Top Tips: Best Lesson You Learned in College

photo of a student working on a laptop in regards to what PRNEWS readers learned from their college days

On a recent trip to a department store with a big red logo, we experienced difficulty finding a shower curtain. Or towels. Or storage bins. It was then that we strolled past a big sign saying “college supplies” that we remembered the time of year that crept up on us—back to school. 

Faster than you can say “Don’t You Miss Bed Bath and Beyond?” we became inspired to reach out to you, the readers, about your own college experiences. Aside from the mandatory use of shower slides—we wondered what other nuggets of wisdom the PR community took from their college days. 

So for this edition of Top Tips, we asked communicators what lessons they took away from their years of higher learning—inside AND outside the classroom. Here are our top answers (in no particular order).

Monica Earle, Senior PR Manager, Duolingo:
"One of my PR professors in undergrad, Stephynie Perkins, would ask us at the start of every class to tell her anything from the news that day. Her point was that to be a good publicist, you have to know what's going on in the world and what journalists are thinking, talking, and writing about. The lesson has stuck with me—I start my day by listening to multiple news podcasts and reading through the newsletters I want to place Duolingo in."

Avery B. Green, assistant professor of communications & media studies, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor:
“Some of the most notable lessons I learned were... 1)Take the initiative. 2) Join your university's Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter. 3) Write an article and submit it to school publications. 4) Make friends with your fellow PR majors—they will be an asset to you as you work toward that degree. 

John Gonda, VP, media & public relations, Sage Growth Partners:
One thing I will always remember is a journalism professor stressing to our class that no matter how trivial an issue may seem, every story is important to someone, somewhere...and to always put your best effort into every piece you write. You never knew what difference it could make in a person's day.

Yolanda Taylor Brignoni, VP, external affairs and communications, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation:
“Lead with curiosity and appreciation for clear, crisp writing. I was, and still am to a certain extent, a person who likes a plan. I plotted out everything I needed to do and classes I needed to take to graduate the soonest. My parents urged me to instead look at college as an adventure—trying new things and exploring my interests—and not a race to the end. Some of the best memories I have from college are from exploring those interests. I also learned the importance of strong writing. I was a newspaper major; so, that was required. But my professors always reminded us that being able to write well and clearly distill facts and information in a way that other people can understand would serve us no matter what we ultimately did for a living. It definitely has!”

Dan Rene, Managing Director, kglobal:
“College teaches you to embrace new experiences, take risks, and be unafraid of mistakes. The world is an uncertain place. Guarantees are rare. Safety nets have holes. Those willing to put in the work, try new things, or take a chance are rewarded much more than those who do it all ‘by the book’. Problem-solving is an art and a science—and is rarely achieved on the first try. Few mistakes are so big that correcting is impossible—so worry less and try more.”

Daniel Mendez, executive communications and external engagement, Johnson & Johnson:
“During my time in college, I used to play in a band. That taught me a lot about trust, building strong relationships, effective communication and collaboration. I've carried these learnings throughout my career and they are at the core of who I am today as a professional.”

Tristan Fitzpatrick, Senior Communications Consultant, APCO Worldwide:
“A background in journalism is immensely helpful for PR careers, thinking about how to write concisely and effectively while improving media pitching skills (always a value add if you're pitching if you know what it's like to be on the other side of the fence).”

Dr. Mary Papakosmas, academic, University of Wollongong:
Something that was instilled in me while studying was the value of curiosity and continuous learning. I was reminded of this again by a guest lecturer who was speaking to my PR students on the role of AI in public relations and communication. Plenty to consider!”

Nicole Schuman, Senior Editor, PRNEWS:
"I worked for our college radio station, WSBU, as a news director. Simultaneously I worked as an editor for the school newspaper, The Bonaventure. I was running ragged, falling behind on schoolwork and executing poorly at both positions. My station manager at the time told me something I always fall back on when things get chaotic: 'You can do a half-assed job at a lot of things, or a really good job at one thing.' I often think about this when trying to do too much. I reel myself in, make a list and prioritize. Unfortunately, we live in a multi-tasking world, but not everything can demand 100% of your attention all of the time. Some things you need to say no to. I learned that and how to play Flip Cup."

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal