practical recommendations for guiding participants in mentoring programs are provided.

The Need to Build Trust

Unsurprisingly, trust emerged as a key factor in evaluating the quality of mentoring relationships. Most important, however, are the factors that contributed to building trust and the outcomes of building trust in these relationships.

Trust seemed particularly influenced by a simple act: responsivity. Simply hearing back from mentoring partners seemingly set a tone in relationships. It allowed participants to feel they could more confidently communicate with their mentoring partners, for example by reaching out with random or unplanned questions. Additionally, responsivity and trust were positively related to participants feeling more confident about having confidential conversations, building to a sense of openness in relationships. And, overall, the more participants felt a sense of trust, responsivity, and confidentiality in their mentoring relationships, the more likely they were to plan to stay in touch with their partner and believe their relationship led to positive results. 

This finding suggests that psychosocial factors based on positive interpersonal interactions contributed to successful mentoring partnerships, strengthened relationships, and greater satisfaction. This aligns with foundational mentorship research that suggests meeting psychosocial needs, rather than structural factors, leads to more satisfying and deeper mentoring relationships (Kram, 1985).      Existing mentorship research highlights the importance of role modeling, acceptance, counseling, and friendship (Kram, 1985). Arguably, the simple act of being responsive could create an environment in which these psychosocial needs are met. Being responsive might model best practices, create a sense of acceptance for mentees, and foster an environment that helps mentees feel comfortable seeking counseling and advice. And the more a mentor fosters a sense of trust, particularly in a smaller academic circle such as that found in public relations, then the more opportunity there might be to develop friendships. This finding builds on the literature that defines mentorship as a dynamic, reciprocal relationship based on trust and sharing (Bova, 1987; Chesler & Chesler, 2002; Greco, 2014; Lechuga, 2011; Long et al., 2013; McGee, et al., 2015; McKinsey, 2016). And this is suggested particularly because structural factors related to time, distance, or communication modality had little effect on the perceived positive outcomes of the mentoring relationships. 

The Gap Between Mentors and Mentees

Although the findings suggest that responsivity, trust, and confidentiality are positively related to increased positive perceptions of mentoring relationships, notable gaps existed in perceptions between mentors and mentees. Findings suggest that naturally occurring power differentials not only impact that quality of relationships, but also may need to be addressed by mentors.

First, large standard deviations in the data show that participants had widely varying experiences in and perceptions of the mentoring program. These differences became particularly noticeable when parsing the data between mentors and mentee participants. Existing research provides evidence that mentees do not always perceive positive benefits to mentorship (Tuma et al., 2021). Further, negative personal behaviors and good dyadic fit can lead to poor mentorship experiences (Eby & Allen, 2002). Here, standard deviations were much larger for mentees, suggesting that they had a greater variety of experiences in the program. Previous research exploring graduate student perceptions (Tuma et al., 2021) is relevant here because many participants in the program identified as doctoral students. The unexplored issues here are why mentees felt they had different experiences. For example, mentees were significantly less likely to recommend and keep participating in the program. They were also less likely to stay in touch with their partner and believe the relationship was successful. Existing research has found that negative mentoring experiences can lead to negative career and psychosocial outcomes (Scandura, 1998; Tuma et al., 2021). As will be discussed, future research might consider exploring why and how participants had such different individual experiences and whether career and psychosocial or other factors influenced perceptions of the mentorship participants received. This is recommended in part because mentees still found the program useful even though they had mixed beliefs about whether their relationship led to positive results.

To that end, mentors had significantly more positive perceptions of their relationships and outcomes. They reported being more comfortable with confidential conversations and felt they were more responsive. However, this arguably speaks to the natural power differentials that exist in mentoring relationships. Mentors are more experienced (Allen & Eby, 2002, Allen et al., 2004; Montgomery, 2017) and likely have less to lose in these relationships; conversely, mentees may feel unsure of the degree to which they can speak about confidential or sensitive issues. Academic communities—especially public relations—can feel very small, which may lead mentees to feeling less power and control in formally established mentoring relationships. This dynamic may lead to mentee concerns about sharing confidential information, while mentors more likely see themselves as an open book and font of knowledge willing to share their learned experiences. The concern, then, is how to break down perceived power differences and more closely align mentor and mentee perceptions.

Building Better Mentoring Partnerships

Based on the findings, multiple strategies can be used to strengthen both relationships formed through formal mentoring programs and the structure of mentoring programs through which these relationships are formed. These are discussed in turn.

Strengthening Individual Mentorship

Research shows that formal mentoring programs can lead to weaker psychosocial connections between mentoring partners because of the structured matching process (Ragins & Cotton, 1999). To counter this, building responsive communication should be emphasized, and both mentors and mentees can adopt practices to help foster positive, mutually beneficial relationships regardless of the type of mentoring being performed (Montgomery, 2017; Yosso, 2005).

