Tag Archives: PR Education

Cross the Stage: Underrepresented Students’ Challenges and Mentoring Needs in Strategic Communication Programs

Editorial Record: Submitted June 1, 2022. Revised September 2, 2022. Accepted October 25, 2022. 


Jiun-Yi Tsai, Ph.D
Associate Professor
School of Communication
Northern Arizona University 
Flagstaff, Arizona
Email: jiun-yi.tsai@nau.edu

Janice Sweeter*
Associate Director and Associate Professor of Practice 
School of Communication
Northern Arizona University
Flagstaff, Arizona
Email: janice.sweeter@nau.edu

Amy Hitt*
Associate Professor of Practice
School of Communication
Northern Arizona University
Flagstaff, Arizona
Email: amy.hitt@nau.edu

*Two authors contributed equally.

Underrepresented populations are beginning to increase in the public relations (PR) industry and PR university degree programs. Yet, scant literature has investigated the challenges encountered and mentoring resources needed for underrepresented students to be successful. Guided by an intersectional lens of social identities, we conducted 14 semi-structured interviews with strategic communication students who identify as first-generation, Hispanic/Latinx, or African American. Thematic analysis reveals three interconnected themes, suggesting cognitive, socio-emotional, and identity development needs and solutions exist. This study highlights the importance of faculty mentors, identity-based clubs, and classroom peer relationships in building the resilience required to flourish in strategic communication college programs. It is essential to foreground culturally responsive mentorship and pedagogy from a communicative approach, because relational connections serve as support systems to bolster underrepresented students’ identity and increase a sense of belonging.

Keywords: DEI, first-generation college students, social identity, mentoring, PR education


Despite efforts committed to improving diversity, public relations (PR) professionals and leaders still grapple with the issues of equity and inclusion (Stansell, 2020). Disparities are identified on both gender and racial dimensions in the PR industry (Meng & Neill, 2021). According to the 2021 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022) concerning PR specialists, 83.7%  were white, 18% Hispanic or Latino, and 12.3% Black or African American, reflecting a positive increase in diversity from 2018 (Chitkara, 2018); however, statistics like these explain why the PR industry has been called “too white,” noting that many communities do not mirror these demographics and blaming inequities on the employee “pipeline” of higher education (Landis, 2019). Indeed, scholars have argued the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the workplace is a result of the lack of diversity in college classrooms (Waymer & Taylor, 2022).

As PR has historically been a feminized field, race and gender identities deeply shape students’ experiences with PR education (Brown et al., 2019). Findings remain inconclusive. White and female respondents reported a more positive undergraduate experience in PR programs than their underrepresented and male counterparts. Underrepresented groups were less likely to develop support networks and feel comfortable interacting with peers (Brown et al., 2019). Contrarily, Waymer and Brown (2018) found underrepresented groups’ race and ethnicity did not hinder academic success among young professionals. Although fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) gains scholarly attention, less is understood about underrepresented students’ challenges and their needs for culturally responsive resources for mentorship in colleges. Scant literature has approached mentoring programs related to DEI beyond race and gender identities. 

With increased first-generation students and diversity among the student body of strategic communication programs in the United States and a scarcity of literature concerning these populations, especially in communication-related arenas, a systematic investigation is needed. Mentoring relationships are essential in helping minority students shape leadership ability (Christie & Baghurst, 2017; Payne et al., 2021), but institutional mentorship programs do not necessarily consider the needs of underrepresented students’ social identities and values. To bridge these gaps, we conducted 14 semi-structured interviews with underserved students (e.g., first-generation, Hispanic/Latinx, and African Americans) majoring or minoring in strategic communication in a four-year public university. The strategic communication program offers emphases in advertising and PR and is the second largest in the Southwest region, serving over 380 majors. 

The findings advance the DEI and leadership literature in two ways. First, this research sheds light on the less known challenges of building relational connections with professors and seeking identity validation. At the same time, underrepresented students negotiate the feelings of not fitting in or not being seen. As such, reliance on student organizations/clubs, close circles of peers, and a few trusted mentors substantially bolstered their identity development and supported socio-emotional well-being. Second, we identify resources to increase retention of underrepresented students and build leadership quality for career preparation. The timely investigation offers pedagogical and theoretical implications of culturally responsive mentorship to foster DEI in PR education. 

Literature Review 

Lack of Racial and Gender Diversity in Senior Leadership

Given the dominance of Caucasian men in management positions, research has emphasized the racialized leadership landscape (Logan, 2011). Few females and minority professionals advance to senior management in PR. While females accounted for 75% of PR practitioners, only 20% held top leadership positions in 2021 (Kalogeros, 2021). Over 100 U.S.-based PR and communication organizations reported that 93% of top leaders were White, 6% were Black, and only 1% were Hispanic (Glover & Hill, 2021). White men represent 63% of executives, with 24% white women; trailing far behind, black women, Hispanic women and other racial and ethnic groups comprise less than 5% of leaders (McKinsey & Company, 2021). This discrepancy is prevalent in several industries, including K-12 education and higher education (American Association of University Women, 2016).

Gender and racial disparities in senior management are driven mostly by structural barriers. Women and people of color in PR faced biases in promotions and experienced workplace discrimination (Pelham, 2019; Pompper, 2014; Topic et al., 2020). Mentoring relationships will potentially empower underrepresented groups to overcome barriers and cultivate leadership skills (Place & Vardeman-Winter, 2018; The Plank Center, 2018). To guide our exploration, we discuss sensitizing concepts to inform the research questions and serve as interpretive lenses (Tracy, 2020). The following sections outline lived experiences, social identities, and challenges specific to underrepresented students. 

Underrepresented Students and Low Sense of Belonging

Underrepresented students include “racial/ethnic minorities, first-generation college students, students with disabilities, students from lower socio-economic households, and students in underrepresented majors” (Cook-Anderson et al., 2015, p. 5). First-generation students (FGS) are those attending college while neither of their parents or guardians have completed a four-year degree (U.S. Department of Education, 2020), representing over half of undergraduate students in 2016 (RTI International, 2021). Four-year universities attempt to enroll diverse students and develop institutional resources to promote retention (Ezarik, 2022).  

However, the multiple unique challenges and inequalities FGS face must be addressed, including a lower rating of belonging, greater levels of stress, and lower use of campus services (Stebleton et al., 2014). Longitudinal survey results showed that students of color had lower levels of psychological well-being compared to White peers (Koo, 2021). A 2022 survey of 1,073 FGS revealed that 42% of participants feel like they partially belong or do not belong on campus (Ezarik, 2022). Consequently, these students demonstrate lower enrollment and retention/graduation rates than their counterparts with college-educated parents (Cataldi et al., 2018). Low-income status can also affect students’ ability to succeed in college, as the inability to afford tuition is one of the top reasons for students to drop out (Redford & Hoyer, 2017). 

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted underrepresented students in Southwest states with a large Hispanic population. Dubbed the “Class of COVID-19,” students who attended college between spring 2020 and spring 2022 experienced historic challenges (iCIMS, 2022). “These educational disparities, while spurred by COVID-19, perpetuate the structural barriers that continue to limit opportunities for communities of color to use higher education as a pathway to social and economic security” (Ahn & Dominguez-Villegas, n.d., para 12).  During the pandemic, college students who were racial/ethnic minorities, of lower-income class and FGS had higher levels of psychological impacts and lower sense of belonging (Browning et al., 2021; Gopalan et al., 2022; Lee et al., 2021). These populations were affected disproportionately because of economic and food insecurities, a lack of quality access to broadband, and the need to help siblings while attempting to maintain their own schoolwork (Barber et al., 2021). FGS reported that academic institutions failed to support their needs during the pandemic disruptions (Scharp et al., 2022). 

Strategies for Underrepresented Identities 

Social identity theory posits that individuals categorize themselves based on intersections of race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). Students carry multiple identities to college and may shift among them (Scisney-Matlock & Matlock, 2001). As argued by Waymer (2012), social class is a particularly relevant identity in PR, where students in lower social classes feel separate from those in higher echelons, with the effects magnified by racial distinctions. Identity is a core concern for underrepresented college students as they seek belonging, while navigating cultural considerations, influences of peers and faculty and their own insecurities; this can manifest in isolation or “imposter syndrome,” when high achievers are unable to accept their success, attributing their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability (Weir, 2013). Imposter phenomenon is particularly prevalent among African American college students (Peteet et al., 2015) and FGS (Gray et al., 2018). Payne et al. (2021)’s research of help-seeking strategies for first-generation students applied a strengths-based approach to mitigate imposter syndrome by spotlighting students’ accomplishments when seeking resources. 

While a strengths-based approach to academics has proven effective, many teachers and students tend to focus on improving weaknesses instead (Gordon & Crabtree, 2006). “Honing in on weaknesses creates a mindset that is preoccupied with fault, deficits, and failures in organizations and people” (p. 48). Although students may not be able to overcome completely low talent levels concerning the challenging subjects they are forced to take in college, incorporating a growth mindset about their learning abilities has been shown to help them perform better than the students who maintain a fixed mindset (Dweck, 2016).

Other studies focused on the complexity of familial and community ties related to first-generation students’ identities (Bettencourt, et al., 2022) and the explication of personal attributes, including work ethic and interest in making a positive impact on the world (Stewart, 2022). Tinto (1998) showed the correlation between students feeling connected academically and socially and their likelihood to persist in earning their degrees. Mentoring relationships that are sensitive to the students’ social, academic and personal needs are generally more successful in greater student graduation and retention (Christie & Baghurst, 2017; Sarcedo, 2022; Tinto 1998). 

Experiences of othering are added stressors among students of marginalized identities. “Otheringthe set of dynamics, processes, and structures that engender marginality and persistent inequality across any of the full range of human differences based on group identities” (Powell & Menendian, para. 9) can have devastating effects, leading to students feeling isolated, distressed and unsuccessful (Peteet et al., 2015; Udah, 2019). Another important element is self-identification. Some FGS don’t define themselves with this label, usually only applying it when seeking institutional resources offered to this subgroup (Bettencourt, et al., 2022). Still, FGS at predominantly White institutions felt like outsiders, excluded, or invalidated compared to wealthier non-FGS peers (Havlik et al., 2020). To cope with identity threat due to otherness, underrepresented students may identify solutions to nurture core identity, develop and use communication networks to build resilience and find a safe space (Scharp et al., 2022). Marginalized students tend to adapt self-presentation strategies like “passing” and “code switching” to modify their behavior, clothing, language, etc., in different environments to feel like they belong (Gray et al., 2018). Code switching is common when students address a professor or someone in authority (Gray et al., 2018) and for upwardly mobile minorities in professional settings (Morton, 2014). These strategies partially help students preserve their cultural identity in the appropriate settings. 

Mentorship Resources for Underrepresented Students

Fostering Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) is a top priority for universities. Revealing a lack of DEIB studies focused on students in communication programs, more attention has been paid to programs for science, technology, engineering and math fields. Stewart’s (2022) qualitative study illustrated how engineering college students expressed their STEM identities based on personal strengths and peer relations. Yet, this study did not focus on the outcomes of underrepresented social identities. Interviews with FGS about social class worldviews and the lack of social capital were drawn from a university-wide pool of students, not those affiliated with communication programs (Rice et al., 2017). Joshi et al. (2019) found that direct mentorship by faculty was positively associated with life science students’ scientific identity and research productivity. Hernandez et al. (2020) identified mentorship success as a factor to improve the academic-to-professional pipeline for women in the geosciences. 

Given the challenges associated with minority identities in colleges, scholars have identified various functions of mentoring relationships to better support underrepresented students, especially among FGS and students of color. Faculty members represent a tremendous resource, intellectually and experientially (Scisney-Matlock & Matlock, 2001). These include offering socio-emotional support, building personal connections, providing career advice, increasing students’ self-efficacy in classrooms, and engaging in service-learning opportunities (Fruiht & Chan, 2018; Sarcedo, 2022). These functions boost students’ academic confidence and foster a sense of belonging. Additionally, African American male leaders’ participation in a race-based college mentorship program significantly contributed to their career advancement and leadership ability (Christie & Baghurst, 2017). Similarly, Waymer and Taylor (2022) revealed that networking opportunities gained through highly-resourced academic departments and identity support from professors prepared Black students for foreseen challenges in communication-related professions. 

PR Scholarship in Building Inclusivity

Galvanized by analysis of workplace diversity in the PR industry (Meng & Neill, 2021), PR educators are urged to create inclusive environments and advocate DEI leadership forums for students of diverse identities (Bardhan & Gower, 2020). Brown et al. (2019) recommend the following to support underrepresented students and prepare them for the industries: 1) inform them about professional development and networking opportunities, 2) expose students to experiential learning activities to build confidence and awareness of real-world issues, 3) make diverse professional mentors visible to students, 4) encourage students to socialize with peers from diverse backgrounds, and 5) discuss racial and ethnic disparities related to the PR industry. Still, not enough empirical research has documented students’ experiences with navigating minority identities in the communication fields nor informed how to improve culturally targeted mentoring resources. 

To bolster retention rates for underrepresented students in strategic communication studies, a nuanced understanding of challenges and mentoring needs that move beyond gender and race dimensions is needed to consider students’ intersectional experiences related to social class. Therefore, we ask:

RQ1: How do students who identify with underrepresented identities navigate challenges when pursuing strategic communication degrees?

RQ2: What mentoring resources are needed for students who identify with underrepresented identities when pursuing strategic communication degrees?


Study Site 

The study site is a four-year public university with high research activity (R2) located in a rural county (The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, n.d.). The main residential campus reflects an increasingly diverse student body. As of Fall 2021, the enrollment of full-time students was approximately 22,000; 89% of whom were undergraduate students (mean age=22). The majority of the students (56%) identify as White; 25% identify as Hispanic/Latinx and 3% indicate as African American, thereby meeting the Hispanic Serving Institution criteria in 2021. Almost 46% of students identify as FGS. Commitment to DEIB and elevating students’ social mobility represent the university’s values. Two academic advisors served 2,000 students majoring in six degree programs in the School of Communication. Advisors met with students by appointment to ensure individuals’ degree progression plans. Beyond academic advisors, seven strategic communication faculty members encouraged students to seek informal mentoring, but no formalized mentorship programs were implemented. 

