Tuesday, April 28, 2009

UGAAlert: Getting Better, but Still Needs Work

A few months ago, I wrote a post about UGAAlert, the University of Georgia's crisis communication plan via text messages and phone calls.  These alerts, which began after the tragedy at Virginia Tech, were intended to alert students, faculty and staff as quickly as possible about any crisis on campus (severe weather, dangerous individuals, etc.).  In my previous post, I complained about how unreliable the alert system is.  For this reason, as well as the fact that I'm graduating next weekend, I cancelled my subscription to UGAAlert when I was prompted to update my contact information last week.

Over the weekend, an unthinkable tragedy occurred in Athens. A marketing professor from the University of Georgia, George M. Zinkahn, fatally shot his wife and two other members of their theater group.  The shooting occurred on Prince Avenue, just minutes from campus and downtown.  I was working downtown at the time (this weekend was the Twilight Criterium, one of the biggest weekend celebrations in the history of Athens) and found out when one of the customers at the bar asked me to turn the TV to CNN, because Athens was on the national news.  

I had no idea what he was talking about, which I realize is completely my own fault for cancelling UGAAlert.  When I cancelled it, the website asked if I was sure that I wanted to cancel the subscription, and explained the risk that this may entail.  Looking back, I can't help but realize how ironic it was that I cancelled it right before the biggest crisis to occur in my time as a UGA student.  In all honesty, I probably wouldn't have even seen the text message or received the phone call (if I even got one, since they were known to be unreliable).  I was busy at work and certainly didn't have time to check my cell phone every time it vibrated in my pocket.  But now I keep wondering if UGA could somehow require all students, faculty and staff to sign up for this service.  Sure, it was annoying to get three texts in a row when Athens is under a tornado warning, then the warning has been lifted, then its back on.  And for some reason, even though I asked for only texts (so I could read them in class), I still always got multiple voicemails whenever something happened.  However, I think most students would rather be safe (and slightly annoyed) than sorry.  

After speaking to several of my friends who still did have UGAAlert, I found out that a message was sent out - an hour and a half after gunshots were heard at the community theater.  Apparently the message was held up because the University wanted to ensure that Zinkahn did not receive the message, alerting him to the fact that everyone knew what he had done and was looking for him.  While I commend them for realizing this important detail before immediately sending out a message to everyone on the contact list, this is something that should have been realized years ago when this system was started.  Our system was prompted by the Virginia Tech shooting, therefore the University should have thought about the fact that there may be a need to exempt certain people from alerts.  An additional 20 minutes was spent figuring out how to do this, at which point the University realized that Zinkahn's only contact number was a landline at the University.  

Thankfully, nobody else was harmed after the initial shooting, so the delayed alert did not have any negative effects.  I realize that an innovative system such as this takes time to perfect, and I can only hope that the University gets the details figured out before the next time they need to use it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Just Keep Swimming...

Last Thursday, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the PRSSA Senior Banquet at Depalma's.  Although I haven't always been able to be as involved as PRSSA as I would have liked (between jobs, internships, etc.) I truly do feel close to so many of my fellow graduating PR majors and had a wonderful time celebrating with everyone.  Before going to a big school, I was warned by so many people that you simply get lost in the crowd and don't really feel like you're as much a part of things as you do at a smaller school.  However, Thursday night showed how being in such a great school as Grady can truly make you feel special and recognized on an individual level.  

PRSSA President Stephanie Perrett gave a great welcoming, which was followed by greetings from Dean Cully Clark and Dr. Karen King, the Head of the ADPR Department.  Dr. Parker Middleton also spoke and was so inspirational and amazing to listen to.  A few seniors were recognized (Katherine Strate, Kaitlyn Darr, and Leslie Emanuele) for their outstanding work with PRSSA over the years.  

As a graduating class, we have heard our share of discouragement about entering the job market in such a tough economy.  It was refreshing to be told how much people are supporting us and how amazingly qualified we are because we will be graduating from one of the best journalism schools in the country.  I know I'm graduating with an incredibly talented group of girls (and a few boys!) that will accomplish such great things in the PR world and I can't wait to hear about everyone's adventures after college.  And for any of you who are still worried about the job market, remember the advice that was quoted from Finding Nemo, "Just keep swimming..."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It's Always Something

Whenever I'm stressed out about school, work, or life in general I always feel better if I call my mom to vent.  Today was one of those stressful days, and after about 15 minutes of my ranting and frantically listing everything I need to get done in the next few weeks, she said something that really got me thinking.