First in regard to suggested practices, if the base behavior to building trust is responsivity, it is notable that mentors perceived themselves as more responsive than mentees judged them to be. Data from both surveys showed that mentees felt they were more likely to initiate contact. Considering responsivity is a simple approach to building trust, and considering the role of power in mentoring relationships, having the mentor initiate contact can show a recognition of and attempt to break down these barriers. At its base level, this step involves the mentor initiating contact; at that point, the mentee should offer the same level of responsivity as is valued from the mentor. Next, early in the relationships, the mentoring partners should mutually define the structure of the relationship and communication expectations. This definition includes addressing the preferred frequency and method of contact to set expectations and provide a defined structure for communication. Goals for the partnership should also be shared early in the relationship. 

Next, to facilitate confidential conversations, create openness, and build trust, the mentor should be responsible for assuring the mentee both verbally and non-verbally that conversations are confidential and designed to support the mentee both professionally and personally. Many mentees—especially if they are new to formal mentoring programs and are paired with someone they do not know personally—may be hesitant to share sensitive information. This can involve confirming the confidentiality of conversations or offering opportunities for the mentee to communicate using tools that evoke a feeling of safety (for example, communicating by voice rather than email).

Additionally, the mentor should consider how they can support their mentee by reflecting on what they learned through mentoring (Alean-Kirlpatrick, 2011; Clutterbuck, 2008). For graduate students and new tenure-track faculty, it can be difficult to know what type of mentoring to seek or questions to ask: We don’t know what we don’t know. This is not to suggest that mentees should adopt a stance of tabula rasa, but to acknowledge that professional growth and learning often happens through experience that mentees may not have. Here, the role of a mentor can be to consider what information they wish they had known, or perhaps ask about specific topics that may be important to mentees based on their career standing or trajectory. Further, results suggest that more than seeking mentorship on structural expectations related to teaching, research, and service, mentees often seek support for psychosocial needs related to these areas. Sometimes the mentee simply needs someone to help them build confidence, define their identity, and sincerely evaluate their professional abilities (Kram, 1985). In this context, mentees may be interested in considering how to balance personal experiences (such as parenthood or partnership) and full-time academic work. They may seek advice about types of service needed to meet long-term goals or how to overcome challenges related to completing research at different types of institutions. More personally, they may seek advice for dealing with issues related to discrimination based on gender, race, or other diversities. A mentor who has had these experiences or can speak to these professional development issues can foster an environment of trust by being open about their own experiences and broaching issues they wished someone had addressed with them (or were fortunate enough to have someone address). 

Finally, if the mentee knows that psychosocial factors are a key reason for seeking mentorship, they should consider sharing information about the specific and transitional issues for which they want support with both their mentor and those organizing the formal program (Montgomery, 2017; Yosso, 2005). For example, one may ask to be paired with someone who is a mother of young children or works at an institution that lacks diversity. By sharing this information early in the mentoring relationship, the mentee can help the mentor understand how to support their development and foster a partnership that eventually leads to a balanced, mutually beneficial, and satisfying relationship. 

Strengthening the Mentoring Program

Results also point to potential recommendations for strengthening both the AEJMC Public Relations Division and other mentoring programs. 

First, the program should take into consideration both the value of psychosocial mentoring functions (Kram, 1985) and the challenge that arises wherein formal mentoring programs often emphasize pairing partners based on career rather than psychosocial needs (Ragins & Cotton, 1999). In recent years, the PRD Mentoring Program has added options for both mentors and mentees to identify what characteristics and support they seek in and from a partner. For example, mentees can indicate they would like a female mentor who has a family or children. By creating partnerships based on psychosocial factors, and by informing participants these were the guiding factors, it may be possible to enhance the emotional connections that sometimes get lost when third party matches are made.

Next, it may be valuable for the program to define more concretely how participation in the program can play an active role in diversifying mentoring options for faculty. For example, comprehensive mentoring occurs when a mentee recognizes they have different mentoring needs that may require different forms of advice or mentorship (Anderson, et al., 2012; Griffin & Toldson, 2012). A program such as the one run by the PRD may benefit from specifically outlining how it offers a service that can provide individuals additional mentoring options based on their specific mentoring needs.