Participant Recruitment

The university’s Institutional Review Board approved the study design. Using a purposive sampling approach, we solicited participation for virtual interviews from full-time Strategic Communication major or minor students who self-identify as FGS, Hispanic/Latinx, and/or African Americans attending the main residential campus. Between March and April 2022, we distributed multiple emails to the department’s listserv with an external link for sign-ups and set up a table in the Communication building, along with sending flyers to instructors to encourage students in their classes to participate. A screening survey was used to verify students’ eligibility and solicit answers to personal demographic questions (e.g., family financial situations and race and gender identities). The informed consent process involved two steps, including signing physical copies with the investigators and providing verbal consent before the audio recording. Students received a $15 gift card upon completion of the virtual interview. 

 In-depth interviews are well-suited for “making sense of the scene from the participants’ point of view–examining not only behaviors but intentions, stories, and emotions, (Tracy, 2020, p. 62). We developed 10 broad questions to probe students’ college experiences, proud achievements, interactions with peers and faculty members, and their suggestions for mentoring resources. Questions are designed to “cover a wide range of experiences and narrow enough to elicit and explore the participant’s specific experience” (Charmaz & Belgrave, 2012, p. 351). Grounded in a constructionist context, we allowed respondents to lead the conversation through sharing their successful stories and pain points in college. Considering the influence of researchers in qualitative interviews and the unbalanced power dynamics between faculty and underrepresented students, two undergraduate research assistants who identify as FGS and Hispanic/Latinx conducted all virtual interviews. We selected research assistants based on their professional qualifications: knowledge of qualitative research methods, strong work ethics, interpersonal skills, connections to underrepresented communities, and frequent participation in student organizations. Following the best practices by Tracy (2020) and Turner (2010), assistants received training on conducting semi-structured interviews provided by the investigators. Pilot tests enabled assistants to refine the discussion guide and gain experience. Once the first set of interviews were completed, the investigators met with assistants to provide feedback for improving their probing skills in eliciting truthful stories. Approaching interviewees with an insider approach brought three advantages: 1) building rapport with students who share similar racial identities and backgrounds, 2) conveying a sense of inclusivity, and 3) gathering authentic answers about students’ lived experiences (Buford May, 2014). Student researchers revealed their self-identity in the introduction and developed trust with the interviewees (Charmaz & Belgrave, 2012). Interviews ranged between 30 minutes and one hour. 

When conducting in-depth interviews, scholars recommend stopping the process once thematic saturation is reached – usually around 12–14 interviews (Guest et al., 2020; Saunders et al., 2018). Grounded theory research may reach data saturation at nine interviews (Aldiabat & Le Navenec, 2018). Guided by these suggestions, we initially gauged that 10-12 interviews would lead to saturation. Two investigators verified transcripts, took notes of emerging codes, and reviewed instances signifying sensitizing concepts after each interview. Two criteria were employed to determine saturation: code saturation and meaning saturation (Aldiabat & Le Navenec, 2018; Charmaz, 2006; Tracy, 2020). Codes capturing challenges and mentoring resources became stabilized at 12 interviews. To validate the trustworthiness of our findings, we considered the significance of including two research assistants’ perspectives. Therefore, assistants conducted formal interviews with one another. After grounded analysis yielded meaning saturation and redundancy in respondents’ narratives, we stopped at 14 participants. Table 1 summarizes the demographic characteristics: 64% females, 57% Hispanics and 57% FGS. Ninety-three percent of participants indicated their family’s social class as lower middle to middle class. 

Data Analysis

Anonymized transcripts were obtained and processed for data analysis. We followed the grounded theory method to compile the data and organize the responses into meaningful insights (Glaser & Strauss, 2012). Grounded theory is “the discovery of theory from data” toward the aim of determining how “accurate facts can be obtained and how theory can thereby be more rigorously tested” (Glaser & Strauss, 2012, p. 1), acknowledging the inherent conflict between basing conclusions on emergent data while evaluating previous research to base conclusions (El Hussein et al., 2017). This inductive approach is a “template for all kinds of qualitative research” because of its applicability to many topics in social science, including communication (Lindlof & Taylor, 2011, p. 250). Charmaz (2008) and others placed grounded theory in a social constructionist framework. Social construction of reality as defined by Berger and Luckmann (1966) describes the process of how individuals internalize events that surround them, and the idea that individual consciousness is determined by what that society deems relevant. This has clear implications for the study of culture and human communication (Tracy, 2020). Grounded theory offers flexibility in the systematic analysis of data forms, such as observations, written documents and interviews (Riley, 2010).

We analyzed the transcripts through an iterative process to identify sensitizing concepts (Strauss & Corbin, 1994), beginning with the familiarization stage to become acquainted with the informant’s environment and worldview (Riley, 2010). The initial cycle of analysis involved analytic memos and open coding to identify codes using constant comparative methods (Charmaz, 2006). To verify the analysis, three authors held regular meetings to debrief preliminary findings and synthesize the linkages between data and categories. This was followed by interpreting themes toward finding patterns to “paint conceptual pictures that add to the understanding of the experience” (Corbin & Strauss, 2008, p. 262). Integration and setting a platform for building theory was the final phase of coding analysis (Corbin & Strauss, 2008).


The first author identifies as a first-generation female immigrant academic. Similar to the participants, I grew up in a middle-class home and was the first to pursue graduate degrees overseas with limited cultural and social capital. I attended two public flagship universities in the U.S., where I navigated through the hidden rules in graduate school. Mentoring research assistants of marginalized identities grew my interest to understand behind-the-scenes challenges and unmet needs among underrepresented students. While there is privilege associated with my tenured status, my life experiences of being a model minority shaped my data interpretation. 

The second author sees herself as a scholar and a practitioner. My research centers on understanding the dynamics of community interaction and strengthening relationships among participants. I am an Associate Professor of Practice, with 15-plus years as a leader in public relations, nonprofits, advertising and content management prior to joining my university. I relate directly to the challenge of working full-time while pursuing my graduate degrees. I also invite many alumni guest speakers representing multiple viewpoints to my classes to share their success stories and challenges. My heritage is mixed, primarily of European descent. While I don’t identify as first-generation, African American, or Hispanic (or any intersection of these identities), I value highly the opportunity to gain perspective on these identities through my students and in my role as the Associate Director of Student and Academic Affairs for the School of Communication. 

The third author identifies as Caucasian and was a first-generation student with socio-economic concerns. I received a full ride to a state university because of being valedictorian at a small high school. However, a personal situation during my freshman year of college aided in losing the scholarship. After which, I transferred to a different state university, closer to family, and worked two part-time jobs while completing my bachelor’s degree. I have since earned two master’s degrees and have become a Gallup-trained strengths coach. Gallup, Inc., uses the CliftonStrengths assessment to calculate a person’s top five talents and recommends students and professionals focus on using their talents instead of attempting to improve their weaknesses. I have taught strategic communication to diverse audiences for over 10 years and have gained an understanding through conversation and observation of the needs and challenges of underrepresented students.


Three major themes emerged through the integration of data analysis. We divided responses concerning challenges and mentorship resources into three salient dimensions, which correspond with the needs of underrepresented student experiences: 1) cognitive skills, 2) socio-emotional support, and 3) identity development (Fruiht & Chan, 2018; Scharp et al., 2022). To contextualize our findings, the state in which our university resides reports populations of 32.3% Hispanic/Latino and 5.4% Black/African American as compared to 18.9% Hispanic/Latino and 13.6% Black/African American in the United States as a whole. However, it is worth noting that our college town shows 19.7% Hispanic/Latino and 2.0% Black/African American populations (United States Census Bureau, 2022). We interpreted these demographic differences to mean Black/African American students attending our school could feel more marginalized than when in their home locations. Similarly, Hispanic/Latino students might also feel this way if they come from more diverse locations within the state. Most participants mentioned COVID-19 as a significant disruption to their academic and social integration.  

Resilience Mindsets for Developing Cognitive Skills

Challenges. Concerning the need of developing cognitive skills, nine out of the 14 participants expressed having math course struggles, resulting in acquiring a tutor or abandoning specific degree programs with a strong math component. Some had begun degrees in business but had realized their strengths were with words, not numbers. For example, several interviewees said they felt comfortable with public speaking, writing, and creative skills, which aligns with Waymer and Taylor’s (2022) findings. The investigators, through experience, think this is a realization many strategic communication students come to, not only those of the underrepresented populations in this study. As expressed by Participant 8 (female, Hispanic, FGS): 

I wasn’t necessarily good at 100-level math and science classes. My weaknesses are like math, but then with English, writing and my public relations classes…that’s where I do better. I could have gotten like a tutor, but I actually didn’t know where to get extra help from.

Multiple interviewees said, as a freshman, they were not aware of certain degree programs and university resources, suggesting more promotion, like tabling by other students, be directed toward that audience. As noted by Participant 4 (female, African American), “If I had known what public relations was back when I was senior in high school, I probably would have majored in StratComm and minored in business management.” Several stated that the advising received as an incoming student or in the honors college was better than what was received in typical advising sessions later in the program. This perceived lack of proper advising coupled with scheduling difficulties and confusion caused some students to reach out to upperclassmen and teachers for assistance.

One interview question asked whether the interviewees thought they had a growth or fixed mindset (Dweck, 2016). While most claimed to have a growth mindset, the students who chose to overcome course challenges by hiring a tutor instead of dropping the course demonstrated its effectiveness. This type of strength-based approach to learning helps students manage their weaknesses while discovering and validating their talents demonstrated by the decision to switch majors (Gordon & Crabtree, 2006). Students’ narratives about how they overcame obstacles related to academic learning showed that they cultivated resilience by enhancing cognitive skills. For example, several interviewees revealed some ups and downs during their first year or two years at the university. Participant 2 described (female, Hispanic): 

I definitely think math is like my biggest struggle when it comes to my academics. It’s so hard. I took a financial planning class for my merchandising program. My teacher was super patient; she would sit with us. She’d let us work on homework again if we got a bunch wrong. She sat us down and really helped teach us the concepts that we didn’t understand. That’s definitely been like the biggest help.

They had done so well in high school that they got accepted into college honors courses as a freshman. However, one participant let his “work ethic” slip during sophomore year and lost his scholarships, which he petitioned to keep after rebalancing academically. “So basically I could describe my challenges like the roller coaster of college for me. I had to find who I was again,” (Participant 12, male, FGS). 

Resources. When inquiring about university resources used or available to develop cognitive skills, six mentioned tutoring by “really putting in the work to schedule appointments” (Participant 6, female, FGS). Six mentioned writing centers, three mentioned study groups, two mentioned the Successful Transition and Academic Readiness (STAR) Program for first-generation students and Edge Program leadership camp for incoming students, as well as peer mentoring. Several had found career development offices helpful in polishing their resumés and obtaining internships, allowing them to develop social-economic mobility. Gaining internships was frequently mentioned as valuable for developing professional skills.

While upperclassmen and faculty had helped with limited advising, most participants felt ambivalent about high staff turnover in centralized advising services. Participant 9 expressed her frustration (female, Hispanic, FGS), “my advisor recently left, so I had been trying to find a new one, or just trying to find someone who could help me.” One student offered the idea for some type of online tutorial about course scheduling; others suggested the need for more promotion of university resources that will support academic and professional skill development, especially to incoming students. For continuing students, retaining advisors at advising offices would reduce obstacles. 

Seeking Relational Connections for Socio-Emotional Support

Challenges. Participants expressed other common challenges, such as picking the right degree program, changing majors and minors midstream, advising issues, the stresses of course scheduling, navigating across campus, financial concerns, poor Wi-Fi access, and pandemic fallout. Notably, underrepresented groups experienced added stressors related to lacking a sense of belonging, like feeling they don’t fit in, having to perform to be different from their authentic selves, beginning at a starting line behind the norm, anxiety, and imposter syndrome. In addition, participants felt supported but at the same time burdened by familial expectations. Hence, most students treasured the opportunity for creating relational connections with professors or mentors for social and emotional support. Reaching out to establish communication networks appeared to be essential in the process of building resilience (Scharp et al., 2021).

Nevertheless, one repeated course-related challenge concerned unavailable and unresponsive professors. If teachers did not reply to emails, or there were no opportunities created to aid students in meeting one-to-one with faculty during the pandemic, participants said they experienced a disconnect, especially during online-only courses. As participant 10 (female, FGS, Hispanic) stated: “I think you kind of feel disconnected, and you feel a lot more like you’re on your own than you really are.” This student also noted the power of a welcome email to students establishing a connection and starting the class with a supportive tone. The levels of communicative engagement in emails could facilitate relationship building (Tsai et al., 2022). 

A few participants expressed a desire for more connections with faculty through after- class availability, office hours, check-in emails, or synchronous meeting opportunities. More than one student mentioned not being able to remember their teachers’ names because of a high level of disconnection. Other course-related struggles included: 1) how having to feverishly take notes made it difficult to follow along in class, 2) the pressure to “throw the teacher a bone” by answering a question during a dead silence, and 3) not being able to see/hear professors or course materials clearly over Zoom and, sometimes, in the physical classroom. While these issues might sound cognitive in nature, we could argue they are, for one reason or another, results of a relational breakdown. Most noted difficulties with larger classes, feeling intimidated to speak up or ask for help, reinforcing that smaller classes were much better for making connections and setting a foundation for academic success. “When it’s a smaller group of people I don’t mind sharing my opinions, but if it’s like a large class it’s a bit harder for me” (Participant 4). 

