Director of PR Grad Program Finds Relationship Built with Students Most Rewarding

Ask the average person to describe what someone in public relations does and you will most likely get varying accounts of everything from event planning and promotion to working with the media and wrangling celebrities.

Ask YoungAh Lee, director of the public relations graduate program at Ball State, and you will get a much more nuanced answer.

“Public relations is a science of human communication behavior. It connects people at every level.”

Lee would know. After all, she has nearly 20 years’ worth of experience in the field – from entry-level positions to co-founder to professor to director. Lee got her start and initial spark for public relations serving as a public information officer for the New Zealand Embassy in South Korea.

“I didn’t even know what PR was. The job was mainly about promoting New Zealand to the Korean people and boosting the country’s reputation in Korea. As I saw my research and hard work pay off, I found myself enjoying strategic communications. It was the spark that started my career.”

From there Lee joined one of the largest PR agencies in Korea, working for clients such as Microsoft, Häagen-Dazs, and the Korean Government.

“I felt an immense amount of satisfaction in enhancing the reputation of various organizations.”

That passion led Lee to co-found her own PR consultancy with fellow colleagues of hers and then later, to further her education in the field of PR. While earning her master’s and PhD at the University of Missouri, Lee found another passion sparking, just as it had for public relations years earlier. This time, though, it was a passion for teaching.

“I took my first step as a teacher when I was a graduate assistant and found a genuine desire to teach students about the huge impact PR has as a critical means of building relationships. I wanted to develop students as PR practitioners, and from there, I found my reason to become a teacher-scholar.”

Lee followed her combined desire to practice and teach PR to Ball State University. She was brought on in 2014, and, by 2016, took on the task of revamping the graduate program.

“We needed an improved program that progressed with the new technology of the world. The times are changing rapidly, and I believe that PR should change with it.”

As director of the graduate public relations program at Ball State, Lee utilizes all of her skills honed over her years in PR to recruit, admit, advise, and educate students in public relations. She also promotes the program on a national scale, but for someone as engrained in the world of PR, it makes sense that she takes the most pride in building relationships – although at this point in her career it is with students not clients or businesses.

“I really enjoy the personal bond I create with my students. While teaching and advising them, I get to learn more about their dreams, their personalities, their strengths. I get to see them succeed and cheer them on in their endeavors. It’s such a rewarding job.”

The Master’s Degree in Public Relations at Ball State – offered either online, on-campus, or as a blend of both – delivers all the foundational and current skills and experiences necessary to lead and excel in the many facets of public relations.

Though Many Miles from Campus, Student Senses Professors’ Attention

A full-time mother of two in Round Rock, Texas, Malena Price, is about to embark on an entirely new career. With her master’s degree in public relations through Ball State Online, she is looking for a PR firm where she can try many roles until she finds her niche. For now, she’s interested in research and evaluation of communication practices.

Q: Why did you choose to continue your education with Ball State University?

After many months of searching for the right program, I found Ball State on the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) website. At the time, Ball State was the only graduate PR program in the U.S. to have their program materials certified by this society. This was extremely important to me because I wanted to find a program that was challenging and that would prepare me for an entirely new career. In my opinion, it doesn’t get any better than this, and so far, Ball State has failed to disappoint.

Q: How will a Ball State degree carry more weight than a degree from other universities? Why?

Previously, I was enrolled in an online master’s level program at a different school. I felt as if I was paying for the degree without ever learning the information. I was basically reading the information and regurgitating it. The PR program at Ball State is the exact opposite. The professors teach. We are provided with lectures and an abundance of additional resources along with actual opportunities to put that knowledge to good use. For those reasons, I think this program provides practical knowledge that can be used immediately, which prepares you for the workplace.

Q: What has been your experience with Ball State professors?

The professors at Ball State are second to none. The entire time I have spent in the program, I have felt that even though I take classes online and I am hundreds of miles away from campus, my professors take an interest in me. I feel that my professors and other classmates realize that online learning students take such classes because of our other priorities, and they have always been super supportive.

Q: Would you recommend Ball State Online to someone else?

Yes! I think Ball State does an excellent job of including the online students in the activities that are going on at the campus. I have sat through many special presentations that are made available online. Also, the online platform is great for those who cannot make it to campus.


PR Degree is a Boost to Kearns’ Freelance Business

Deborah Kearns is a recent graduate of Ball State University’s master’s degree in public relations. Living in Aurora, Colorado, Kearns needed an online master’s program that could work around her full-time job and two children. With unending encouragement from her academic advisor and the support of her family and friends, Kearns was able to complete her degree despite personal challenges.


Q: What other priorities did you have to balance while pursuing your degree?

A year after I started at Ball State, my mother fell gravely ill and died. Months later, I became pregnant with our second child and had a rough pregnancy. Months after my son’s birth, I was laid off from my job of 7.5 years. What should’ve taken just 18 months to finish instead took nearly five years.

My advisor kept encouraging me to finish. I’m forever grateful that she saw potential in me when my hope and drive faltered. I graduated in May 2017 with a 3.9 GPA, and she’s a key reason I didn’t give up. I flew to Indiana from Colorado for commencement to thank her in person.


Q: How has your Ball State degree influenced employers or coworkers?

Ball State is widely recognized as a leader in communications research and training. I’m not sure about other universities, but I know that since I’ve earned my master’s degree from Ball State, potential freelance clients take note of the fact that I pursued an advanced degree and can articulate public relations concepts and issues. Having that knowledge helps me better understand the business goals of the public relations professionals I work with to secure expert sources for my news stories in national publications.


Q: In what ways has your Ball State experience helped you determine, define, or realize your career goals?

I always knew I wanted to earn a master’s degree. I enjoy learning, and I wanted to expand my knowledge to diversify my skills beyond news journalism. Also, I am the first in my family to attend and graduate from college, so it was a personal goal to start that legacy and earn a master’s degree in a field I see myself pivoting to in the future. I also wanted to show my children, especially my young daughter, Kaylyn, that no matter what life throws at you, and no matter how much you doubt yourself along the way, you can reach your goals with hard work and grit.

There were times when throwing in the towel seemed inevitable because of my personal struggles. There were times when I was too exhausted, mentally and physically, to keep juggling so much at the same time. But I had my husband’s support and the support of friends to keep me going. And, of course, my advisor, who was always there to talk me back from the ledge of quitting. Still, in the end, I really did it to prove I could, and walking across that stage, being hooded, and receiving my diploma made all of that struggle, as bittersweet as it was, worth it.



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