She pointed out that as soon as I make it through graduation, it'll just be on to the next huge life changing event: finding an apartment. And then on to the next: moving 800 miles away.  And then on to the next: starting a new internship.  And then who knows what?  The point was, as soon as you get through one stressful event, it's already time to tackle another.  Don't get me wrong, these are all exciting things that I'm stressed out about in a good way.  I just have a lot to think about and my mind is going a thousand different directions and it seems like it's never going to end! 

This made me think about how I can cope better with my stress. What kind of life would it be to constantly be anxious about what is coming next?  I need to enjoy each thing for what it is, and not rush through these huge milestones just so I can reach the next.  In the next few weeks, I'm going to make a serious effort to relax and enjoy being a college student.  After that, I'll move on to the details of my move to NYC.  I just need to remind myself to take things one day at a time, one event at a time, and relax and have fun while doing it.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Could YOU Go One Day Without Shoes?

Throughout my Campaigns class, I've learned all kinds of terrible statistics about the poverty rate in Athens-Clarke County. Athens has the fifth highest poverty rate (28%) for counties its size in the nation. One in four children in Athens lives in poverty. The list goes on and on.

I recently learned another poverty-related statistic that shocked me - more than 40% of the world goes without shoes every day. Most of us stress out on a daily basis about finding the perfect shoes to match our outfit (admit it ladies), so not owning a single pair is unfathomable. That is why TOMS at UGA (a client of one of the other PR Campaigns classes) is joining in the national campaign, "One Day Without Shoes," to raise awareness of what it would truly be like not to own a single pair of shoes. The purpose of the event at UGA is to get as many students as possible to spend time barefoot in honor of those who must walk shoeless every day.

Tomorrow, join TOMS at UGA from 12 - 6 p.m. on Brumby Beach and "bare your sole" while listening to live music and bouncing on the moonwalk. At 5:30 p.m., a group will walk barefoot from Brumby Beach to Bolton dining hall to conclude the event. Students who already own a pair of TOMS can participate in the “Style Your Sole” activity and design their own signature pair. TOMS at UGA will also show “For Tomorrow,” a documentary detailing the company's mission and history.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with TOMS Shoes, the company donates one pair of shoes to a child in need across the world for each pair purchased. The name "TOMS" comes from the word “tomorrow,” as the company strives to provide shoes to help the futures of countries worldwide. Since 2006, TOMS has donated over 100,000 pairs of shoes.

For more information about TOMS at UGA, check out their blog, follow them on Twitter, or search "TOMS at UGA" on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

More Advice for Graduating Seniors

Even though I've figured out what I'm doing after graduation (well, at least for the summer), I can't stop soaking up all the advice I can find for life after college. Last week was PRSSA's Senior Night, which was a small meeting geared specifically toward PR students graduating in the coming semesters. Speakers included Tom Strate (Strate Insurance Group), Mike Emanuele (Horizon Staffing), Lindsey Berryhill (Fleishman-Hillard), Kate Griffin (Kleber & Associates), Allie Carswell (Spanx), Nadine Randall (CDC), and Katherine Mason (Porter Novelli).

Unfortunately, I had to leave for work part of the way through the meeting so I only got to hear the first section.  Luckily, the meeting is summed up on PRSSA's blog.  Check out that link for helpful information on insurance, budgeting, networking, and proactively searching for your first job.

Friday, April 10, 2009

More "Great" and Less "Unknown"

A few days ago, I wrote about embracing my uncertain future.  After much anxiety about what direction my life would go after college, I finally decided to just go with the flow and stop freaking out about everything.

Well, you know how when you're waiting on food at a restaurant, it always seems to come faster if you leave the table to go to the restroom or something?  Well, this apparently applies to waiting on internships as well.  Four days after I adopted my new carefree outlook on life, I got the phone call I've been dreaming of for months!  

Finally, when people ask me what I'm doing after graduation I don't have to stare blankly at them or mumble something about the economy and the tight job market.  I will be able to tell them that I will be moving to New York in the end of May and interning with Peppercom for the summer!  I couldn't be more excited, and now I have so much to figure out and plan in the next month and a half.   

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Countdown Is On

One month from today, I will graduate from college.  I have been anxiously anticipating this day for basically my entire life, and it's exactly one month away.  As I prepare for the grueling 30 days of exams, papers, group projects, and interviews ahead of me, I wanted to take a minute to reflect on the last four years.

In my humble (and maybe somewhat biased) opinion, Athens is essentially the perfect college town.  There is an endless supply of fun things to do and interesting people to interact with.  I came here knowing nobody, and am leaving with friends I'll know for the rest of my life.  Here are just a few of my favorite things from the last four years...

