Women's History Month - Recognizing our Chapter’s Women College of Fellows
By John Palmer, APR, assembly delegate and past president, Central Ohio Chapter
Communities and organizations recognize Women’s History Month in March to celebrate the tremendous contributions and service women provided. Women’s History Month origins as a national celebration go back to 1981 when Congress passed legislation which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week.” Over time that grew to become a monthly recognition.
PRSA Central Ohio Chapter is proud to have 180 women members, nearly 74% of its total membership. Of those 180 members, 31 have earned their APR and three are members of the PRSA College of Fellows. Through leadership service, committee work, programing development, accreditation promotion and membership engagement, women have made important contributions to our chapter.
Recognizing our Chapter’s Women College of Fellows
A distinguished recognition for PRSA is the College of Fellows, a gold standard of public relations professionals. College of Fellows is an active and honorary organization comprised of more than 350 leading practitioners and educators, each of whom has left a significant footprint on the public relations profession. Our chapter is proud to have four Fellows, three of whom are women – Sandra Knoesel, APR, Fellow PRSA; MJ Clark, MA, APR, Fellow PRSA, and Jaron Terry, MS, APR, Fellow PRSA. All these women have served as chapter president, helped with APR reviews for chapter members and earned awards including the chapter’s top professional recognition, Tom Poling Practitioner of the Year.
Sandra Knoesel, APR Fellow PRSA
Knoesel joined PRSA in 1991 and she served the chapter and East Central District for many years. Her first volunteer work with the chapter was the PRISM Awards committee and hosted the judging of the reciprocal chapter awards. She was elected as a chapter board member for two separate terms and served as chapter president in 1996. During her presidency the chapter hosted the East Central District (ECD) Conference. She served on the ECD board including chair of the board of directors. She represented the chapter and the district at PRSA Assembly. Her district and chapter service led her to be the recipient of the Don Durocher Award for PRSA leadership. She is currently serving on APR panels and for the past two years, she judged PRSA’s Bateman Competition.
Her earliest memory of the chapter goes back to the 1980s when she attended a meeting featuring Dave Ferguson, PRSA president (her previous boss), as speaker. Knoesel was working as the director of public relations for Licking Memorial Hospital in Newark and Dave invited her to attend a meeting. “I could write a book about how PRSA has helped my career,” said Knoesel. “The contacts and friends I have made over the years are invaluable. I relied on my PRSA colleagues for help and guidance on many issues. I was introduced to PRSA in Chicago when I worked for U.S. Steel. My boss (Ferguson) was 1985 PRSA International President, encouraged me to attend workshops and get involved in the community.” After relocating to Ohio, she found a job as director of communications for the State Teachers Retirement System through the PRSA job line, and she retired 25 years later as STRS Ohio’s deputy executive director of Member Benefits. “The one downside to serving on the executive leadership team for STRS Ohio was the pension fund’s board meetings occurred on the same Thursday as our monthly PRSA luncheons,” she said.
Knoesel has accumulated many memories of her experiences with PRSA but her favorite memory is attending Pat Jackson’s sessions at PRSA’s International Conference. “His rooms were always packed,” she said. “Pat, 1980 PRSA International President, was a visionary in our field. His enthusiasm and skill to tailor a message to the audience is legendary. Through these workshops, I learned about the powerful impact of behavioral-based strategies and techniques.” When she took over the leadership of the more than 100 staff members in Member Benefits at STRS, she hired Pat and his team at Jackson, Jackson & Wagner to perform a culture audit. The audit set the stage for the operations and helped them become the top customer-service pension fund in the world as measured by CEM Benchmarking.
Knoesel says we are fortunate in our community to have such a strong PRSA chapter. She is appreciative of the hard work her colleagues have done in making our chapter programming so robust. Knoesel recalls a phrase, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” “If you ask women and men for help on a committee or task force, they will say ‘yes’ most of the time, she said. “This engagement will enhance their professional skills.”
MJ Clark, MA, APR, Fellow PRSA
Clark’s first job out of college was the result of keeping in touch with a PRSSA speaker at Ohio University. Many of her jobs have come as a result of PRSSA and PRSA membership. “PRSA has provided life-long contacts who continue to provide insight and support as I have moved through jobs in many different industries, Clark said. “The training I have gotten from PRSA meetings and professional development events over the years is immeasurable. I have learned so many important things about PR, marketing, management, communications, and leadership, as well as how to apply those skills to many different industries. My most recent job as a leadership consultant, that I’ve had for the past 15 years, came from a speaker at a PRSA luncheon, so PRSA continues to help my career.” Clark joined PRSA in 1995 and was involved in the PRSSA Liaison Committee helping student chapters with programs and membership events. She served on the boards as a director and as an officer of the Central Ohio Chapter and East Central District. She served as president of the chapter in 2005 and her chapter services spans more than 20 years serving as ethics officer, treasurer, assembly delegate and chair of the masters committee and PRisms committee.