Resources. Regardless of the above challenges about connecting with faculty and peers, nine respondents said they liked and felt comfortable with most of their instructors, specifically their strategic communication professors. Some said faculty members had become mentors, a valuable resource for discovering internships and professional growth opportunities. Participant 1 explained (male, Hispanic, FGS), 

Because you build that connection, maybe not with every professor, but you build that connection with one, I can tell you from personal experience. When you have that one supporter, no matter your background, your sexual orientation, who you are – when you have that one mentor that believes in you, it makes all the difference in every class.

However, there was the acknowledgment about how students get “what they put into” the relationship. If students attempted to connect with faculty, like adding a joke to each assignment submission or simply saying, hi, when entering each classroom, it was usually met with a positive response and put the students on a professor’s “radar.” Students made intentional efforts to create interpersonal connections in informal settings. Participant 13 recounted (female, FGS, Hispanic): 

I feel like I connect with all my instructors pretty well. I send jokes in the submission box of each of my assignments. Some of them connect back by sending a joke or some of them just tell me in class that it is a funny joke or I like that you do that. So I feel like that’s a good icebreaker for new professors. Just staying in touch with email because a lot of students don’t email. So if you’re that one out of 10 students that does, it just puts you on their radar and gives them a better chance of knowing you.

Campus size may be a factor, as one subject noted, “Since it is a smaller campus, there are more opportunities to connect with your professors. And they’ve all been very helpful and welcoming,” (Participant 4). Despite the general consensus of feeling welcomed and supported by faculty, multiple respondents said it was difficult for them to ask for help, not wanting to waste others’ time, add to the list of problems, or “rock the boat.” 

Another supportive socio-emotional resource reported was developing friendships. One student mentioned how important it is to become friends with peers in the same degree program, because students from other programs cannot always understand or sympathize with particular course-related struggles. “I like when teachers offer opportunities for collaboration. I think it can help, especially for someone like me who I guess is part of the underrepresented community. It helps you feel a bit more connected with those around you and not as alienated,” (Participant 4). Other students recounted similar experiences with connecting with peers through group projects and stayed in touch even after classes finished. The socio-emotional support offered by peers increased underrepresented students’ motivation and bolstered their sense of belonging in an alienated environment. 

Needs for Identity Affirmation From Faculty and Peers

Challenges. Although most interviewees performed well academically, they experienced personal-enacted identity gaps because of minoritized identities. Personal-enacted identity gaps arise when individuals encounter discontinuity between self-concepts and perceptions of how they present themselves in communication (Jung & Hecht, 2004). Students queried reported not “fitting in” and having to present themselves differently or “code switch,” depending on the situation. Navigating between hypervisibility and invisibility, one made the distinction of feeling uncomfortable as the center of attention because they felt different—also noting that they are proud of their heritage but did not want to be asked to “represent” their race. “I don’t feel like I fit in, but I feel like I am the center of attention,” (Participant 12, male, African American). Participant 2 agreed: “I wouldn’t say that I necessarily fit in, but I don’t mind being here. I just feel like I’m not as connected to the community as I could be.” Several internalized the need to be more “professional” or more “presentable” when dealing with professors; unless they knew the instructor well and became more comfortable being themselves and letting their guard down. Some felt that same pressure in the workplace. “Being a woman and then also just a woman of color, I do feel the need, especially in my classroom settings where there’s not many people who look like me, to try and prove myself” (Participant 4).

Experiencing “Othering.” While the study site’s institutional leaders emphasize a culture of DEIB, a few mentioned feeling out of place, alienated, or outcasts as minority students in class, experiencing the need to “prove I’m worthy of being here,” (Participant 4). Another shared the example of microaggression that they felt a teacher assumed the student didn’t know how to snowboard because of their race. One participant had felt a sense of danger and rejection in the local community because of race, language, and sexual orientation. Participant 1 described: “I felt like an outsider because of getting stared at or being followed by the police. When I speak Spanish, I get so many frowns. When I used to work at Goodwill, I would get so many frowns when I would translate the announcement to help a customer who obviously speaks Spanish.” These narratives depict the lived reality of how deeply several underrepresented students experienced othering and not feeling accepted by faculty and surrounding communities. 

Resources. While a few mentioned team building icebreakers as helpful in making classroom connections, the one place most agreed feeling safe to be authentic was in their clubs and organizations of choice. Although clubs are a resource for socio-emotional support, they are also a great resource for developing one’s identity by finding “like-minded” individuals and “kindred spirits” while in college. Eleven out of 14 respondents reported clubs and organizations having a positive effect on well-being, because students could show their authentic selves and feel they truly fit in these groups. As shared by Participant 13: 

I found my place and my people just by putting myself out there a lot. I feel like I fit in in relative situations, if that makes sense. I fit in well with my club, and I fit in well with some programs that I do, but I don’t fit in well with everything. 

Some clubs and organizations mentioned were the LGBTQA club, Hispanic/Latinx Student Union, Black Student Union, Hawaii club, first-gen, fraternities, sororities, the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), honors, fashion, a religious organization, karaoke, and the Disney club. While extracurricular activities are valuable, students’ involvement with multiple clubs, jobs, and internships made it hard to juggle them all and keep up with classwork. Participant 3 said (male, FGS): “With my work, I get home at midnight 12:30 a.m. and then have to work on homework.” Others noted the membership costs might create potential barriers for underrepresented groups. 


This research delineates underrepresented students’ experiences with strategic communication college education and their needs for mentoring resources. The challenges of negotiating marginalized identities in strategic communication degree programs is understudied, partly contributing to the lack of DEIB in college classrooms and PR professions. Grounded in the intersectionality of social identities (Fiske & Taylor, 1991, Waymer, 2012), we conducted 14 interviews with FGS, Hispanic/Latinx, and African American students to unpack challenges and mentoring needs related to three dimensions: cognitive skills, social-emotional support, and identity development. Findings reveal the processes of overcoming academic challenges, initiating faculty-student connections, and adjusting peer interactions in different sizes and cultures of classrooms. Selected self-presentation through code-switching was mentioned frequently (Gray et al., 2018). Facing exacerbated challenges brought by a prolonged pandemic, underrepresented students adapted coping strategies to move toward finishing the college degree deemed meaningful to themselves and their family. Participant 1, graduated in Spring 2022, proudly shared: “Thank you mom and dad. Because they cross the borders, we can cross the stage.” Echoing the call for pushing against the deficit narratives surrounding underrepresented backgrounds (Payne et al., 2021; Sarcedo, 2022), our results show students focused on strength-based approaches to seek skill-based resources for improving cognitive and professional capabilities. Underrepresented students noted institutional programs are helpful; yet, promoting communication degrees to incoming students and implementing formal structures for degree-specific mentoring would be ideal. 

While the satisfaction with skill-oriented resources and an appreciation of feeling welcomed by strategic communication faculty were apparent, underrepresented students expressed a low-to-moderate sense of belonging, reaffirming existing literature (Ezarik, 2022; Havlik et al., 2020; Koo, 2021; Stebleton et al., 2014). This was partly driven by mindsets of intersectional identities (feeling intimidated to speak up and being the few minorities in large classrooms) and experiences of relational breakdown with instructors. As such, the connections with faculty members and specific mentors are described as “valuable resources” for professional opportunities (Scisney-Matlock & Matlock, 2001). Importantly, communicative aspects of faculty-student interactions form a support system to increase motivation, improve socio-emotional well-being during pandemic times, and increase students’ sense of belonging in an alienated environment (Tinto, 1998; Scharp et al., 2022). 

Notably, identity affirmation was a crucial factor in shaping underrepresented students’ self-worth and belonging. The process of validating and affirming their identity is multifaceted and requires balancing tensions between conflicting beliefs. While asking for help from institutional resources (e.g., tutoring services, writing centers) was a strategy commonly used, students expressed not wanting to waste others’ time, add to the list of problems, or rock the boat. While desiring connections with faculty, they consciously engaged in code-switching to fit in and earn perceptions of professionalism (Gray et al., 2018; Morton, 2014). While maintaining high levels of academic achievement, they experienced impostorism and felt the pressure to prove themselves constantly, which in turn could lead to poor wellbeing. Although they recounted winning leadership positions in student organizations as proud achievements, students shared that they elevated peers instead of making themselves the center of attention. Involvement in clubs, organizations, and internships brought immense identity support and established networks with like-minded peers; yet, balancing demanding classwork, social activities, and part-time jobs remained challenging.  

Limitations and Future Directions

Several limitations are acknowledged. First, multiple layers of marginalized identities influence students’ experience with college education. Our research did not address concerns unique to other identities, including LGBTQIA+ groups or students with disabilities. Qualitative studies extending our framework to delineate challenges these marginalized groups face in strategic communication programs will be useful. Second, the limited number of African American participants in the interview sample might not fully capture the process of negotiating racialized classroom experiences and/or diminishing the role of race to maintain the individual meritocracy (Waymer & Brown, 2018). This was because very few African American students enrolled in the program under investigation. Academic and social experiences might be significantly different in programs with a more prominent presence of African American students. Future studies could examine the influence of socioeconomic status that intersects race and gender dimensions on academic success and professional development. 

Longitudinal designs will be well-suited to track how alumni of underrepresented identities receiving culturally responsive mentoring at college succeed in the workplace after they graduate. Several promising questions are worthy of investigation: How do the functions of faculty mentoring build students’ leadership qualities in the PR field? How is the quality of faculty mentoring associated with graduation rates among underserved students? How do the challenges that alumni of underrepresented backgrounds encounter in the workplace differ from the three identified themes? In what way do they consider resources provided by the employers as useful or counterproductive? Lastly, future research could explore the impact of pressure to succeed from family and how this aligns or conflicts with FGS’s internal motivation. It would also be worthwhile to investigate underrepresented faculty’s needs for mentoring programs and leadership development. 

Implications and Conclusions

Notwithstanding the limitations, this research offers pedagogical implications for PR educators to catalyze change for improving DEIB in classrooms. First, faculty need to intentionally create a safe space for underrepresented students to connect with peers and with faculty themselves through sending check-in emails, crafting discussion questions inclusive of diverse backgrounds, explaining the meaning of academic jargons, and offering informal meetings. Creating interactive assignments enables underrepresented students to build relationships with classmates in small group settings. Second, foregrounding culturally responsive mentorship from a co-orientation approach is vital, because relational connections serve as support systems to bolster underrepresented students’ identities and build a sense of belonging (Tsai et al., 2020). To improve faculty’s cultural competency, hosting workshops or training will be instrumental for adjusting mentoring styles and deepening connections with students. Mentoring students of diverse backgrounds should not fall on the shoulders of minoritized faculty. Changing the institutional culture of DEIB will ensure that the student mentoring efforts are distributed equitably. Lastly, moving toward actual engagement is desirable. The success of underrepresented students’ needs to happen in everyday faculty-student interactions instead of solely relying on institutional services that tend to operate for advantaged backgrounds. Meaningful student engagement can be achieved through advocating for small class sizes, sharing success stories to empower underrepresented students (e.g., inviting alumni for guest speaking, featuring student achievements on digital channels), and creating degree-specific mentoring opportunities. 

Theoretically, this inquiry provides empirical justification for approaching faculty-student interactions from an intersectional lens and cultivating the awareness of intensified challenges due to marginalized identities in predominantly White degree programs. As this college-aged generation “doom” scrolls through the visual consequences of a polarized culture, cognitive, socio-emotional, and identity development needs emerge. By providing meaningful mentoring, encouraging student participation in identity-based clubs, and fostering positive peer relationships, strategic communication educators will make significant inroads toward instilling confidence and creating inclusive environments for underrepresented students, from their first day of college all the way to the graduation stage. 


Ahn, T., & Dominguez-Villegas, R. (n.d.). A change of plans: How the pandemic affected        students of color and their plans for higher education. https://latino.ucla.edu/research/fact-sheet-education-covid/

Aldiabat, K. M., & Le Navenec, C. L. (2018). Data saturation: The mysterious step in grounded theory methodology. The Qualitative Report, 23(1), 245-261. https://doi.org/10.46743/2160-3715/2018.2994

American Association of University Women (2016). Barriers and Bias: The status of women in leadership. https://www.aauw.org/resources/research/barrier-bias/

Barber, P. H., Shapiro, C., Jacobs, M. S., Avilez, L., Brenner, K. I., Cabral, C., … & Levis-Fitzgerald, M. (2021). Disparities in remote learning faced by first-generation and underrepresented minority students during COVID-19: Insights and opportunities from a remote research experience. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, 22(1), ev22i1-2457. https://doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v22i1.2457

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.  http://aejmc.us/jpre/2020/08/13/student-and-faculty-educator-views-on-diversity-and-inclusion-in-public-relations-the-role-of-leaders-in-bringing-about-change/

Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge. Anchor Books. 

Bettencourt, G.M., Koboul, E.M., Mujtaba, H., Feraud-King, P.T., Stephens, K.J., Tejada, M.M., & Kimball, E. (2022). Is first-gen an identity? How first-generation college students make meaning of institutional and familial constructions of self. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 24(2), 271-289. https://doi.org/10.1177/1521025120913302

Brown, K. A., Waymer, D., & Zhou, Z. (2019). Racial and gender-based differences in the collegiate development of public relations majors: Implications for underrepresented recruitment and retention. Journal of Public Relations Education, 5(1), 1-30. https://aejmc.us/jpre/2019/01/31/racial-and-gender-based-differences-in-the-collegiate-development-of-public-relations-majors-implications-for-underrepresented-recruitment-and-retention/

Browning, M. H., Larson, L. R., Sharaievska, I., Rigolon, A., McAnirlin, O., Mullenbach, L., … & Alvarez, H. O. (2021). Psychological impacts from COVID-19 among university students: Risk factors across seven states in the United States. PloS one, 16(1), e0245327. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0245327

Buford May, R. A. (2014). When the methodological shoe is on the other foot: African American interviewer and White interviewees. Qualitative Sociology, 37(1), 117-136. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-013-9265-5

Cataldi, E. F., Bennett, C. T., & Chen, X. (2018). First-generation students: College access, persistence, and postbachelor’s outcomes. National Center for Education Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018421.pdf

Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. Sage. 

