Imagine opening your door Halloween evening to see WuShock trick-or-treating on your front porch. WSU Admissions’ Public Relations Institute (PRI) made it reality for several Wichita neighborhoods in 2018.
One woman was so excited to see WuShock that evening that she asked for a picture with him, and the three students who made up the PRI team happily obliged. Fortune smiled on them, as the woman turned out to be Marnie Baxter, a Shocker alumna and second grade teacher at Wichita’s McCollom Elementary School.
She was so pleased with the PRI students and their trick-or-treating that she asked them to visit her classroom to celebrate a college spirit day with her students. One visit turned into three.
For Meghan Carver, who at the time was an integrated marketing communication senior and a PRI team member, it’s one of her favorite memories working with the PRI.
“It was phenomenal,” Meghan said. “It was a great way to really illustrate what PRI did. We just did an event in the community to excite some kids, and that bridged to meet Ms. Baxter.”
PRI students represent WSU at community events, visit schools in the greater Wichita area and facilitate the distribution of WSU merchandise at local organizations. There is no hidden agenda in PRI’s work. They do it because it’s good for the community.
“We’re not trying to hand out brochures and get them to come to Wichita State. We just want to have that goodwill with the community,” Meghan said.
Bobby Gandu, director of Admissions and assistant vice president for Strategic Enrollment Management, and Tyler Gegen, Admissions public relations and outreach manager, founded the program in the summer of 2018 and advise PRI students on strategic goals.
“We saw an opportunity to really go out into the community to work directly with people to promote some positive energy and goodwill, not only for Wichita State, but for the greater community as well,” Tyler said.
The inaugural PRI team was made up of Meghan, then-psychology senior Adrianne Ralston and exercise science freshman Gabi Bozarth, all of whom had passions for community engagement and Shocker Nation. They are largely autonomous, and admissions staff empower them to take advantage of the applied learning opportunity and make decisions using the resources allocated to them.
As a new freshman at the time, Gabi rapidly gained a lot of valuable experience from the initiative.
“Approaching situations and being uncomfortable was not really my thing coming into PRI,” Gabi said, “and I’ve grown so much in my public speaking abilities and being able to talk to people. I owe that to Meghan, Adrianne and Tyler for pushing me outside of my comfort zone.”
Gabi recalls delivering a WSU pennant to the Little Lion Café on Central Ave., and then returned to check in on them a few weeks later. She was pleased to see that they had placed it on the wall in their shop, and they remembered her when she came back.
For Meghan, Adrianne and Gabi, it’s the connections they make with community members which matter. While Gabi knew nearly nothing about Wichita when she entered WSU, it didn’t take her long to learn and develop relationships across the city.
“I’ve met so many amazing people, not only in Admissions, but in the community,” Gabi said, “and I’ve learned so much about Wichita that I get to share with my family, like the little restaurants on the corner that you wouldn’t even think about.”
One of PRI’s objectives in the next year is expanding community awareness of the Pizza Hut Museum. The team plans to host several museum events throughout the year and may perform a “barnstorming tour” in area middle schools to share stories of creativity and entrepreneurship as it relates to the museum and WSU.
Meghan and Adrianne graduated in May 2019, but Gabi will continue to serve with the PRI. Five new interns have joined her for the new academic year as applied learning opportunities with the PRI continue to expand.