The Plank Center hosts the inaugural Challenge for Emerging Leaders

Eighteen public relations students gathered at The University of Alabama to take part in the inaugural Challenge for Emerging Leaders, hosted by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations on February 9 – 11.


With the overall goal of developing and inspiring emerging leaders, the Challenge is an intensive, hands-on leadership workshop. Dr. Bruce Berger, research director of the Center and program director for the Challenge, said, “research reveals that experiences like the Challenge can energize young leaders, accelerate their development and inspire their vision for leadership.”


“Professionals in the field have access to many development programs, but such opportunities are limited for students and young professionals,” Berger said.


The Challenge consisted of diverse, public relations seniors from The University of Alabama, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Samford University, Auburn University and Mississippi State University. Students were selected by their department chairs based on their high-leadership potential, demonstrated achievements throughout their academic careers and their diverse backgrounds and experiences.


The Challenge participants were:

  • Lindsey Anderson, Samford University
  • Liann Cates, Samford University
  • Charles Cronin, University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • Jada Culver, University of Alabama
  • Emily Belle Damm, Mississippi State University
  • William Folkes, Mississippi State University
  • Emily Gouin, Mississippi State University
  • Marika Gray, University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • Alessia Grijalva, University of Alabama
  • Becca Lorraine Hawkins, Mississippi State University
  • Julie Anne Jacobs, Auburn University
  • Brad Jennings, University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • Alexandra Kral, University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • Jake LeGrone, Auburn University
  • Ashton Nix, Samford University
  • Olivia Ortiz, University of Alabama
  • Drew Pendleton, University of Alabama
  • Jasmine Reed, Auburn University


The program was delivered by Dr. Peter Hammerschmidt, president of Leadership Consulting Services and professor at Eckerd College, Florida. Students also had the opportunity to learn from some of the best professionals and academics in the industry, including:

  • Bruce Berger, professor emeritus of advertising and public relations at the University of Alabama and research director for the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations;
  • Tony Cervone, SVP of Global Communications at General Motors;
  • Ariel Ellis, instructor at Lipscomb University;
  • Bill Heyman, President and CEO of Heyman Associates;
  • Daniel O’Donnell, director with The Brunswick Group; and
  • Alicia Thompson, GM of Edelman (Atlanta).


The Challenge emphasized advancement in four key competencies: deepen understanding of leadership, enrich leadership values and beliefs, expand leadership skills and capacity, and model appropriate behaviors. These competencies were addressed through activities and assessments drawn from eight core development areas: self-awareness, listening skills, conflict management, organizational dynamics, business acumen, critical thinking, team leadership and ethical orientation.


Along with the activities and assessments, students were divided up into teams to work through a diversity case study. Each group was assigned an industry advisor to motivate, encourage and provide feedback. The advisors were Keith Burton, chair of the Center’s Board of Advisors and principal of Grayson Emmett Partners; Thompson; and Jacquie McMahon, account executive at Ketchum (New York).


On the last day, teams presented their case study findings and were awarded a Certificate of Leadership Achievement. The winning team, featuring Charles Cronin, Becca Lorraine Hawkins and Drew Pendleton, were recipients of the Betsy Plank Diversity Case Study Award.


The workshop would not have been possible without the sponsorship of Dover Foundation, General Motors and Heyman Associates.


For more information on the Challenge for Emerging Leaders, go to

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