School Spirit.  I went to a very small, academically-oriented high school that had no sports.  Yes, you read that right.  If we wanted to participate in a sports team, we had to join the team at our district school (I ran track, but it wasn't the same as representing my own school).  That being said, my first football game was a UGA game, and I never imagined how awesome the experience would be.  Dressing up for the home games, taking road trips with friends to the away games, and cheering on the team for the last four years has been one of the highlights of my college experience.

UGA's traditions.  Athens is full of history and traditions, and I can't help but smile every time I walk past (not under) the Arch, and hear the victory bell ringing after a home victory.  Leaving these all behind will be very sad, but I know I'll always be able to come back to the same old Athens after I've graduated and moved on.
(For those of you who don't live in Athens, the Arch marks the entrance to campus from downtown and has become somewhat of a symbol of the University.  Legend has it that if you walk under the Arch as an undergraduate, you will not graduate on time.  Any time of day, you will find students going out of their way not to walk under the Arch.  In fact, the cement steps are worn down on the sides of the Arch from so many people bypassing it.)

Experiencing a new culture.  I never realized when I moved 8 hours north from my Sarasota home, that I would end up in the South.  While Florida is geographically in the South, culturally it certainly is not.  Sweet tea, pearls, and southern accents were all foreign to me, but they have all become dear to my heart over the last four years.

Downtown Athens.  It goes without saying that downtown, with its 100+ bars and music venues, is quite popular among students.  More than the bars though, I've come to love the unique little restaurants you can't find anywhere but downtown Athens.  Last Resort, East-West, Farm 255, Five Star Day, etc... these will always be some of my favorites.

That small town feel.  Although Athens has over 100,000 residents, it still manages to feel like a small town.  I rarely have to drive my car more than 5 miles each day, and after four years I feel like I know everyone.  I literally can't walk around town or across campus without running into a familiar face, and I absolutely love that.  

The list goes on and on, and I could probably write a whole book based on my amazing college experience.  But (not to be cliche), all good things must come to an end... One month from today, I will walk under the Arch for my first time proudly wearing my cap and gown and ready for life after Athens, but I'll always be a bulldog at heart.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Are College Towns Recession Proof?

I have always thought living in a college town like Athens is kind of like living in a bubble.  Being in the transition phase of college, where you're finally living on your own but can still turn to your parents to support, can feel like a dream.  You have all of the freedom you wanted in high school, but don't technically have the "real" responsibilities of adult life.  In all likelihood, everything you need is within a one mile radius of your apartment.  Life is basically perfect.

Sometimes I wonder if, for these reasons, it seems that college towns are immune to the bigger problems of "real" cities.  I realize that Athens is a real city and definitely has it's share of real problems (see my posts on my Anti-Poverty Campaign).  However, sometimes it's easy to feel like we don't have it as bad as everywhere else.  The unemployment rate is far lower than it is in other cities, generally because the University provides so many jobs to the community.  Unlike some of my friends in the "real world," all of my peers are students, so I'm not constantly hearing about co-workers being laid off.  Students can still turn to mom and dad to fund their expensive meals out and nights drinking downtown.  

Maybe it's this mentality of "living the dream" that will make it that much harder to graduate and leave this all behind.  Only once we start searching for jobs do some of us start to truly realize the gravity of the situation our country is facing.  I guess we all have to grow up some time, but as I said in my last post, for now I'm going to enjoy every minute of living in my little college bubble.  

Monday, April 6, 2009

Embracing the Great Unknown

For the first time in my entire life, I don't have a plan. Throughout high school, I always had a comfortable routine - a balance between school work, part-time jobs, riding my horse, and track practice.  By my junior year, I started looking at colleges and quickly decided I wanted to go to UGA.  I got accepted and finalized my enrollment by December of my senior year.  I knew where I would be after high school while many of my other friends continued to fill out applications and go on campus visits.

Aside from picking up a second degree, I have stuck with my original major that I declared in my freshman year of college.  While many of my friends have changed their majors and signed up for the "five year plan," I have done what I needed to do to graduate in four years with a dual major in Business Management and Public Relations.  I have spent my summers working, studying abroad and interning.  I have done everything I could over the last four years to prepare for the next step after college.

Now that I'm a little over a month from graduation, I have no idea what that next step will be.  Like the majority of my peers, I have no job lined up yet.  I haven't looked for apartments in the city I hope to move to.  I haven't figured out how I'm going to move my entire life to a new city.  This is a strange feeling for me... I'm used to having all the answers to such pressing questions, but for once, I don't.  

I've been going through phases where I panic, start looking for more jobs and internships to apply for, look at apartments on craigslist, and research moving companies.  But I've realized there's really no use.  I have leads with several companies, and all I can do is wait for their responses.  I can't rush my future, I just have to know that things will fall into place.  So I'm waiting patiently, enjoying the last few weeks of college, and embracing my unknown future for the first time in my life.