This past fall, students in Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communications had the opportunity to soak up the experience and advice of Leza Raffel ’89, president of The Communications Solutions Group.
Raffel spent five days on campus as part of the Professionals in Residence program. While she was ostensibly there to provide insight and wisdom gleaned from her career in public relations and strategic communications, she left campus with her own takeaways from the Parkies.
Why did you choose to come back to IC to participate in the Professionals in Residence program?
My years at Ithaca College were the best years of my life, so I’m always looking for opportunities to come back to the area and spend time in the Park School of Communications. It was a really exciting invitation and I was eager to do it.
Can you describe what you worked on with some of the communication students?
I coordinated a panel called the “Unsung Heroes Panel,” where I had local nonprofits come and talk about what their specific public relations or communications needs were. For example, the fire department needed a recruitment video and Big Brothers Big Sisters needed public relations for a special event. The Ithaca College students then each spoke about what internship experience or projects they were interested in working on, so it was like a match-making service. At the end of the event they were all paired off and exchanging contact information and they all had specific projects they were going to work on together. Each time I come back I’m going to do a different “Unsung Heroes Panel” with different nonprofits and students.
We also do a lot of educational public relations at our agency, so I made arrangement with South Hill Elementary School to bring communication students there to cover a terrarium project they were working on. They received a grant at the elementary school to have the kids build terrariums, so I told the communication students to bring whichever medium they’re comfortable working with. They could do a radio show, bring their video cameras, still cameras, or do a print interview. Whatever they had in mind! I had two or three students in both sessions to interview the elementary school students and teachers and capture the whole program.
I also spoke at a lot of classes and I had designated office hours open to students.
Can you speak about the office hours you were holding throughout the week?
Students looking for feedback brought their resumes or cover letters and also asked for advice on different careers or internships they were considering. I had office hours every day and helped show students how to dig a little deeper and seek experiences that may not seem like they have much to do with communications, and to carry that over to their resumes in a way that is relevant.
How was your experience working with the IC students, especially as an alumna of the Park School?
They’re so smart, serious and passionate about what they’re doing! They’re very aware of bigger-picture issues, like life beyond Ithaca College and the challenges within our culture, world and society. They’re very committed to using their talent and communication to put some of those challenges to rest in some way, so it was a really inspiring group of students.
What does it feel like to give back to Ithaca College?
It felt so awesome! My office said that when I called in to check on things that I sounded so incredibly happy. Every time I called in I clearly was having the time of my life, and I really was. It was really great! I was there at 7:45 every morning. I had my office hours, I would find different projects to get involved with on campus, I had a great time speaking in different classes, and it was just really fun.
Though you were technically teaching, did you learn anything during your time with the students?
It was eye opening to talk in a class and see everyone working from their laptops. No one had laptops when I was in school — we had word-processors. It was so bizarre to see people just pop open a laptop or record on their iPhone. It’s just a whole new way to be an engaged student.
Is this something you would like to do again if the opportunity arises?
Yes! As a matter of fact, it’s actually part of my commitment to the Park School to come one week per semester for two years. I’ll be back in the spring and then next year!
What would you say you took away from this past week here at IC?
The students are so busy and so involved in clubs! There’s a club for everything. The really great thing was that I got to go to the kick-off pledge night for the Public Relations Student Society for America (PRSSA), and it was standing room only. They were running into the halls trying to find more chairs for people. I think they thought they needed doughnuts to encourage people to come, but no one was really there for the doughnuts! They were there to be a part of the club and that was really cool.
It’s really a win-win to give back to the school because they enabled us to do what we’re doing in our careers. I think Ithaca graduates all walk out so confident in their skills because they went to Ithaca, and it’s true. I think because we all benefited from that, we need to come back and support the current students. I’m always very loyal to IC students for internships and job opportunities. I’ve had IC students intern here and work here on the payroll, and it’s always great having them.