Charmaz, K. (2008). Constructionism and the grounded theory. In J. A. Holstein & J. F. Gubrium (Eds.), Handbook of constructionist research (pp. 397-412). The Guilford Press.  

Charmaz, K., & Belgrave, L. L. (2012). Qualitative interviewing and grounded theory analysis. In J. F. Gubrium, J. A. Holstein, A. B Marvasti & K. D. McKinney (Eds.), The Sage handbook of interview research: The complexity of the craft (pp. 347-372). Sage 

Chitkara, A. (2018, April 12). PR agencies need to be more diverse and inclusive: Here’s how to start. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2018/04/pr-agencies-need-to-be-more-diverse-and-inclusive-heres-how-to-start

Christie, E., & Baghurst, T. (2017). College mentoring: Alumni views on programme efficacy in shaping leadership ability. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 15(1), 169-185. https://radar.brookes.ac.uk/radar/items/a7dc7cf8-0db7-44c7-903e-47fd0f5824c9/1/

Cook-Anderson, G., Lemery, M., & Behrens, J. (2015). Making a difference: Preparing us to prepare our students for matters of diversity abroad. https://forumea.org/2015-conference-archive/

Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (2008). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Sage.

Dweck, C. S. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Ballantine Books.

El Hussein, M. T., Kennedy, A., & Oliver, B. (2017). Grounded theory and the conundrum of literature review: Framework for novice researchers. The Qualitative Report, 22(4), 1199-1210. https://doi.org/10.46743/2160-3715/2017.2661

Ezarik, M. (2022, August 12). Helping faculty help first-gen students. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2022/08/12/6-supports-professors-need-teach-first-gen-students-infographic

Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (1991). Social cognition (2nd ed). Mcgraw-Hill Book Company.

Fruiht, V., & Chan, T. (2018). Naturally occurring mentorship in a national sample of first-generation college goers: A promising portal for academic and developmental success. American Journal of Community Psychology, 61(3-4), 386-397. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajcp.12233

Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1979). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Aldine Publishing.

Glover, C., & Hill, D. (2021). Race and ethnicity in public relations and communications benchmark report. https://www.diversityactionalliance.org/reporting-tool/#report

Gopalan, M., Linden-Carmichael, A., & Lanza, S. (2022). College students’ sense of belonging and mental health amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Adolescent Health, 70(2), 228-233. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2021.10.010

Gordon, G., & Crabtree, S. (2006). Building engaged schools: Getting the most out of America’s classrooms. Gallup Press.

Gray, J. T., Kish-Gephart, J., & Tilton, J. (2018). Identity work by first-generation college students to counteract class-based microaggressions. Organization Studies, 39(9), 1227-1250. https://doi.org/10.1177/0170840617736935

Guest, G., Namey, E., & Chen, M. (2020). A simple method to assess and report thematic saturation in qualitative research. PloS one, 15(5), e0232076. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0232076

Havlik, S., Pulliam, N., Malott, K., & Steen, S. (2020). Strengths and struggles: First-generation college-goers persisting at one predominantly white institution. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 22(1), 118-140.  https://doi.org/10.1177/1521025117724551

Hernandez, P. R., Adams, A. S., Barnes, R. T., Bloodhart, B., Burt, M., Clinton, S. M., Du, W., Henderson, H., Pollack I., & Fischer, E. V. (2020). Inspiration, inoculation, and introductions are all critical to successful mentorship for undergraduate women pursuing geoscience careers. Communications Earth & Environment, 1(1), 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1038/s43247-020-0005-y

iCIMS (2022). Class of COVID-19 report: An annual survey report to help HR professionalsnavigate Gen Z hiring and thrive in the new talent economy. https://www.icims.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/iCIMS-Class-of-COVID-19_Report.pdf

Joshi, M., Aikens, M. L., & Dolan, E. L. (2019). Direct ties to a faculty mentor related to positive outcomes for undergraduate researchers. BioScience, 69(5), 389-397. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biz039

Jung, E., & Hecht, M. L. (2004). Elaborating the communication theory of identity: Identity gaps and communication outcomes. Communication Quarterly, 52(3), 265-283. https://doi.org/10.1080/01463370409370197

Kalogeros, C. (2021, December 3). It’s time for women to rule the world of public relations.  https://progressions.prsa.org/index.php/2021/12/03/its-time-for-women-to-rule-the-world-of-public-relations/

Koo, K. K. (2021). Am I welcome here? Campus climate and psychological well-being among students of color. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 58(2), 196-213. https://doi.org/10.1080/19496591.2020.1853557

Landis, K. (2019, March 19). The public relations industry is too white and the solution starts with higher education. Insight Into Diversity. https://www.insightintodiversity.com/the-public-relations-industry-is-too-white-and-the-solution-starts-with-higher-education/

Lee, J., Jeong, H. J., & Kim, S. (2021). Stress, anxiety, and depression among undergraduate students during the COVID-19 pandemic and their use of mental health services. Innovative Higher Education, 46(5), 519-538. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10755-021-09552-y

Lindlof, T. R., & Taylor, B. C. (2011). Qualitative communication research methods (3rd ed.). Sage. 

Logan, N. (2011). The white leader prototype: A critical analysis of race in public relations. Journal of Public Relations Research, 23(4), 442-457. https://doi.org/10.1080/1062726X.2011.605974

McKinsey & Company. (2021). Women in the workforce. https://womenintheworkplace.com/

Meng, J., & Neill, M. S. (2021). PR women with influence: Breaking through the ethical and leadership challenges. Peter Lang. 

Morton, J. M. (2014). Cultural code-switching: Straddling the achievement gap. The Journal of Political Philosophy, 22(3), 259–281. https://doi.org/10.1111/jopp.12019

Payne, T., Muenks, K., & Aguayo, E. (2021). “Just because I am first gen doesn’t mean I’m not asking for help”: A thematic analysis of first-generation college students’ academic help-seeking behaviors. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/dhe0000382

Pelham, S. B. (2019). Bridging the gender gap: A journey of women and men in communications leadership [Master’s thesis]. Brigham Young University. 

Peteet, B. J., Brown, C. M., Lige, Q. M., & Lanaway, D. A. (2015). Impostorism is associated with greater psychological distress and lower self-esteem for African American students. Current Psychology, 34(1), 154-163. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-014-9248-z

Place, K. R., & Vardeman-Winter, J. (2018). Where are the women? An examination of research on women and leadership in public relations. Public Relations Review, 44(1), 165-173. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2017.10.005

Pompper, D. (2014). Interrogating inequalities perpetuated in a feminized field. In C. Daymon & K. Demetrious (Eds.), Gender and public relations: Critical perspectives on voice, image and identity (pp. 67-86). Routledge. 

Powell, J. A., & Menendian, S. (n.d.) The problem of othering: Towards inclusiveness and belonging. Othering & Belonging. http://www.otheringandbelonging.org/the-problem-of-othering/

Redford, J., & Hoyer, K. M. (2017). First-generation and continuing-generation college students: A comparison of high school and postsecondary experiences. National Center for Education Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018421.pdf

Rice, A. J., Colbow, A. J., Gibbons, S., Cederberg, C., Sahker, E., Liu, W. M., & Wurster, K. (2017). The social class worldviews of first-generation college students. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 30(4), 415-440. https://doi.org/10.1080/09515070.2016.1179170

Riley, R. W. (2010). Revealing socially constructed knowledge through quasi-structured interviews and grounded theory analysis. Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, 5(1-2), 21-40. https://doi.org/10.1300/J073v05n01_03

RTI International. (2021). First-generation college graduates: Race/ethnicity, age, and use of career planning services. NASPA. https://firstgen.naspa.org/files/dmfile/FactSheet-011.pdf

Sarcedo, G. L. (2022). Using narrative inquiry to understand faculty supporting first-generation, low-income college students of color. Journal of First-generation Student Success. https://doi.org/10.1080/26906015.2022.2086087

Saunders, B., Sim, J., Kingstone, T., Baker, S., Waterfield, J., Bartlam, B., Burroughs, H., & Jinks, C. (2018). Saturation in qualitative research: exploring its conceptualization and operationalization. Quality & quantity, 52(4), 1893-1907. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11135-017-0574-8

Scharp, K. M., Wang, T. R., & Wolfe, B. H. (2022). Communicative resilience of first-generation college students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Human Communication Research, 48(1), 1-30. https://doi.org/10.1093/hcr/hqab018

Scisney-Matlock, M., & Matlock, J. (2001). Promoting understanding of diversity through mentoring undergraduate students. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2001(85), 75–84. https://doi.org/10.1002/tl.8

Stansell, G. (2020, October 26). How the PR industry can-and must-do more on DE&I. PR Daily. https://www.prdaily.com/how-the-pr-industry-can-and-must-do-more-on-dei/

Stebleton, M. J., Soria, K. M., & Huesman Jr, R. L. (2014). First-generation students’ sense of belonging, mental health, and use of counseling services at public research universities. Journal of College Counseling, 17(1), 6-20. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-1882.2014.00044.x

Stewart, C. O. (2022). STEM Identities: A communication theory of identity approach. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 41(2), 148-170. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X211030674  

Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1994). Grounded theory methodology: An overview. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 273-285). Sage. 

The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education (n.d.). About Carnegie Classification. https://carnegieclassifications.acenet.edu/

The Plank Center (2018, April 10). Women and leadership in public relations. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIYcd8iGS_s&t=1s

Tinto, V. (1998). Colleges as communities: Taking research on student persistence seriously. The Review of Higher Education, 21(2), 167-177. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/30046

Topić, M., Cunha, M. J., Reigstad, A., Jelen-Sanchez, A., & Moreno, Á. (2020). Women in public relations (1982–2019). Journal of Communication Management. 24(2), 391-407.  https://doi.org/10.1108/JCOM-11-2019-0143

Tracy, S. J. (2020). Qualitative Research Methods: Collecting Evidence, Crafting Analysis, Communicating Impact (2nd ed). Wiley-Blackwell. 

Tsai, J., Bosse, R., Sridharan, N., & Chadha, M. (2020). Reclaiming the narratives: Situated multidimensional representation of underserved Indigenous communities through citizen-driven reporting. Journalism, 23(10), 2132-2152. https://doi.org/10.1177/1464884920983261

Tsai, J., Sweeter, J., & Candello, E. (2022). Examining response engagement in online interactions between US government agencies and citizens. Journal of Communication Management, 26(1), 1-17. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCOM-07-2021-0078 

Turner, D. W. (2010). Qualitative interview design: A practical guide for novice investigators. The Qualitative Report, 15(3), 754-760. https://doi.org/10.46743/2160-3715/2010.1178

Udah, H. (2019). Searching for a place to belong in a time of othering. Social Sciences, 8(11), 297-313. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci8110297

United States Census Bureau (2022, August). Quick facts. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022, January 20). Labor force statistics from the current population survey. https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11.htm

U.S. Department of Education. (2020, December 8). TRIO Home Page [Programs; Offices; Reference Materials]. US Department of Education (ED). https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/trio/index.html

Waymer, D. (2012). Culture, social class, and race in public relations: An Introduction. In D. Waymer (Ed.), Culture, social class, and race in public relations: Perspectives and applications (pp. 1-11). Lexington Books. 

Waymer, D., & Brown, K. A. (2018). Significance of race in the US undergraduate public relations educational landscape: Reflections of former public relations students. Journal for Multicultural Education, 12(4), 353-370. https://doi.org/10.1108/JME-06-2017-0036

Waymer, D., & Taylor, L. (2022). Exploring HBCU Students’ interests in pursuing graduate studies in public relations and communication programs. Journal of Public Relations Education, 8(1), 43-75. https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=2881

Weir, K. (2013). Feel like a fraud? You’re not alone. Many graduate students question whether they are prepared to do the work they do. Here’s how to overcome that feeling and recognize your strengths. GradPsych Magazine, 11, 24-28. https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud

To cite this article: Tsai, J-Y, Sweeter, J., and Hitt, A. (2023). Cross the stage: Underrepresented students’ challenges and mentoring needs in strategic communication programs. Journal of Public Relations Education, 8(4), 91-197. https://journalofpreducation.com/2023/02/24/cross-the-stage-underrepresented-students-challenges-and-mentoring-needs-in-strategic-communication-programs/

Perceptions of Mindfulness Among Public Relations Professionals and Students: Similarities, Differences, and Implications for Undergraduate Career Preparation

Editorial Record: Original draft submitted to JPRE August 26, 2019. R&R decision November 1, 2019. Revision submitted November 19, 2019. Manuscript accepted (with changes) for publication February 5, 2020. Initial changes received February 10, 2020. Final changes received July 6, 2020. First published online August 15, 2020.


Douglas J. Swanson, Ph.D.
Professor of Communications
California State University-Fullerton
Fullerton, CA
Email: dswanson@fullerton.edu


Mindfulness has been studied in many professional and educational environments but not in the public relations workplace. This exploratory study framed in the context of social order uses the Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) to separately determine perceptions of mindfulness by public relations professionals and undergraduates preparing for PR careers. Results show professionals and students have strikingly similar perceptions about their work environments. Widespread conceptual clarity about mindfulness was noted. Professionals and undergraduates reported the highest perceptions of mindful awareness in the same four workplace action or response areas. Low perceptions of mindful awareness aligned in three of four lowest-ranked areas. Strong similarities were noted in stressors present in the professional and academic workplaces. Findings support the value of mindfulness intervention in PR career preparation. Recommendations are offered for PR educators, along with suggestions for future scholarly inquiry.

Keywords: mindfulness, public relations, workplace stress, PR education, career preparation

Perceptions of Mindfulness Among Public Relations Professionals and Students: Similarities, Differences, and Implications for Undergraduate Career Preparation

Whether it’s mindlessly consuming sugary snacks while working, forgetting a new client’s name immediately after being introduced, or fretting over expected criticism from a co-worker, mindfulness in the workplace is an important and understudied issue. Mindfulness should concern public relations professionals as well as those who are preparing undergraduates to enter the profession.

