After seven months serving with the military in Afghanistan, Kaye Sweetser is happy to be back to her public relations students and her Grady College home.
Where did you earn degrees, and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned an associate’s degree at Tidewater Community College in 1997, then a bachelor’s degree in communication with a minor in psychology from Old Dominion University in 1998. I earned masters and doctoral degrees in mass communication from the University of Florida in 2002 and 2004.
I’m currently an associate professor of public relations in the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications. My research specialty is social media—I love looking at how organizations use social media to connect with their publics and how people respond to those social profiles. For the past two years, I was the adviser for UGA’s PR competition team in the Bateman Case Study Competition (sponsored by Public Relations Student Society of America, or PRSSA). The first year I advised the team we won the national championship, and that same campaign also won a Silver Anvil from the Public Relations Society of America. Last year UGA’s Bateman team won honorable mention in the competition.
When did you come to UGA, and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in 2006 from an assistant professor position at Louisiana State University. It was such an easy choice to come to UGA. From the moment I stepped foot on campus I knew that UGA—and especially Grady College—was special. Certainly I knew of the high quality of the college and the renowned scholars here, but it was the genuine Southern hospitality that made me know Grady College was my intellectual home. Since coming here I have had the most amazing support for my research, positive reactions in my classes from my students, and just met some of the brightest and kindest people on earth!
What are your favorite courses, and why?
No question about it—Public Relations Research Methods is my favorite class, hands down. I love the class not only because I love research but also because of the very visible transformation you see in the students throughout the semester. They come into the class having to take it as a requirement and quite nervous about what is to come and sure that they will never use research in the real world. Then through the class we break down the barriers, and I think my excitement for the topic is catching; they not only come to understand how to do research and the importance of it in PR, but I really think they start to enjoy it. I love that because it was in my own undergraduate research methods class where I realized what I wanted to do with my life!
What interests you about your field?
I’m so intrigued by the fact that once-faceless corporations can create a persona so real that people want to “friend” them and interact. That is really at the heart of my research—understanding why people are drawn to social profiles of organizations, what they do with them, what it means for that public-organization relationship and what the corporations can do to strengthen that relationship.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
There are too many highlights to name! Certainly advising the winning team of the national Bateman Case Study Competition in 2010 was a highlight—and seeing that same campaign win a PR professional national award for excellence when they took home a Silver Anvil this past summer was a continuation of that. There have been trips to D.C. and Atlanta with students as they explore their future profession. Being a Lilly Fellow and, of course, being named a Russell Award winner have humbled and thrilled me. While I was deployed in the war as a Navy Reservist for seven months this year, the Secretary of the Navy gave me a “shout out” in his commencement speech that literally gave me chills from Athens all the way to Afghanistan! But I really think the small moments are my favorites—when I see a tweet from a student who has long graduated and she says she’s using her knowledge from PR Research or the drop-in career planning sessions of my current students.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope they see that while I may be demanding in the classroom, the real world is much more demanding and the stakes are much higher. I hope that they see the way to be successful is to make success for yourself.
Describe your ideal student.
Hard-working. Open-minded. Detail-oriented. Strong love of life.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
I love being in my office. It is bright, cheery and there are always treats there for any student who needs a little pick-me-up during the day.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
Sail, work out, spend time on social media.
Community/civic involvement includes….
I am in the U.S. Navy Reserve, where I am a commissioned public affairs officer. I just returned from an involuntary recall to Afghanistan where was I was working in the media office for the headquarters of the war.
I have too many favorite books to name, but I love the writing of Hemingway—so simple, yet the stories are so intricate. I think a lot of times people think that they need to use big $100 words to communicate, but one of the greatest American authors showed that simple language can still tell a beautiful story.
Proudest moment at UGA?
My proudest moment would be from this summer when the national champions from the 2010 UGA Bateman Case Study Competition team won a professional award of excellence for their PR campaign. For a student campaign to compete on that level with multi-million dollar professional and agency campaigns and win a Silver Anvil says a lot about the skill and level of work we do in our undergraduate program at UGA.