Award-winning Cronkite PR Lab celebrates 10-year anniversary

Monday, Nov. 15, 2021


When the Cronkite School launched the Public Relations Lab in 2011, the goal was to provide students with real-world experience in an immersive, professional agency environment.

Ten years later, the PR Lab continues to strive towards that goal, operating as an actual public relations firm that creates campaigns for clients ranging from nonprofit organizations and corporations to government agencies. PR Lab students gain experience working in areas such as corporate and crisis communications, event planning, media relations and community outreach. 

The emphasis on real-world experience has paid off, with the PR Lab winning numerous industry awards throughout the years while competing against professional public relations agencies and Fortune 500 companies. 

Those awards include top honors in the dotCOMM awards, which recognize outstanding work in web creativity and digital communication, and two gold awards at the EDM Awards for digital publication and social equality campaigns. More recently, PR lab students earned gold and platinum prizes at the MarCom Awards for exceptional feature stories, web content, media relations and a story pitch that resulted in a successful newspaper placement.

Former students who worked in the lab are now employed by top companies such as McDonald’s, Disney, PetSmart, Kiterocket, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Edelman, Allison+Partners, Edelman (D.C.), Valleywise Health Foundation and Envida Social among many more. 

“My goal is to get them prepared for the real world and be qualified to provide top quality work wherever they go and every student has gone above and beyond my expectations,” said PR Lab Director Lisa Schmidtke. “Watching the collaboration, teamwork and hard work among the students every semester has been stellar.” 

Fran Matera, the lab’s first director, was asked to launch the lab in 2010 by founding Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan. 

Public Relations students, at the time, had already won awards in industry level competitions, including the national NASA Means Business competition for four consecutive years from 2004 to 2007. 

“I knew we had the space and the resources so why would I say no to students who needed that opportunity to grow and see that they could be successful?” Matera said. 

When the PR Lab opened in fall 2011, students worked in teams of three to five and were assigned a team leader. Each student worked with multiple clients and had to learn to collaborate as a team, apply and present creative and innovative ideas, manage projects and implement suggested programs. 

“It’s what I like to call the term ‘intensive learning environment’ and what that really means is you’re going to be living and breathing what you’re working on,” she said.

Noah Flack, a May 2021 graduate who attended the PR Lab for two semesters, said that he was grateful to be able to work in the lab while he was an undergraduate and graduate student at Cronkite. 

“The PR Lab really set me up for success with the experiences, the connections and feedback from professors and peers,” Flack said. “The lab gives you the best possibility of getting a job right out of college and puts you a step ahead of the other applicants.”

Cronkite graduate Mikala Morris worked in the PR Lab in fall 2019. Her clients were the Phoenix Police Department and Partnerships with Native Americans. 

Morris currently works as the digital marketing manager with the Valleywise Health Foundation, where the company seeks to hire Cronkite PR Lab students after they graduate. 

“Since I’ve graduated, we’ve continued to hire students graduating from the PR Lab to our team at Valleywise Health Foundation because we know and trust the training they’re getting,” Morris said. “It’s a really valuable experience for students looking to grow in the public relations, communications and marketing fields.”

By Tirzah Christopher