A lack of mindfulness at work can result from—and can at the same time generate—anxiety, guilt, frustration, condemnation and self-doubt (Carroll, 2006). Ultimately, though, what underlies an absence of mindful action is a worker’s inability to focus and create a thoughtful and positive outcome from a current-moment situation (Kabat-Zinn, 2001).

Mindfulness has been shown to be valuable in any workplace (Jamieson & Tuckey, 2017; Passmore, 2019). It would seem especially relevant in public relations, where professionals work at a fast pace and are expected to generate strategic and creative ideas to build mutual understanding and influence between stakeholders, clients, and colleagues.

This article addresses the extent to which PR professionals and young adults seeking to enter the field understand and act mindfully—remaining thoughtful and calm in the present moment while responding in disciplined, ethical, and beneficial ways. This article presents the results of an exploratory study of PR professionals and junior/senior-level undergraduates planning for public relations careers. Specifically, the study found that there is a widespread, correct understanding of what mindfulness means in a work context. PR professionals and students reported the same kinds of work-related stressors and frustrations. Professionals and students reported their personal perceptions of mindfulness strengths and weaknesses in much the same way. At the same time, half of the professionals and a strong majority of undergraduates did not perceive mindfulness to be relevant to public relations work. Respondents reported almost no systematic mindfulness intervention in either the professional or academic environment. In other professions and in other academic workplaces, mindfulness interventions have been applied successfully over many years to help people cope with anxiety and stress (Jamieson & Tuckey, 2017), but the literature reveals no such effort in public relations. 

The purpose of this study is to explore how public relations professionals and undergraduates preparing to enter the field would respond when asked questions about their perceived level of mindfulness at work. Having an understanding of how PR professionals and students grasp their level of mindfulness might lead to more awareness of how to work effectively among today’s professionals and those being prepared for the field in the future.

Literature Review

The selection and use of survey instruments and the review of resulting findings was guided by the theoretical construct of social order. In a socially ordered workplace, workers would “share power responsibly, communicate clearly, and work productively together no matter what cultural, economic, social, or technological uncertainties may develop” (Swanson, 2012, p. 134).

Mindfulness as a Concept

Mindfulness is prominent in popular culture. Entertainers, celebrities, and talk show hosts proclaim its calming power (Meola, 2019; Sidelsky, 2011). Professional athletes and coaches credit mindfulness as key to their winning performance (Patel, 2018). Movies and television programs present mindfulness as a life-changing experience (Kost, 2020; Pickert, 2014).

Mindfulness has been interpreted many ways. At its most basic, it involves “being awake and aware–being tuned in to yourself, to others, and to the environment” (Boyatzis & Yeganeth, 2012, p. 4). Mindfulness practice has been called “a time-tested antidote to operating in autopilot” (Levasseur, 2012, para. 11). Mindfulness means being rooted in the present moment, open to new ideas, and liberated from anxiety, frustration, and self-condemnation (Langer, 1989). Mindfulness means focusing on the processes of life and work more so than the outcome (Serafin, 2007). One of the most popular mindfulness interventions is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a secular practice created in 1979 by physician Jon Kabat-Zinn. MBSR trains participants to detach from their stress, live calmly, and avoid the mental tyranny created by past regrets and future worries (Kabat-Zinn, 2001).

Although mindfulness is not a religious practice, beginning in the late 1960s, its growth in popular culture was fostered by the Dalai Lama, Pema Chödron, and Thich Nhat Hanh. These and other ordained Buddhist teachers advocated mindfulness as a response to the stresses of Western life. Today, at least 14% of American adults profess to use some type of mindfulness practice (Norton, 2018).

Mindfulness is not defined as health care. Still, many advocates claim health benefits and much of the current scholarship focuses on a link to physical health. Some recent clinical studies have demonstrated mindfulness to be effective in counteracting obesity (Caldwell et al., 2012) and diminishing the propensity for alcohol and drug abuse (Wupperman et al., 2012). One study involving MBSR documents its efficacy in reducing the health risks associated with loud noise in the environment (Hede, 2017). Australian health care researchers Mars and Oliver (2016) believe maintaining a state of mindfulness allows the human body to heal itself, thus leading to a variety of personal benefits and potential “sustainability of the health care system” (p. 7).

Mindfulness can be looked at in two ways. Trait mindfulness is evidenced as an aspect of a person’s disposition (Nilsson & Kazemi, 2016). In that sense, it is associated with personality rather than intentional effort and does not exhibit change due to situational context. State mindfulness is evidenced when a person intentionally cultivates a mindful approach to a perceived challenge. Absent of any challenge, the person’s level of mindful awareness may vary (Nilsson & Kazemi, 2016).

It is believed that most people “will have a stable level of trait mindfulness and altering levels of state mindfulness” (Mahmood et al., 2016, para. 4). Participation in a single mindfulness exercise was shown to increase a level of state mindfulness (Luberto & McLeish, 2018). Regardless of whether an individual’s level of mindfulness fluctuates or is relatively consistent, in a busy and distracted world, even a slight improvement in mindful attention helps a person to be a more focused and attentive communicator (O’Hara, 2013).

Mindfulness at Work

The quest to learn about, practice, and study the effects of mindfulness has reached the workplace. Mindfulness at work is about critical thinking and not simply about gaining more knowledge (Langer, 1989). A key precept is the idea that all elements of existence are interrelated, or as Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel (2011) described it, “We cannot find a true boundary or edge to any thing, because all things exist in dependence on other things” (p. 34).

Case study literature documents systematic mindfulness intervention targeting a variety of professionals including athletes (Mehrsafar et al., 2019), auditors (Herda et al., 2019), chemical company workers (Aikens et al., 2014), law school students (Reuben & Sheldon, 2019), nurses (Bazarko et al., 2013; Montanari et al., 2019), and real estate agents (Byrne & Thatchenkery, 2019). Mindfulness interest is especially prominent in the corporate sector. Almost a quarter of all Fortune 500 companies have used mindfulness intervention to reduce workplace anxiety and stress (Wolever et al., 2018). Important questions about workplace mindfulness intervention have been proposed (Castille et al., 2015) and answered (Brown et al., 2007; Jamieson & Tuckey, 2017).

Mindfulness in Education

The quest to learn about, practice, and study the effects of mindfulness has also reached the educational sector. Worldwide, a growing body of literature includes thousands of case studies that document mindful thinking and action by students in pre-kindergarten, elementary, secondary, and post-secondary classrooms (see Semple et al., 2017). Mindfulness intervention has been implemented at the institutional or “whole school” level (Sheinman et al., 2018), as well as at the classroom level (Huppert & Johnson, 2010; Viafora et al., 2015).

In 2007, Richard Burnett and Chris Cullen initiated the Mindfulness in Schools Project to encourage and support the teaching of secular mindfulness in schools (The Mindfulness in Schools Project, 2020). This effort and others have shown mindfulness has great potential to improve student performance “because of its effectiveness in reducing emotional distress and promoting emotional balance, improving attention, and contributing to motivated learning” (Broderick, 2013, para. 9).

The body of literature also offers numerous books and case studies that address mindfulness as a component of teacher preparation (Haynes et al., 2013; Rechtschaffen, 2016). A successful mindful intervention begins with the educator becoming conceptually proficient and then carefully considering how to integrate mindfulness with the institution, curriculum, students, and intended learning outcomes (Hanh & Ware, 2017).

Best Practices for Mindfulness in Education

Many different secular mindfulness intervention strategies have been developed and implemented in academic environments. As with any pedagogical element, mindfulness intervention in higher education must be adapted to the institution, the academic program, the specific curriculum and desired learning outcomes, the students, and the social and cultural norms they identify with. A review of recent case studies of mindfulness intervention in different professional and academic contexts suggests the following best practices.

Educator Preparation. Mindfulness intervention should only be undertaken when an educator is interested in it, believes in its relevance to learning, and is trained to conduct intervention in the academic environment (Haynes et al., 2013). Training can take months or years and can be expensive. A high level of commitment would be required. An essential element of that training for the educator is the ability to imagine the transformation that mindfulness intervention will bring about in themselves and with their students (Rechtschaffen, 2016).

Mindfulness intervention tends to be a subjective and qualitative intervention and, as such, may be easier to introduce and carry out within the culture and social order of a liberal arts campus than within the culture and social order of a research-based university (Lee, 2012). As with anything presented to students, there is a chance a mindfulness intervention might not go according to plan. Therefore, the educator should be flexible and accommodating (Hanh & Ware, 2017).

Desirable Outcomes. There are many methods for mindfulness intervention. Each has its own structural advantages and disadvantages. Each has the potential for different types of outcomes. The educator should be clear on what is needed in the particular situation so that the most appropriate intervention strategy can be planned. There is strong support for the idea that mindfulness intervention should not be attempted simply to improve productivity. It should allow educators “a more wakeful and authentic way of being with students and colleagues” (Brendel & Cornett-Murtada, 2019, p. 20) and should address the emotional, social, and moral development of all who participate (Hyland, 2017). In that way, intervention would strengthen the social order of the academic workplace.

Intervention Structure. The educator planning a mindfulness intervention should carefully study a variety of established approaches (Chiesa & Malinowski, 2011). Mindfulness intervention is never a one-size-fits-all response to classroom problems. Each educator must take care to select, plan, and execute an intervention that is right for the situation. Any intervention should ease the burden on students and not add to it.

Some interventions actively teach meditation as the foundation of mindfulness. Others include elements of cognitive behavioral therapy (Kumar et al., 2017). Some engage participants in mental exercises, including self-observation to bring about clarity and focus (Hayes, n.d.). Some interventions include yoga, walking meditation, or other physical activities to promote mindfulness through awareness of movement and breathing (Faizer, 2017).

One mindfulness intervention focuses simply around a set of eight questions (Passmore, 2019). In asking themselves these questions, students of the Henley Reflective Method have the opportunity to develop a higher level of mindfulness about business interactions of the past and opportunities of the future:

  1. What have you observed?
  2. How did you respond (think about your behavior, your emotions and your thoughts)?
  3. What does that tell you about you as a person (your beliefs and assumptions)?
  4. What does that tell you about you as a leader (your beliefs and assumptions about others)?
  5. What strengths (advantages) do these offer?
  6. What pitfalls (disadvantages) do these offer?
  7. How might you respond differently next time?
  8. What did you learn about yourself, the person and the situation?
    (pp. 167-168)

Regardless of the intervention used, it is advisable to structure it around a specific set of focal points. This will resonate well with Generation Z students who seek to align their performance with defined outcomes (Castellano, 2016).

Mindfulness intervention does not need to take time away from in-seat instruction. Cotler and colleagues (2017) presented results of a 2015 mindfulness intervention delivered online at a small liberal arts college. The online intervention brought about improvement in undergraduates’ emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and emotional detection (Cotler et al., 2017). One newly published case study focusing on teaching mindfulness to journalism students reports that educators intending an intervention “must walk the methodological tightrope” (Pearson et al., 2018,  p. 197). 

Protection of Students’ Rights. Students subjected to mindfulness intervention should always be fully informed about the concept, intervention structure, and desired outcomes. Students should always have the freedom to opt out (Haynes et al., 2013). The relevance to career preparation should be explained clearly. If the mindfulness intervention includes religious overtones brought about through chanting, singing, or study of ancient texts, participants may judge the effort to be for the purpose of proselytizing and be offensive and inappropriate in an educational context (Pearson et al., 2018). 

Mindfulness intervention is undertaken to improve student awareness of self, the work environment, and the needs and feelings of others in the environment. It should bring a heightened sensitivity and, at the same time, a sense of poise. When carrying out a mindfulness intervention with students, the educator should be cautious to avoid opening up any deeper psychological issues of a participant in a classroom situation.

Assessing Impact. As with any effort to build student learning and career readiness, the results of mindfulness intervention should be assessed. There should be an unquestionable improvement in readiness for work, and that improvement should be directly attributable to the intervention (Jamieson & Tuckey, 2017). Development of an assessment plan should be undertaken side-by-side with the development of any mindfulness intervention. A benchmark for student performance should be established. Direct or indirect measures of student performance should be taken and compared to the benchmark. Results should lead to a closing-the-loop discussion about the impact of mindfulness intervention on student learning.

Mindfulness in PR Practice and Career Preparation

An introductory statement on a website presenting communications/media career opportunities to undergraduates offers a glamorous view of public relations and similar occupations:

Working right in the center of the action can come with a major adrenaline rush . . . . If you long for the kind of job that puts you in the spotlight, one of these careers could be just what you’re looking for. (Lee, 2020, para. 27)

It is true that public relations is a media-related field allowing unique creative expression, sometimes in exotic locales while utilizing the most modern technology. Society’s desire to communicate is insatiable, and as a result, PR has expanded its reach and influence even in the most difficult economic times (Witmer & Swanson, 2020). But the public relations profession is undergoing unprecedented change, and working in it brings both highs and lows (Jiang & Shen, 2013). 

The public relations workplace can be volatile and unpredictable as a consequence of technological advancement and new marketplace pressures (Arenstein, 2019). Entire agency structures have been torn down and rebuilt (Barrett, 2011). Increased international competitiveness brings questions about ethical and technical practice, and even uncertainty about the words used to define public relations contrast with other media specialties (Drabicky, 2019; Elliott, 2012; Jeong, 2011). Any public relations professional ill-equipped for the new realities can be put out of work suddenly and without warning (Sweeney, 2010; Woloshin, 2009). The job of “PR executive” is ranked among the 10 most stressful in the workplace (Carufel, 2019). As a result of changing realities of public relations, its workplace roles, expectations and essential skills, PR professionals often struggle to remain resilient (Guo & Anderson, 2018; Jiang & Shen, 2013). 