“My earliest memory is coming to my first PRSA luncheon when I was still a student at Ohio University,” Clark says. “I was so intimidated, worried about what I was wearing, scared to talk to others. I found someone who looked equally intimidated standing off in a corner and approached them to strike up a conversation. I remember everyone at our lunch table being very friendly and putting me at ease.” She is constantly inspired by how those in our industry have adapted to our changing world. “We have been able to support our organizations and communicate effectively throughout the years, even in times of great technological advancements and substantial media changes and unprecedented crises like this pandemic, because of this ability to adapt,” says Clark. “The learning in this industry doesn’t stop; it continues to evolve. And watching my PR colleagues rise to this challenge again and again greatly inspires me.”
Clark’s experience with PRSA has resulted in so many great memories but one of her favorites is when Joe Trahan gave a presentation to our chapter about how to make Media Relations Gumbo and came dressed in a chef hat and apron, walking around with a pot in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other, talking about gumbo in his best Louisiana accent. “He had us on the floor laughing, as well as learning,” said Clark.
“I can’t see how you could do anything more to engage women than to follow the purpose of this association, to help us learn more about not only the profession and how to become more skilled at our craft, but also how to cultivate strong relationships with our colleagues, business contacts and clients/customers,” Clark said. “As a woman, I’ve gotten so much out of PRSA membership. I can’t imagine a reason any female PR professional might have for not being involved in PRSA.”
Jaron Terry, MS, APR, Fellow PRSA
Terry’s PRSA membership started in Richmond, Virginia at the local PRSA chapter. She transferred her membership when she moved to Columbus in 1986. She immediately became involved with the Central Ohio chapter as an active member with committee service. Over the years she has served on nearly every committee, as delegate, two tours on the board, and as president in 2010 during the chapter’s 60th anniversary.
“When PRSA was founded in 1947, women practitioners were the minority,” Terry said. “Today, we make up the majority of membership and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2019, 73 percent of PR management jobs are filled by women.” Although Central Ohio – founded in 1950 – saw its first woman president (Ivey Farley Wilson, who was the first woman president of any PRSA chapter at the time) in 1958, it would be another two decades before a second (E. Zoe McCathrin, APR, 1979) served in that role. Since then, the majority of Central Ohio presidents have been female and Terry doesn’t see those trends reversing. “In my opinion, the greatest work ahead lies in diversity – the 2019 BLS report also notes that only 10.7 percent of PR management roles are held by African Americans, 3 percent by Asians and 3 percent by Hispanics/Latinos, she said. “We need to focus on growing and engaging these and other diverse members in our chapter and society - we will all be enriched by doing so”
Her earliest memory of the chapter included the late Tom Poling, APR, who served two years as chapter president (1985—1986). “I first met Tom while I was a student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond,” said Terry. “PRSA ICON was held at Virginia Beach my senior year in 1980, and our PRSSA chapter produced a newsletter for the conference – using portable electric typewriters and a copy shop. Tom was very generous with his time, talking with me about job opportunities in Columbus. After I was recruited to my home state by Mount Carmel West (where I met my husband of now 30+ years), I attended my first Central Ohio mixer at the Worthington Inn in 1986. Tom took me under his wing, introducing me to everyone and making me feel very welcome. He got me involved in committee work right away and the rest is history.”
Terry recalled 2016 as a big year for her as a member and leader of the chapter. “When I was Ethics Officer, I was delighted when then president John Palmer, APR, invited E. Gayle Saunders, APR, and me to work on a task force that led to our co-founding the chapter’s Diversity & Inclusion committee, which has received National PRSA recognition three times, with Shanikka Flinn as chair,” said Terry. “ I was inducted into the College of Fellows in 2016 and currently serve on the National D&I committee as well as the College of Fellows’ D&I committee. I frequently present at PRSA ICON and have authored several articles.”
PRSA helped Terry’s career tremendously, “I credit my APR (1988) and networking connections with facilitating the founding of my sole practitioner business, Jaron Terry Communications, Ltd, in 1995,” she said. “The PRism Awards I’ve earned over the past 26 years and being named Tom Poling Practitioner of the Year in 2011, have opened doors for me as a businesswoman and a PR practitioner.”
Terry is inspired by her students at Franklin University, where she teaches a PR crisis communication course, as well as a Creative Thinking class. “I’m also inspired by the intentional labor of PRSA nationally and locally to expand opportunities through inclusion of those who have traditionally been underrepresented in our profession,” she said. “My own efforts in this regard dovetail with my volunteer work as president of the board, PFLAG Columbus.”
Her favorite memories are two moments she witnessed the cusp of paradigm shifts in our profession. “Due to my work with a high technology company during the infancy of the internet, I was tapped to help our chapter understand the potential impact of the internet on PR,” Terry said. “I co-presented (with Rich Baker, APR) ‘Surfing the New Technology Wave: Implications for the PR Pro’ in 1995, where attendees were on their feet to better see the websites we discussed. Just over 20 years later our Society began to embrace Diversity & Inclusion efforts and I was honored to present ‘Getting It Right: Writing and Speaking for and about the LGBTQ+ Community,’ at ICON 2016.”