My experience as a PR student in the Honors program

Melanie Van Horn with Research Poster
Melanie Van Horn presents her research analyzing Twitter messaging in public crisis situations at the fall 2019 Honors Poster Presentations.

By Melanie Van Horn (’19 public relations)

One of the most significant opportunities of attending Iowa State University has been the opportunity to participate in the Honors program. Though I always knew I wanted to pursue a degree in public relations, I realized Honors would provide an extra edge when I started the post-college job search. As I prepared for graduation in fall 2019, I was able to reflect on all the ways the Honors program positively impacted my time at Iowa State and enhanced my Greenlee experience. 

1. Honors courses and seminars

To fulfill my honors requirements, I took several honors courses and seminars that complemented my public relations major. One of my favorite classes was a seminar on microfiction, where I learned to write short stories that were between 100 to 500 words. This seminar was a fun way to stretch my brain and develop writing skills in a less traditional way. Plus, it allowed me to bring a new perspective to the PR writing I would do in later internships. 

2. Mentorship 

Through both my honors project and my honors courses, I was able to deepen my professional relationships with faculty at Iowa State. My academic adviser, Erin Wilgenbusch, also served as the adviser for my honors project, providing insight into my project and guiding me throughout the research process. I was also able to contract my crisis communication class as an honors course and worked with my professor, Joanna Schroeder, to develop a research project that took a closer look at how social media interacts with crisis situations. Both of these professors provided mentorship that was invaluable to me, and I enjoyed learning from professionals with real-world experience in the communications industry. 

3. Research 

As someone who wants a career in public relations, I knew the analytical experience of research was important. But I felt like I needed a complex background in math and science before I would be qualified to do a research project. It turns out I could do a research project that was very relevant for my field. My research project examined how social media was used in two public crisis situations—the Boston Marathon bombing and when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. I spent a lot of time analyzing Twitter messaging (including original tweets, replies, retweets and favorites) in a defined period for both situations. Through this experience, I learned research isn’t as scary as it first appears. By using critical analysis, I was able to share how social media is developing as a tool in crisis communication and highlight implications for other professionals in the industry. 

Honors provided me with a way to dive deeper into areas that interested me and provided me with valuable relationships and experiences during my time in college. If you’re a prospective Greenlee student, find out more about how the Honors program can complement your time at Iowa State and enhance your educational experience.