Undergraduates training for a public relations career may do so in one of more than 400 higher education programs (Gotlieb et al., 2017). But as within the professional workplace, there are unique volatilities and unresolved challenges within academe (Lombardi, 2013). Today’s undergraduates often feel anxious and alienated (Soni, 2019). The U.S. higher education system has shouldered billions of dollars in funding reductions (Marcus, 2019). Reductions have been offset by program cuts, consolidations, and tuition increases (Mitchell et al., 2018). It may be difficult for PR students to look for immediate financial gain after graduation, as many PR jobs offer entry-level salaries as low as $30,000 a year (Lau, n.d.). These factors may lead to stress on a new PR practitioner.

Changing interests and perceptions of students can hinder educators’ abilities to present essential workplace concepts (Crawford et al., 2013). The arrival of Generation Z, today’s largest student cohort, has broadened this challenge (Tulgan, 2015). Gen Z students have been characterized as distracted communicators with “less-than-stellar organizational skills, productivity, follow-through, and timeliness” (Castellano, 2016, p. 18). Gen Z college graduates may not have mastered the soft skills employers most demand from entry-level workers (National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2016). Gen Z’s emotional development and potential for successful transfer to the workplace may also be inhibited by well-meaning but overbearing “helicopter parents” (Hunt, 2008; Schiffrin et al., 2013).

These and other issues result in higher education faculty perceiving insufficient time or resources to stay current in their discipline (Gose, 2010; Grasser, 2013; Hott & Tietjen-Smith, 2018). Faculty tell of a growing bureaucracy that demands expending up to a third of work time on duties unrelated to the classroom (Flaherty, 2014). PR educators in particular face a daunting set of curricular recommendations that even the largest and most resource-rich programs may struggle to meet (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018).

Higher education institutions routinely fail to prepare educators for these and other workplace challenges (Perlmutter, 2017). The resulting stresses ultimately lead to anxiety, diminished expectations, and depressed morale (Capaldi, 2011). Since public relations professionals face unprecedented cultural, economic, organizational, and technological change (USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, 2019), mindfulness intervention is relevant to the public relations workplace. Since undergraduate students face many stresses on the path to a degree and career, it would seem that mindfulness intervention is equally relevant to public relations education. But there exists no confirmation of awareness of mindfulness among public relations practitioners or students planning for public relations careers. There is a need for research documenting mindfulness intervention in public relations workplaces and classrooms.

Theoretical Framework for Mindful Action

The public relations profession and the higher education system that prepares undergraduates for careers in PR and media are both experiencing rapid transformational change (Rainie & Anderson, 2017). This change can be a source of great anxiety for the people involved. Therefore, the theoretical construct of social order (Eisenstadt, 1992) seems especially relevant to frame this inquiry of mindfulness in public relations.

A socially ordered workplace has a clear division of labor, established trust among workers, regulation of power for decision-making, and institutional systems that legitimize activity (Eisenstadt, 1992). Communication in the socially ordered workplace would focus on communicating meaningful intent (Alexander, 1992). These attributes would allow the socially ordered workplace to be inherently mindful. A focused attention to reality “without the distractions and consultations the intellect contrives” (Richo, 2005, p. 94) would also be consistent with a socially ordered workplace. 

In contrast, a workplace without systematic mindfulness intervention could inculcate distracted behavior. It would be a workplace with more focus on doing than being. In this mindless workplace, workers would be unable to see the correlation between otherwise disconnected phenomena. There would be excessive reliance on “categories and distinctions created in the past” that separate rather than unite (Langer, 1989, p. 11). Workers could easily make assumptions and take actions that are “not so smart” (McRaney, 2011, p. 7). A workplace where mindless behaviors are commonplace would be a workplace in disorder.

Research Questions

This exploratory study sought to fill an obvious gap in the scholarly literature in public relations by determining the extent to which PR professionals and undergraduates planning for public relations careers were aware of mindfulness as a concept. It was important to identify the extent to which mindfulness was perceived and applied as a coping strategy, and what similarities and differences existed between professionals and students. An important goal of the work was the development of recommendations for mindful intervention that could allow educators to better equip undergraduates for the realities of a public relations career. The following research questions were investigated:

RQ1: How is the concept of mindfulness defined and its workplace relevance explained by public relations professionals and undergraduates preparing to enter the profession?

RQ2: Through completion of the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale, what similarities and differences will be noted among the perceptions of workplace interactions of public relations professionals and undergraduates preparing to enter the profession?


This study was primarily qualitative in its focus and outcomes. The section below lays out the procedures undertaken for collecting and analyzing data on perceptions of mindfulness among public relations professionals and undergraduates. 

Assessing Perceptions of Mindfulness

Many instruments have been created to assess mindfulness. The proliferation of different scales can make mindfulness a difficult construct to understand (Hyland, 2017). The Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) is a simple psychometric assessment developed by social psychologist Kirk Warren Brown and clinical psychologist Richard M. Ryan (Brown & Ryan, 2003). The MAAS allows tracking of a subject’s attention and response to situations in the environment (Brown et al., 2011). The MAAS has been characterized as “a valid, reliable and stable factor structure of mindfulness measure” (Phang et al., 2016, p. 313). It has been used in a number of different workplace contexts and is the most frequently cited instrument to measure self-report of mindfulness (Wong et al., 2018).

This exploratory study involved independent administration of the MAAS to professionals and to undergraduate PR students to identify similarities and differences in perceived reactions to common workplace scenarios. The MAAS was chosen due to its brevity and the need for only minimal semantic adjustment to be relevant in the context of public relations. The study was concerned with respondents’ general perceptions and did not attempt to distinguish between trait and state mindfulness.

Populations for Study

The Public Relations Society of America is recognized as the preeminent professional association for public relations professionals in the U.S. Therefore, PRSA members were identified as the first of the two populations for study. A stratified random sampling was conducted of PRSA members from all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The sample was composed of members who identified in the association’s membership directory as engaged in agency, corporate, nonprofit, or independent practitioner work. Retired practitioners and educators were excluded.

Students were recruited through their affiliations with student-run PR agencies, which offer concept and skill learning with a real-world focus and are recognized as a rigorous career preparation experience for undergraduates (Bush et al., 2017; Bush & Miller, 2011; Kim, 2015). Fewer than 5% of universities have the resources to successfully launch and manage an agency, and the vast majority of agencies are in the United States (Swanson, 2017). Given the likelihood that agency students were already receiving optimal preparation for the public relations workplace, undergraduates studying in student-run agencies in the U.S. were identified as the second population for study.

Data Collection

Data collection was accomplished via two 25-item questionnaires, one for professionals and the other for students. The 15-item MAAS instrument comprised the core of each questionnaire, as shown in the appendix. Some MAAS item wording was altered slightly to align with public relations workplace terminology. Data collection took place via an anonymous online survey administered over a four-month period in late 2018.

The questionnaire for professionals included 10 items inquiring about workplace role and industry experience. The questionnaire for students included 10 items inquiring about length of student agency experience, time to degree completion, and career expectations. Questionnaires allowed open-ended answers, consistent with previous research (Jamieson & Tuckey, 2017; Nilsson & Kazemi, 2016) but did not ask respondents to identify themselves or their employer/student agency.

Participants and Response Rates

Five hundred PRSA member professionals with email addresses listed in the association directory were individually sent survey invitations via email. A reminder message was sent within one week to all who had not responded. In a six-week period, 57 responses (11%) were received.

Because undergraduates could not be contacted independently to solicit participation, a convenience sample of students working in student-run agencies was conducted with the assistance of agency advisers. An explanation of the research effort and a link to the online questionnaire was provided to 45 advisers identified through their engagement in conferences or on social media. Twenty-six advisers agreed to disseminate the questionnaire link to include their students in the survey population. Not all advisers provided enrollment data as requested. The inquiry yielded 81 student responses over a six-week period.

Data Analysis

The inability to randomly identify and independently solicit survey participation from students prevented a statistical comparison between the data collected in the two surveys. Instead, responses were tallied in percentages, as shown in Figures 2 and 3. Each of the 15 MAAS questions presented a statement about some common action or response of the public relations workplace, as shown in Table 1. Responses of “Almost Always,” “Very Frequently,” and “Somewhat Frequently” were collapsed during data analysis to result in a summary percentage score for “Frequently or Always Mindful.” Responses of “Somewhat Infrequently,” “Very Infrequently,” and “Almost Never” were collapsed during data analysis to result in a summary percentage score for “Infrequently or Almost Never Mindful.” Comments offered by respondents were reviewed for topic and thematic consistency. Some examples are offered below.


Nearly all PRSA member professionals were college degree holders (bachelor’s degree, 57%; master’s degree, 42%). One in three respondents reported attainment of APR or College of Fellows designation. More than 80% of professionals reported 11 or more years in PR or a closely related field. Work environments reported included nonprofit (24%), agency (15%), corporate (15%), education (14%), government or military (10%), medical (3%), independent practice (3%) and others (12%), including travel and financial services.

With regard to student participants, nearly all respondents (91%) reported more than three years of collegiate experience, and 83% planned degree completion within the year. When asked their first choice for a career, students chose public relations (46%), advertising (32%), marketing (7%), social media (2%), telecommunications (2%), or other (8%), including sales and event planning. When asked about their student agency involvement, 55% reported being new to the agency experience and 48% reported two or more academic terms of involvement. Respondents indicated a variety of work focus among student agencies, including public relations (31%), social media (26%), advertising (23%), marketing (11%), and other (9%), including videography and media relations. 

Mindfulness Defined

Regarding RQ1 about how the concept of mindfulness is defined, a large majority of PR professionals (98%) and undergraduate students (93%) reported familiarity with mindfulness as a term. Respondents then indicated agreement with one or more of 11 possible definitions of mindfulness, as shown in Table 1. When asked if mindfulness was relevant to public relations work, 50% of professionals answered in the affirmative. Among undergraduate respondents, 24% answered in the affirmative. When asked if their workplace was a mindful place, 36% of professionals responded yes, 38% responded no, and 25% were unsure. When asked if their student agency was a mindful place, 53% of undergraduates responded yes, 21% responded no, and 25% were unsure. Professionals provided 42 comments elaborating on their perception of mindfulness in the workplace. Undergraduates provided 39 comments elaborating on their perception of mindfulness in the student agency workplace. Selected comments are shown in Figure 2.

Mindful Attention Awareness Scale

For RQ2, which asked about the similarities and differences between professionals’ and undergraduates’ views of workplace interactions, both professionals and students reported the highest perceptions of mindful awareness in the same four workplace action or response areas (see Table 2). Low perceptions of mindful awareness by both PR professionals and students were in alignment in three of the four lowest-ranked areas.

PR professionals reported the highest perceptions of mindful awareness in the action or response areas of physical movement (96%), attentiveness to belongings (94%), pace of activity (90%), and multitasking (83%). PR professionals reported the lowest perceptions of mindful awareness in the action or response areas of short-term memory recall (56%), inattentive listening (e.g., forgetting a person’s name shortly after hearing it) (52%), physical tension or discomfort (38%), and emotional response (38%).

Undergraduates reported the highest perceptions of mindful awareness in the action or response areas of attentiveness to belongings (93%), physical movement (90%), multitasking (85%), and pace of activity (84%). Undergraduates reported the lowest perceptions of mindful awareness in the action or response areas of inattentive listening (54%), mental preoccupation (44%), short-term memory recall (30%), and emotional response (25%).


The results of this exploratory study document that PR professionals and undergraduates are familiar with mindfulness as a concept. Most respondents reported that mindfulness is related to presence in the moment and that it has links to productivity and meditation. Few professionals and students agreed with grossly inaccurate characterizations of mindfulness—that it is about fixing something wrong with you, suppressing bad feelings, or is some form of disguised Buddhism. But only half of the professionals and just 24% of undergraduates indicated a relevant connection between mindfulness and public relations work.

Respondents readily offered their perceptions of the mindfulness of their professional or academic workplace. Strong similarities of perceptions of workplace social order were noted throughout the responses. Among professionals, those reporting a perception that their workplace was mindful were in the minority. Overall, the comments from professionals affirm that PR work can be simultaneously autonomous but stressful, and outcomes can be ambiguous, yet deadline-driven. Professionals reported time management flexibility in an environment with long work hours.

Overall, undergraduates offered a stronger perception of a mindful (academic) workplace, with slightly more than half answering in the affirmative. This may be attributable to students’ greater freedom generally because students are unlikely to spend an entire day sitting in an office. Still, students had their own set of workplace stressors that included distractions, interpersonal conflict, hurt feelings, and lack of time to do their best quality work. Student comments reflect strikingly similar perceptions of workplace social order as those suggested by professionals.

No professionals reported mindfulness interventions presented in their workplace, and only one undergraduate reported a presentation of a mindfulness intervention: “Most recently our professor has taken a few moments to help do mindfulness exercises. I’ve really liked it because it has slowed down my morning and helped me focus on what my tasks are ahead.”

The fact that PR professionals and students responded so similarly to the items on the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale suggests that, when put in stressful situations, PR professionals and students perceive their environment and responses in much the same way. There is, in this context, a shared social order.

The strong similarities between reported perceptions of mindfulness by students and professionals suggest undergraduates could emotionally relate to concerns of the profession before they enter it. On the other hand, the lack of widespread perception among students that mindfulness is relevant in PR may suggest a lack of understanding of how mindfulness intervention can be a valuable coping strategy in a stressful occupation.

If undergraduates were made aware that some of their perceptions of specific mindfulness strengths and weaknesses align with those of working PR professionals, students might have a greater appreciation of what it is like to be a professional. Likewise, if undergraduates were educated to the benefits of mindfulness intervention as a coping strategy in PR, they might be more likely to see mindfulness as an essential skill to master before entering the workplace.

Educators are well aware that the public relations field is undergoing extensive transformational change, which can result in feelings of anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and helplessness (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018; USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, 2019). Helping public relations undergraduates through a systematic mindfulness intervention could help students cope with the immediate stresses of change within the academic world and, over the long term, prepare for stresses they will face in a rapidly changing field.