Finally, mentoring relationships often develop through four phases of initiation, cultivation, separation, and redefinition (Kram, 1985). A review of program practices suggests that initiation and cultivation opportunities may be fostered by the program, but less is done to facilitate separation and redefinition—this could potentially lead to feelings of dissatisfaction among program participants. Specifically, the program facilitates the initiation stage by giving partners a chance to meet at the annual conference. At that time, program leaders present information about best mentoring practices and share a tip sheet and the Plank Center Mentoring Guide (Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, 2017) with participants. It may also be helpful to create a mentoring worksheet that asks mentoring pairs to outline what psychosocial and structural goals they have for the year. Next, the program attempts to support relationship cultivation by sharing mentoring resources and sending check-in reminders during the year. This has been met with positive feedback from participants, who have indicated it serves as a reminder to stay in touch with their mentoring partners. However, the program does not yet have in place resources for facilitating the separation and redefinition phases. Although mentoring partners are offered the opportunity to continue their pairings from year to year, no information is shared regarding how to end the mentoring relationship and what to expect. This can lead to relationships ending abruptly, which may lead to an increased sense of dissatisfaction among participants who may have less mentorship experience. The program should consider hosting an end-of-year event or check-in opportunity that encourages mentoring partners to reconvene and discuss whether and how mentoring goals were met. This could also help partners consider whether they wish to redefine their relationship (Montgomery, 2017) or possibly serve as an opportunity for the program to recruit mentees to begin serving as mentors, which also helps enhance perceptions of mentorship satisfaction (Plank Center, 2017; Schulz, 1995). And, if there were problems with the partnership, these could be confidentially reported to the program so it can continue to monitor and adjust recommendations for building successful mentorship relationships.

Limitations and Directions for Future Research

Despite the insights provided, notable limitations exist in this study that warrant further exploration. First, the differences noted between mentor and mentee perceptions in the 2020 study may be attributed to the fact that more mentors than mentees responded to the survey (n = 20 mentors, n = 14 mentees). This potentially skewed the data regarding perceptions among the mentor group. This is also noted because the 2016 survey had a better balance of mentors and mentees participants. Future research should aim for a more balanced set of participants to identify whether the statistical patterns hold.

Next, because the 2020 survey data showed marked differences in perceptions of relationship outcomes and program benefits between mentors and mentees, qualitative analysis may help illuminate why those differences existed. Data showed that even among mentees there appeared to be significantly different perceptions of the program quality and outcomes. However, among mentees, there may have been a sincere interest in reporting honest, if unfavorable, feedback to provide opportunities to strengthen the program. This is posited because participants found the program valuable overall, even when they did not have positive individual experiences. Continued longitudinal analysis supplemented with qualitative research may illustrate how and why such different perceptions emerged. 

Similarly, the small number of minority-identifying and male participants in the study prevented an analysis of potential differences in mentoring experiences compared to those of white females. For example, although the ratio of female to male participants reflected the general ratio of program participants based on gender, this difference in participation could speak to gender gaps that exist in practice. This evokes existing public relations scholarship that suggests gender and racial identity often influence both the quality and the long-term career relevance of mentoring relationships (Pompper & Adams, 2006: Waymer, 2012). Initial findings from this study suggest additional research on this and similar mentoring programs could provide a fruitful avenue of research both because public relations is a predominantly white, female field and because many of the psychosocial factors related to mentoring are often gendered (whether fairly or accurately) as female. Future research should consider whether males or females are more willing to participate in mentoring programs, and why; the experiences of minority-identifying mentoring partners and whether that influences their willingness to participate in formal programs; opportunities to make mentoring programs more inclusive; and how to address gender and other identity-based influences in mentoring relationships, particularly in public relations.

Finally, this study was limited in scope as it focused on one mentorship program. Future research should consider using both quantitative and qualitative methods to explore the factors influencing successful mentorship programs being developed for other membership associations or professional and academic organizations such as the Public Relations Student Society of America or on-campus mentoring programs.  


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© Copyright 2022 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Adams, M., Formentin, M., and Brunner, B.R. (2022). Building bridges and relationships through balanced communication: Understanding psychosocial factors in positive public relations mentorship. Journal of Public Relations Education, 8(3), 7-48. https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=3195

Special Issue Call for Papers | Leadership, Mentorship and DEI in the Post-Pandemic Public Relations Classroom

Special Issue – Volume 8 (4), Journal of Public Relations Education

Full manuscript submission deadline: June 1, 2022

Special Issue Co-Editors:

Juan Meng, Ph.D.  Department of Advertising & Public Relations, University of Georgia, jmeng@uga.edu

Nilanjana Bardhan, Ph.D. Department of Communication Studies, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, bardhan@siu.edu


The combined effects of COVID-19 and racial unrest following the killing of George Floyd have significantly changed how we teach, and the PR classroom is no exception. Numerous webinars have been hosted by the Public Relations Society of America, the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and the Institute for Public Relations, to name some, to discuss race and diversity/inclusion/equity (DEI) in the classroom and industry. This special issue will add the topics of leadership and mentorship to the mix, and specifically focus on the intersections of leadership and mentorship in fostering DE&I in public relations education. Leadership and mentorship are especially important during times of upheaval, uncertainty and radical change. Educators and students are grappling with new pedagogical challenges, and we need scholarship that can aid in navigating these challenges and discovering opportunities (Bardhan & Gower, 2020).

