Student publicists at Indiana University of Pennsylvania have won statewide acclaim and are in the hunt for national honors for their promotion of organ donations.
IUP’s Public Relations Student Society of America chapter won second prize in Donate Life Pennsylvania’s inaugural registration challenge and will now move on to a national competition.
“We are a very small chapter, one of the smallest in the state,” said Kirsten Schlorff, of Jersey Shore, who is incoming president of IUP’s PRSSA chapter and on her way to a December bachelor’s degree in journalism and public relations, with a minor in marketing.
DLPA in turn is a collaborative initiative among Gift of Life Donor Program, the state departments of Health and Transportation, and the Center for Organ Recovery & Education.
“We gave the schools a few months in the competition to develop a plan to raise awareness, to sign people up as donors, and to create their own campaigns,” said Colleen Sullivan, director of communications for the Pittsburgh-based CORE, an agency founded 40 years ago.
“We cover all of western Pennsylvania and West Virginia,” Sullivan said. “So when we are able to partner up with (a community or) educational institution to help promote donations and continue to spread our message, it expands our reach.”
Also known as Lasting Impressions, IUP’s student-run public relations agency, the IUP organization recently was officially recognized as a PRSSA chapter, one of 24 in Pennsylvania, with Kathryn DiBiase as president and Schlorff as vice president.
Michele Papakie, IUP Journalism and Public Relations Department chairwoman, is the chapter’s faculty adviser.
In March Schlorff and another active chapter member, Lily Whorl, represented IUP at PRSSA’s national assembly in Miami — the first time in years that Indiana University of Pennsylvania was represented there.
“Being involved in PRSSA has helped me to grow professionally, and I feel truly honored to have served as our chapter’s delegate,” Schlorff said.
Meanwhile, the need for organs also has expanded.
“We started out with a few programs,” Sullivan said. Meanwhile, “the waiting list grew (to where) we are at over 114,000 people who are waiting, primarily for kidneys (over 100,000).”
And that waiting list isn’t slaked by an organ donor list that only includes fewer than 1 in 2 Pennsylvanians — and an even smaller percentage in IUP’s backyard.
“In Indiana County we have 45 percent of the population registered as donors,” Sullivan said. “That is lower than our state average of 48 percent.”
Not everyone will get an organ.
“We have 20 people who will die every day waiting for a transplant that doesn’t come,” the CORE spokeswoman said.
This helped prompt DLPA to partner with the National Organ Donor Awareness Competition to challenge PRSSA chapters in Pennsylvania to not only spread organ donor awareness, but also to get students, faculty and staff on their respective campuses to register as organ donors through PennDOT’s online portal.
NODAC was established in 1992 at Rowan University in New Jersey by its PRSSA chapter founder, Anthony J. Fulginiti, himself an organ transplant recipient from his sister.
“Whenever the students are able to customize the message to speak to their own network of friends and family and neighbors and colleagues, then we are able to get more folks make the decision and sign up to be a donor,” Sullivan said. “We’re hoping it motivates them to take action in the registry.”
Campaigns were centered around a video featuring Brittany Grimm, 21, of Fairview, Erie County, who credits an organ donor for giving her the life that recently reached a new plateau with her graduation from Seton Hill University in Greensburg.
“I wouldn’t have had the past 10 years of my life without him,” Grimm said. “I wouldn’t have been able to go to high school or even attend college.”
In the video posted on YouTube May 3, Grimm said people have come up to her and said they signed up as organ donors after hearing her story. The DLPA contest involved that video and other efforts by competing schools.
With the help of approximately 15 students from Papakie’s Introduction to Public Relations class, the IUP PRSSA chapter held an organ donor registration event on April 19 at the Stapleton Library and Hadley Union Building.
The event scored 59 email address sign-ups and impacted an estimated 200 students on campus, plus 200 interactions on social media.
“We had more success with the email,” Schlorff said.
With good reason: Outside the HUB, IUP’s student union, Schlorff said her chapter found itself “behind a pillar” and needing to go beyond the table to persuade passers-by.
The effort was judged second only to that of Millersville University, with Point Park University taking third prize in the DLPA contest. Sullivan said Millersville’s effort “was a little different” from IUP’s, as it involved an across-the-board branding that included T-shirts with the organ donor message.
IUP’s effort also is under the microscope on the national level, as the April 19 program also is entered in NODAC’s national competition, for which first, second, third place and honorable mention recipients will receive monetary awards at PRSSA’s national conference Oct. 5-9 in Austin, Texas.
Meanwhile, Schlorff is spending the summer honing her skills as an intern with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, where she is dealing with awareness of antibiotic resistance as it affects residents of nursing homes. She also is working with PDH on the issue of opioids, as Gov. Tom Wolf’s emergency declaration continues.
After her graduation, Schlorff said she “would like to work in health care public relations, ideally in a children’s hospital.”