A systematic mindfulness intervention has the potential to do more than just help students navigate their way through problems. It can reinforce appropriate social order through demonstrating the importance of facing every professional encounter with poise, grace, and a strong sense of professional ethics. Even if ours was a perfect world free of all professional conflict, mindfulness would still be valuable to help people understand themselves and the others with whom they interact.

Limitations of the Study and Future Directions for Research

In the context of identifying survey populations, this exploratory study required some accommodations. In order to easily identify a population of PR professionals for the survey, the study targeted PRSA members. There was no way to efficiently identify and survey public relations professionals who were not among the association’s membership.

There was no way to randomly survey undergraduates studying public relations and planning to enter the PR career field. Therefore, in order to identify a population of undergraduates for survey, the study targeted university student-run PR agencies. Agency advisers were solicited to distribute the undergraduate survey link to their students. Although advisers were willing to do this, the number of students that received the link is unknown because not all advisers complied with a request for their agency enrollment. The different methods of reaching PR professionals and students prevent any statistical comparison of results.

These structural limitations illustrate some of the opportunities that exist for future research to build upon the findings presented here. Future research could include use of the MAAS for a larger, random survey of professionals and students. This would allow quantitative comparison of mindful attention awareness scores between two populations. In addition, the MAAS could be used to survey public relations educators to allow understanding of their perceptions of mindful awareness at work.

More descriptive qualitative research methods such as focus groups or in-depth interviews could be conducted to develop a detailed picture of how mindful and mindless actions impact the practice of public relations by professionals, educators, and undergraduates preparing for the workplace. Employers consistently argue that undergraduates enter the workplace lacking basic skills (Gaschen & Swanson, 2014), and a research inquiry could dig deeper into why those skills are perceived to be absent and whether mindlessness in the academic environment plays a role.

Structured mindfulness interventions could be undertaken in the public relations workplace to learn more about the stress professionals face and the coping methods they apply. Likewise, structured interventions could be planned and carried out in higher education programs. The documented results of these efforts could illustrate the efficacy of mindfulness in helping undergraduates cope with stress related to career preparation. 

People’s level of mindful awareness may vary (Nilsson & Kazemi, 2016), making it common for someone to slip from a state of mindful awareness to one of mindless busyness. The body of literature on mindfulness could be advanced by different types of inquiries into how workers can catch themselves when distraction occurs, and what they do to regain a more mindful composure. All of these ideas would offer valuable additional knowledge about public relations practice and undergraduate preparation for PR careers. There would also be new insights into the social order that manifests as people work together to prepare for and then engage in public relations work.


It is important to understand that workplace conflicts may be symptoms of a bigger problem–an absence of mindfulness in the workplace. This absence of mindfulness is relevant because social order can be manifested in disorder as organizations and the people working within them struggle to be productive and creative. The construct of social order framed this inquiry because in public relations there is a great need for balancing productivity and creativity, especially as the technological demands of public relations work continue to expand. Professionals and educators in many other occupational fields recognize the importance of mindfulness as a contributor to a socially ordered workplace. It is hoped the findings of this exploratory study will prompt consideration and further inquiry in our field.

Table 1

Mindfulness Defined and Workplace Relevance Explained by PR Professionals and PR Students

What do you think Mindfulness is all about?


It’s about being aware or present in the moment.38%17%
It’s about increasing productivity.14%19%
It’s the same as meditation.12%11%
It’s about slowing down productivity.3%0
It’s about making you smarter.3%7%
It’s about fixing something wrong with you.3%3%
It’s the newest trendy thing.3%3%
It’s about suppressing bad feelings.1%2%
It’s Buddhism in disguise.1%2%
It accompanies yoga.1%6%
It’s about escaping reality.02%
It’s relevant to public relations work.50%24%
It’s very irrelevant to public relations work.00

Note. Multiple responses allowed. Fifty-five professionals responded with a total of 88 responses. Sixty-seven students responded with a total of 141 responses.

Figure 2

Mindful Workplace? – Comments by Professionals and Undergraduates Completing the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS)

Total number of comments = 42
Total number of comments = 39

Is your workplace a mindful place?
Yes – 36%
No – 38%
Not sure – 25%

Is your student agency a mindful place?
Yes – 53%
No – 21%
Not sure – 25%
Selected comments:
We are dealing with communicating facts and details to larger audiences so it is important to be mindful of accuracy, tone and potential impact. The problem is some routine, repeated prep work can feel mindless.

Everybody is running around trying to put out today’s fires. There isn’t a lot of time for mindfulness or planning or even focusing on a project.

If you feel bad you bury it to be a good employee.

It takes conscious effort, but when the days are long and it’s dark when you arrive and when you leave, it’s really important to remember WHY we show up every day.

Each person has their own way to release stress. Some go for a way, some leave early to take an exercise class, some come in a bit later to exercise in the morning. Our agency understands the need to balance hard work and those of the individual. We also believe in having fun at work and implement different ways to do that as well.

I have a lot of autonomy at work and I consider myself mindful. Whether the workplace is ‘mindful,’ I am unsure.
Selected comments:
At our student-run agency, students show mindfulness to their co-workers, customers, and advisors. It is about being aware of everyone’s thoughts and feelings and using that awareness to make the right decisions. 

We’re taught to be mindful of how our work impacts our clients, and we have to think about our audience’s POV before we do anything.

Recently, people are preoccupied with other school work/priorities that it feels like often times no ones really all “there” or exhibiting their best thinking/work.

Sometimes the workload is so intense I have to go on autopilot grind mode and get things done as fast as I can. I feel like I don’t get the time to make the best work possible.

The agency does encourage you to think critically and reflect, but it’s not mindfulness because there isn’t enough time and energy to devote to think about your thinking.

Note. Selected comments are presented here as they were written.

Table 2

Perceptions of Mindful Attention Awareness by PR Professionals and PR Undergraduates Completing the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS)

Workplace Action or Response 
Professionals (n = 57)

(n = 81)
Workplace Action or Response
Frequently or Always MindfulInfrequently or Almost Never MindfulFrequently or Always MindfulInfrequently or Almost Never Mindful
Physical movement96%3%93%6%Attentiveness to belongings
Attentiveness to belongings94%5%90%9%Physical movement
Pace of activity90%9%85%14%Multitasking
Multitasking83%16%84%15%Pace of activity
“In the now”81%18%83%16%Eating
Task awareness81%18%81%18%Focus
“Running on automatic”81%18%78%21%“In the now”
Eating80%20%78%21%Task awareness
Mental preoccupation77%22%78%21%Physical tension or discomfort
Focus74%25%75%24%The personal experience
The personal experience67%32%75%24%“Running on automatic”
Emotional response61%38%74%25%Emotional response
Physical tension or discomfort61%38%69%30%Short-term memory recall
Inattentive listening47%52%55%44%Mental preoccupation
Short-term memory recall43%56%45%54%Inattentive listening


Aikens K. A., Astin J., Pelletier K. R., Levanovich K., Baase, C. M., Park Y. Y., & Bodnar, C.M. (2014). Mindfulness goes to work: Impact of an online workplace intervention. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine56(7), 721–731. https://doi.org/10.1097/JOM.0000000000000209

Alexander, J. C. (1992). The promise of a cultural sociology: Technological discourse and the sacred and profane information machine. In R. Munch and N. J. Smelser (Eds.), Theory of culture (pp. 293-323). University of California Press.

Arenstein, B. (2019, June 11). New study says the media relations landscape is getting more fragmented. PR News. http://www.prnewsonline.shared.ly/media+relationsOnclusivefragmented2019+report?ozsourceacebook&ozmedium=Social+Media&ozpid=Zjg2Mzgw&ozname=Global+Journalism+Report&ozsurvey=YTkwYzEx

Barrett, S. (2011, June 15). GolinHarris sets fundamental restructure in motion. PRweek. https://www.prweek.com/article/1264056/golinharris-sets-fundamental-restructure-motion

Bazarko, D., Cate, R. A., Azocar, F., & Kreitzer, M. (2013). The impact of an innovative mindfulness-based stress reduction program on the health and well-being of nurses employed in a corporate setting. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health28(2), 107-133. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15555240.2013.779518

Boyatzis, R. E., & Yeganeth, B. (2012, March). Mindfulness: Do you tune in or out? Leadership Excellence,  4.

Brendel, W., & Cornett-Murtada, V. (2019). Professors practicing mindfulness: An action research study on transformed teaching, research, and service. Journal of Transformative Education17(1), 4-23. https://doi.org/10.1177/1541344618762535 

Broderick, P. C. (2013, September 12). Why teaching mindfulness benefits students’ learning. MindShift. http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/09/why-teaching-mindfulness-benefits-students-learning/

Brown, K.W., & Ryan, R.M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822-848. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.84.4.822

Brown, K. W., Ryan, R. M., & Creswell, J. D. (2007). Mindfulness: Theoretical foundations and evidence for its salutary effects. Psychological Inquiry, 18(4), 211-237. https://doi.org/10.1080/10478400701598298

Brown, K. W., West, A. M., Loverich, T. M., & Biegel, G. M. (2011). Assessing adolescent mindfulness: Validation of an adapted mindful attention awareness scale in adolescent normative and psychiatric populations. Psychological Assessment23(4), 1023–1033. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0021338

Bush, L., Haygood, D., & Vincent, H. (2017). Student-run communications agencies: Providing students with real-world experiences that impact their careers. Journalism & MassCommunication Educator, 72(4), 410-424. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077695816673254 

Bush, L., & Miller, B. M. (2011). U.S. student-run agencies: Organization, attributes and adviser perceptions of student learning outcomes. Public Relations Review, 37(5), 485-491. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2011.09.019

Byrne, E. K., & Thatchenkery, T. (2019). Cultivating creative workplaces through mindfulness. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 32(1), 15-31. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOCM-10-2017-0387

Caldwell, K. L., Baime, M. J., & Wolever, R. Q. (2012). Mindfulness based approaches to obesity and weight loss maintenance. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 34(3), 269-282. https://doi.org/10.17744/mehc.34.3.t016616717774643

Capaldi, E. D. (2011, November-December). Budget cuts and educational quality. Academe. http://www.aaup.org/article/budget-cuts-and-educational-quality#.VpLDI8A4Glk

Carroll, M. (2006). Awake at work: 35 practical Buddhist principles for discovering clarity and balance in the midst of work’s chaos. Shambhala Publications.

Carufel, R. (2019, March 18). The most stressful jobs of 2019 – PR executive ranked among top 10. Agility PR Solutions. https://www.agilitypr.com/pr-news/public-relations/the-most-stressful-jobs-of-2019-pr-executive-ranked-among-top-10/

Castellano, S. (2016). Welcome generation Z to work. Talent Development, 70(2), 18.

Castille, C., Sawyer, K., Thoroughgood, C., & Buckner V, J. (2015). Some key research questions for mindfulness interventions. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 8(4), 603-609. https://doi.org/10.1017/iop.2015.86 

Chiesa, A., & Malinowski, P. (2011). Mindfulness-based approaches: Are they all the same? Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67(4), 404-424. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.20776 

Commission on Public Relations Education. (2018). Fast forward: Foundations + future state. Educators + practitioners: The Commission on Public Relations Education 2017 report on undergraduate education. http://www.commissionpred.org/ commission-reports/fast-forward-foundations-future-state-educators-practitioners/

Cotler, J. L., DiTursi, D., Goldstein, I., Yates, J., & DelBelso, D. (2017). A mindful approach to teaching emotional intelligence to undergraduate students online and in person. Information Systems Education Journal, 15(1), 12-25. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1135358.pdf

Crawford, E. C., Fudge, J., Hubbard, G. T., & Filak, V. F. (2013). The mass comm type: Student personality traits, motivations, and the choice between news and strategic communication majors. Journalism & Mass Communication Editor, 68(2), 104-118. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077695813478180

Drabicky, V. (2019, July 9). Automation is fueling growth but killing advertising agencies as we know them. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2019/07/09/automation-is-fueling-growth-but-killing-advertising-agencies-as-we-know-them/#72eb11cb61d9

Eisenstadt, S. N. (1992). The order-maintaining and order-transforming dimensions of culture. In R. Munch and N. J. Smelser (Eds.), Theory of culture (pp. 64-88). University of California Press.

Elliott, S. (2012, March 1). Public relations defined, after an energetic public discussion. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/02/business/media/public-relations-a-topic-that-is-tricky-to-define.html 

Faizer, M. (2017, October 2). How to bring mindfulness into a journalism curriculum. MediaShift. http://mediashift.org/2017/10/bring-mindfulness-journalism-curriculum/

Flaherty, C. (2014, April 9). So much to do, so little time. Inside Higher Education. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/04/09/research-shows-professors-work-long-hours-and-spend-much-day-meetings#.XxW65o-oH2I.link

Gaschen, D. J., & Swanson, D. J. (2014, January 4). Critical communications skills: A profile of what technical proficiencies entry-level public relations professionals need to succeed [Paper presentation]. Hawaii University International Conference for Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences, Honolulu, Hawaii, United States.

Gose, B. (2010, July 25). Goodbye to those overpaid professors in their cushy jobs. The Chronicle of Higher Education. http://chronicle.com/article/Goodbye-to- Those-Overpaid-P/123633/ 

Gotlieb, M. R., McLaughlin, B., & Cummins, R. G. (2017). 2015 Survey of journalism and mass communication enrollments: Challenges and opportunities for a changing and diversifying field. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator72(2), 139–153. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077695817698612

Grasser, K. (2013, Summer). Are faculty getting squeezed? University of Phoenix Faculty Matters, 25-29.

Guo, S. J., & Anderson L. B. (2018). Workplace adversity and resilience in public relations: Accounting for the lived experiences of public relations practitioners. Public Relations Review, 44(2), 236-246. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2018.02.002 

Hanh, T. N., & Ware, K. (2017). Happy teachers change the world: A guide for cultivating mindfulness in education. Parallax Press.

