LOGAN—Twice is no accident for USU senior Courtney Schoen Lewis. For the second straight year, the Dallas native has been named the Utah Public Relations Student of the Year after a statewide annual competition sponsored by the Salt Lake City chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).
Lewis, who will graduate in December, was one of five finalists selected from 30 university PR students statewide. Lewis defeated four other finalists from BYU, the University Utah, and Weber State during live competitions on Oct. 23. The award was announced at the annual PRSA Golden Spike Awards in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, and came with a $1,000 check.
The $1,000 prize is very welcome, of course, she said, “but the real prize I am taking away is the one-on-one feedback I received at the conclusion of the competition.”
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This was the second straight best-in-state award for Lewis, who also won the 2009 competition. Lewis says she decided to compete again for a chance to hone her skills and receive real-world feedback. “This is my last chance, and I have to defend the title for USU, you know?” she said.
Lewis’ victory marks the third time in five years (2010, 2009, 2006) a Utah State University student has claimed top honors in the annual intercollegiate competition. Utah Valley University (2008) and University of Utah (2007) students have also been named Utah Public Relations Student of the Year.
Tiffany Harston and Boston Blake, both from BYU, took second and third place this year. Dakota Hyde from Weber State University placed fourth, and the U’s Samantha Richards was fifth.
Lewis also won this year’s annual Richter7 PR student competition, the oldest award for outstanding public relations students in Utah.
Lewis said she was “astonished” have won the annual PRSA competition, which asked students to create real-world public relations campaigns and pitch them to a panel of four PR professionals. But Lewis’ second win came as no surprise to her professors at USU.
“Courtney is not just an excellent student—she’s a PR natural,” said JCOM department head Ted Pease. “She has great instincts and the kind of work ethic that already make her a great professional.”
In fact, Lewis has worked since last fall for USU’s new Caine College of the Arts, and was hired in September as the college’s fulltime assistant director of PR and marketing.
For this year’s day-long Utah PR Student of the Year competition, the five finalists were asked to develop a campaign for the launch of Salt Lake’s new Leonardo science-technology-art center, which is planned to open in April.
“My campaign plan focused on ways the Leonardo could appeal to adults in Utah by targeting and inviting businesses in the science, technology, engineering, and arts industries to participate in innovation-inspiring company field trips to the new museum,” Lewis said. “The campaign I presented also included a birthday party-themed grand opening in April 2011 in honor of the actual birth date of Leonardo da Vinci, the museum’s namesake.”
In addition to presenting their original campaign plans for the Leonardo to a panel of four PR professionals, the finalists also pitched a story to local press, wrote a press release on deadline and responded to the judges’ questions about a crisis-management scenario.
Lewis said she was honestly surprised when her name was announced at Wednesday’s awards. “I would have been honored to support any of the other extremely qualified finalists,” she said.
Lewis says she is grateful for the list of “notes” from the judges to improve her skills. “I entered because I realized this is literally the last chance I will ever have to get such wonderful feedback without the concern that I might get fired because I handled a crisis totally wrong, or completely screwed up the opportunity to get news coverage of an event because my media pitch lacked a central angle to fit a reporter’s beat,” Lewis said.
Last year, Lewis served as president of USU’s chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, and points to this kind of professional orientation of her USU experience as one reason for her success. JCOM students “have been preparing for these types of competitions since Media Smarts and Beginning Newswriting,” she said. “Our professors are the best and have prepared us for any competition in the areas of print, PR or broadcast. I know how tough the competition is, and I believe USU students are well-equipped and ready.”
The Public Relations Society of America is the world’s largest organization for public relations professionals, with nearly 32,000 professional and student members. The Greater Salt Lake Chapter is on of about 100 local and regional chapters nationwide, with some 165 PR and communications professionals from the Salt Lake Valley and southeast Idaho.