The Commission on Public Relations Education (CPRE) has unequivocally emphasized the pressing need to make DE&I an integral part of public relations education, especially the undergraduate curriculum, for the purpose of “creating a more diverse school-to-industry pipeline” (Mundy et al., 2018, p. 144). This work requires proactive leadership and mentorship. Research over the decades shows a clear link between leadership engagement and DE&I. Educators play a critical and instructive role in enhancing students’ competitive advantage by incorporating leadership content and training into undergraduate curriculum (Meng, 2013, 2015).

The purpose of this special issue call is to invite research articles, teaching briefs, scholarly and critical essays, and case studies, and we are especially interested in articles that explore BOTH the challenges and opportunities for public relations pedagogy focusing on leadership and mentorship and how the mix could foster a more diverse, equal and inclusive environment in public relations classroom.  Submissions that offer practical knowledge and guidance for undergraduate and graduate public relations education are encouraged as are articles that enhance our theoretical understanding of this topic. We invite original submissions, and areas of focus could include but are not limited to:

  • Pedagogical, theoretical and practical implications of jointly engaging leadership and mentorship to foster DE&I in undergraduate and/or graduate public relations education
  • Current challenges associated with teaching PR at the intersections of leadership/mentorship/DE&I
  • Resources that aid in teaching PR at the intersections of leadership/mentorship/DE&I
  • Best practices ranging from experiential learning, activities and cases for teaching PR at the intersections of leadership/mentorship/DE&I
  • PRSSA and other PR student organizations and extracurricular activities as a site for learning and teaching PR at the intersections of leadership/mentorship/DE&I
  • The role of leadership and mentorship in cultivating a diverse generation of future leaders
  • The role of student leaders in advancing DE&I
  • Creation of platforms and networks to connect educators, practitioner and students for enhancing leadership/mentorship/DE&I in PR pedagogy
  • Curricular issues related to teaching PR at the intersections of leadership/mentorship/DEI
  • Faculty preparation/training and peer mentoring for teaching PR to advance DE&I in this time of great uncertainty
  • Structural issues for teaching PR at the intersections of leadership/mentorship/DE&I (e.g., how to recruit more diverse students and faculty)

Contributions that provide insights with robust pedagogical, practical and theoretical implications and recommendations on leadership, mentorship and DE&I in post-pandemic public relations education will be given the highest consideration.

Submission Guidelines:

Submissions should follow the Author Guidelines on the JPRE website. Authors should include the special call name in parentheses after their manuscript title to indicate the submission is for this particular special call. Authors should submit their manuscript through Scholastica, the online submission system for JPRE. All submissions will be anonymously reviewed, following the guidelines of JPRE. Authors must use APA style for citations, references, tables and figures caption. All identifying information must be deleted before full paper submissions.

Timeline with Key Dates:

  • Deadline for full manuscript submission to JPRE’s Scholastica submission portal: https://jpre.scholasticahq.com/ June 1, 2022
  • Notification of review results, including invitations for revision and resubmission (R&R): August 1, 2022
  • Deadline for R&R submission: September 1, 2022
  • Scheduled Publication: Volume 8 Issue 4 (November/December 2022)

Selected References:

Bardhan, N., & Gower, K. (2020). Student and faculty/educator views on diversity and inclusion in public relations: The role of leaders in bringing about change. Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 102-141. Available at https://journalofpreducation.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/d7c44-pdf-of-bardhan-and-gower-2020-from-jpre-6.2-1.pdf

Meng, J. (2013). Learning by leading: Integrating leadership in public relations education for an enhanced value. Public Relations Review, 39(5), 609-611.

Meng, J. (2015). Integrating leadership in public relations education to develop future leaders. Journal of Public Relations Education, 1(1), 31-37. Available at https://aejmc.us/jpre/2015/08/04/integrating-leadership-in-public-relations-education-to-develop-future-leaders/

Mundy, D., Lewton, K., Hicks, A., & Neptune, T. (2018). Diversity: An imperative commitment for educators and practitioners. In Fast Forward: The 2017 Report on undergraduate public relations education (pp. 139-148). Commission on Public Relations Education. Available at: http://www.commissionpred.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/report6-full.pdf

Any questions or inquiries about the special issue?

Please contact guest editors by email: Dr. Juan Meng at jmeng@uga.edu and/or Dr. Nilanjana Bardhan at bardhan@siu.edu