Hayes, S. (n.d.). About ACT. Association for Contextual Behavioral Science. https://contextualscience.org/about_act

Haynes, D., Irvine, K., & Bridges, M. (2013). The Blue Pearl: The efficacy of teaching mindfulness practices to college students. Buddhist – Christian Studies, 33, 63-82. https://www.jstor.org/stable/43185109 

Hede, A. J. (2017). Using mindfulness to reduce the health effects of community reaction to aircraft noise. Noise & Health19(89), 165–173. https://doi.org/10.4103/nah.NAH_106_16

Herda, D. N., Cannon, N. H., & Young, R. F. (2019). Workplace mindfulness and its effect on staff auditors’ audit quality-threatening behavior. Behavioral Research in Accounting31(1), 55–64. https://doi.org/10.2308/bria-52215

Hott, B. L., & Tietjen-Smith, T. (2018). The professional development needs of tenure track faculty at a regional university. Research in Higher Education Journal, 35. http://www.aabri.com/manuscripts/172766.pdf

Hunt, J. (2008). Make room for daddy… and mommy: Helicopter parents are here. The Journal of Academic Administration in Higher Education4(1), 9-11.

Huppert, F. A., & Johnson, D. M. (2010). A controlled trial of mindfulness training in schools: The importance of practice for an impact on well-being. Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(4), 264-274. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439761003794148

Hyland, T. (2017). McDonaldizing spirituality: Mindfulness, education, and consumerism. Journal of Transformative Education, 15(4), 334-356. https://doi.org/10.1177/1541344617696972 

Jamieson, S. D., & Tuckey, M. R. (2017). Mindfulness interventions in the workplace: A critique of the current state of the literature. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology22(2), 180-193. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ocp0000048 

Jeong, J. (2011). Practitioners’ perceptions of their ethics in Korean global firms. Public Relations Review, 37(1), 99-102. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2010.09.004

Jiang, H., & Shen, H. (2013). Toward a theory of public relations practitioners’ own conflict: Work versus life. Journal of Public Relations Research25(3), 259-279. https://doi.org/10.1080/1062726X.2013.788446

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2001). Full catastrophe living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation. Piatkus Books.

Kim, C. (2015). Pedagogical approaches to student-run PR firms using service learning: A case study. Teaching Journalism & Mass Communication, 5(1), 57-68. https://aejmc.us/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2015/07/tjmc-s15-kim.pdf

Kost, R. (2020, February 12). The (over) promise of the mindfulness revolution. San Francisco Chronicle. https://www.sfchronicle.com/culture/article/The-over-promise-of-the-mindfulness-revolution-15038783.php

Kumar, M., Kalakbandi, V., Prashar, S., Neelu, & Parashar, A. (2017). Overcoming the effect of low self-esteem on public speaking anxiety with mindfulness-based interventions. Decision, 44(4), 287-296. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40622-017-0166-4 

Lau, W. (n.d.). The salary of entry-level public relations. Houston Chronicle. https://work.chron.com/salary-entry-level-public-relations-6157.html

Langer, E. J. (1989). Mindfulness. Da Capo Press.

Lang, P., Sheinman, N., Hadar, L. L. Gafni, D., & Milman, M. (2018). Preliminary investigation of whole-school mindfulness in education programs and children’s mindfulness-based coping strategies. Journal of Child & Family Studies27(10), 3316–3328. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-018-1156-7

Lee, C. (2020, April 10). Exciting careers: 30 thrilling & unique options that pay well . TradeSchools.net. https://www.trade-schools.net/articles/exciting-careers.asp

Lee, K. (2012). Consumer processing of virtual experience in e-commerce: A test of an integrated framework. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(6), 2134-2142. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2012.06.018

Levasseur, A. (2012, April 9). The importance of teaching mindfulness. MindShift. http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/04/the-importance-of-teaching-mindfulness/

Lombardi, J. V. (2013). How universities work. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Luberto, C. M., & McLeish, A. C. (2018). The effects of a brief mindfulness exercise on state mindfulness and affective outcomes among adult daily smokers. Addictive Behaviors77, 73–80. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2017.09.013 

Mahmood, L., Hopthrow, T., & Randsley de Moura, G. (2016). A moment of mindfulness: Computer-mediated mindfulness practice increases state mindfulness. Plos One11(4). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0153923

Marcus, J. (2019, February 26). Most Americans don’t realize state funding for higher ed fell by billions. PBS Newshour. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/education/most-americans-dont-realize-state-funding-for-higher-ed-fell-by-billions

Mars, M., & Oliver, M. (2016). Mindfulness is more than a buzz word: Towards a sustainable model of health care. Journal of the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society22(1), 7–10.

Mattis-Namgyel, E. (2011). The power of an open question. Shambhala Publications.

McRaney, D. (2011). You are not so smart. Gotham Books.

Mehrsafar, A. H., Strahler, J., Gazerani, P., Khabiri, M., Sánchez, J. C. J., Moosakhani, A., & Zadeh, A. M. (2019). The effects of mindfulness training on competition-induced anxiety and salivary stress markers in elite Wushu athletes: A pilot study. Physiology & Behavior210. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2019.112655

Meola, K. (2019, September 10). Stars who swear by meditation: Connie Britton, Jenna Dewan, Megan Fox and more explain benefits. Us. https://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-body/pictures/celebrities-who-meditate-share-mental-physical-health-benefits/

Mitchell, M., Leachman, M., Masterson, K., & Waxman, S. (2018, October 4). Unkept promises: State cuts to higher education threaten access and equity. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. https://www.cbpp.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/10-4-18sfp.pdf 

Montanari, K. M., Bowe, C. L., Chesak, S. S., & Cutshall, S. M. (2019). Mindfulness: Assessing the feasibility of a pilot intervention to reduce stress and burnout. Journal of Holistic Nursing37(2), 175-188. https://doi.org/10.1177/0898010118793465

National Association of Colleges and Employers (2016). Job Outlook 2016: The attributes employers want to see on new college graduates’ resumes. https://www.naceweb.org/career-development/trends-and-predictions/job-outlook-2016-attributes-employers-want-to-see-on-new-college-graduates-resumes/

Nilsson H, & Kazemi A. (2016) Reconciling and thematizing definitions of mindfulness: The big five of mindfulness. Review of General Psychology, 20(2), 183-193. https://doi.org/10.1037/gpr0000074

Norton, A. (2018, November 8). Number of Americans practicing yoga, meditation surged in last six years. United Press International. https://www.upi.com/Health_News/2018/11/08/Numberof-Americans-practicing-yoga-meditation-surged-in-last-six-years/4871541738659/

O’Hara, P. E. (2013). Like a dragon in water. In Tricycle Teachings: Meditation, (Vol. 2, pp. 28-30). Tricycle. https://tricycle.org/ebooks/tricycle-teachings-meditation-vol-2/

Passmore, J. (2019). Mindfulness in organizations (Part 2): A practitioners’ guide to applying mindfulness-based approaches in leadership development, workplace wellbeing and coaching. Industrial & Commercial Training51(3), 165-173. https://doi.org/10.1108/ICT-07-2018-0064

Patel, D. (2018, January 18). Famous athletes who meditate to improve their game and get that Zen edge. Zenfulspirit. https://zenfulspirit.com/2018/01/18/athletes-who-meditate/

Pearson, M., McMahon, C., & O’Donovan, A. (2018). Potential benefits of teaching mindfulness to journalism students. Asia Pacific Media Educator28(2), 186-204. https://doi.org/10.1177/1326365X18800080

Perlmutter, D. D. (2017, January 6). Administration 101: Deciding to lead: Are you prepared for the types, scale, and severity of management challenges? The Chronicle of Higher Education, 63(18), D4. https://www.chronicle.com/article/Administration-101-Deciding/238757

Phang, C.-K., Mukhtar, F., Ibrahim, N., & Sidik, S. M. (2016). Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS): Factorial validity and psychometric properties in a sample of medical students in Malaysia. The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice, 11(5), 305-316. https://doi.org/10.1108/JMHTEP-02-2015-0011

Pickert, K. (2014, January 23). The mindful revolution. Time. https://time.com/1556/the-mindful-revolution/

Rainie, L., & Anderson, J. (2017, May 3). The future of jobs and job training. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2017/05/03/the-future-of-jobs-and-jobs-training/

Rechtschaffen, D. (2016). The mindful education workbook: Lessons for teaching mindfulness to students. W.W. Norton.

Reuben, R. C., & Sheldon, K. M. (2019). Can mindfulness help law students with stress, focus, and well-being? An empirical study of 1Ls at a midwestern law school. Southwestern Law Review48(2), 241–265. 

Richo, D. (2005). The five things we cannot change: And the happiness we find by embracing them. Shambhala Publications.

Semple, R. J., Droutman, V., & Reid, B. A. (2017). Mindfulness goes to school: Things learned (so far) from research and real-world experience. Psychology in the Schools, 54(1), 29-52. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.21981

Serafin, G. M. (2007). Media mindfulness. In D. Macedo & S. R. Steinberg (Eds.), Media literacy: A reader (pp. 178-186).

Schiffrin, H. H., Liss, M., Miles-McLean, H., Geary, K. A., Erchull, M. J., & Tashner, T. (2013). Helping or hovering?: The effects of helicopter parenting on college students’ well-being. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 23, 548-557. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-013-9716-3

Skidelsky, W. (2011, January 1). Stars’ meditation technique gains mental health experts’ approval. The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/jan/02/mindfulness-meditation-meg-ryan-goldie-hawn

Soni, V. (2019, July 14). The loneliness crisis on U.S. college campuses. The Los Angeles Times, A18.

Swanson, D. J. (2012). From ‘Hour of Power’ to ‘Days of Demise’: Media portrayals of crisis and fractured social order within Robert H. Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral Ministry. Critical Studies in Crisis Communication, 1, 127-153. http://cssc.uscannenberg.org/cases/v1/v1art8

Swanson, D. J. (2017). Real world career preparation: A guide to creating a university student-run communications agency. Peter Lang.

Sweeney, S. (2010, May 25). Signs of life in the public relations job market. Public Relations Strategist. https://apps.prsa.org/Intelligence/TheStrategist/Articles/view/8643/1013/Signs_of_life_in_the_public_relations_job_market#.XxXQ7h0pDBI

The Mindfulness in Schools Project (2014). Retrieved from http://mindfulnessinschools.org/

Tulgan, B. (2015). Bridging the soft skills gap: How to teach the missing basics to today’s young talent. John Wiley & Sons.

USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations. (2019). 2019 global communications report.  http://assets.uscannenberg.org/docs/2019-global-communications-report.pdf

Viafora, D. P., Mathiesen, S. G., & Unsworth, S. J. (2015). Teaching mindfulness to middle school students and homeless youth in school classrooms. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24(5), 1179–1191. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-014-9926-3

Witmer, D. F., & Swanson, D. J. (2020). Public relations management: A team-based approach (3rd ed.). KendallHunt.

Wolever, R. Q., Schwartz, E. R., & Schoenberg, P. L. A. (2018). Mindfulness in corporate America: Is the Trojan Horse ethical? Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine24(5), 403–406. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2018.0171 

Woloshin, M. A. (2009, July). Compromising position: Looking for senior-level jobs after a layoff. Public Relations Tactics. https://apps.prsa.org/Intelligence/Tactics/Articles/view/6C-070914/101/Compromising_Position_Looking_for_senior_level_job#.XxXS4R0pDBI

Wong, K. F., Massar, S. A. A., Chee, M. W. L., & Lim, J. (2018). Towards an objective measure of mindfulness: Replicating and extending the features of the breath-counting task. Mindfulness, 9, 1402-1410.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0880-1

Wupperman, P., Marlatt, G., Cunningham, A., Bowen, S., Berking, M., Mulvihill-Rivera, N., & Easton, C. (2012). Mindfulness and modification therapy for behavioral dysregulation: Results from a pilot study targeting alcohol use and aggression in women. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68(1), 50-66. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.20830

Appendix A

PRSA Member Professional Questions From the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale

Undergraduate student questions read, When I am working in the student agency…

Here is a collection of statements about experiences that can occur at work in public relations. Using the 1-6 scale as shown, please indicate how frequently or infrequently you perceive having these experiences: [1] Almost Always, [2] Very Frequently, [3] Somewhat Frequently, [4] Somewhat Infrequently, [5] Very Infrequently, [6] Almost Never. Please answer according to how you perceive your work experience, as opposed to what you think your experience ought to be like. Please treat each item separately from the others.

When I am working, I can be experiencing some emotion and not be conscious of it until a later time.

When I am working, I lose, break or spill things because of being careless, not paying attention, or thinking of something else.

When I am working, I find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present.

When I am working, I tend to move quickly without paying attention to what I experience along the way.

When I am working, I tend not to notice feelings of physical tension or discomfort until they really grab my attention.

When I am working, I forget a person’s name almost as soon as I’ve been told it for the first time.

When I am working, it seems I am “running on automatic” without much awareness of what I’m doing.

When I am working, I rush through activities without really being attentive to them.

When I am working, I can get so focused on the goal I want to achieve that I lose touch with what I’m doing right now to get there.

When I am working, I perform jobs or tasks automatically, without being aware of what I’m doing.

When I am working, I find myself listening to someone with one ear, doing something else at the same time.

When I am working, I go to places and then wonder why I went there.

When I am working, I find myself preoccupied with the future or the past.

When I am working, I find myself doing things without paying attention.

When I am working, I snack without being aware that I’m eating.

© Copyright 2020 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Swanson, D. J. (2020). Perceptions of mindfulness among public relations professionals and students: Similarities, differences, and implications for undergraduate career preparation. Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 26-65. http://aejmc.us/jpre/2020/08/13/perceptions-of-mindfulness-among-public-relations-professionals-and-students-similarities-differences-and-implications-for-undergraduate-career-preparation/