Dr. Hazel Cole is not only the first member of her family to earn a Ph.D., but she’s also a pioneering force at the University of West Georgia (UWG), serving as associate professor and PR concentration head, and as the faculty advisor for the school’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) Chapter. She is only the second African American woman in the history of the school’s Department of Mass Communications to earn tenure and promotion, and she co-authored a scholarly text, “Race, Gender, and Image Repair Theory: How Digital Media Change the Landscape.”
Meanwhile, as a proud mother she gets a ringside seat as her daughter also pursues a doctorate degree and her son excels academically as well.
Among her many professional accomplishments, Hazel also highlights her experience as a former board member for the George Cochran Innocence Project (formerly known as the Mississippi Innocence Project). She helped shape the strategy for the organization, which works to exonerate wrongly convicted persons and was founded by popular novelist John Grisham at the University of Mississippi School of Law. She has also served on other nonprofit boards.
This installment of Chapter Chat, a member-focused series featuring industry insights mixed with candid commentary, shines the spotlight on a Peach State beacon in academia and public relations who is leading the way at the burgeoning public university roughly 50 miles west of Atlanta.
Let us “Go West” with Hazel Cole, shall we?
Question: What does your job as associate professor and PR concentration head and at UWG entail?
Answer: As a promoted and tenured faculty member and scholar, my job is to lead, inspire and empower people to reach their full potential through teaching, research and service. Teaching is a passion, and I teach a range of PR courses from principles to the capstone PR campaigns course and media ethics. I will also be teaching a new graduate course on race, gender and media in spring 2021. In addition, I co-created an experiential learning lab, bluestone, which is a student-run PR firm at UWG. My administrative role is to help build and maintain an award-winning communications program through teaching excellence and scholarship. To grow the program, two clinical assistant professors from the PR industry were hired.
Q: What has it been like working for a university amid a pandemic and how has it sharpened your crisis communication skills?
A: It certainly has been challenging, as COVID-19 disrupted everything we considered normal in our personal and professional lives. However, we continue to operate with a public health protocol while adapting to constant change, whether it be exploring creative alternatives to teaching delivery methods, fostering new ways to engage students inside a new process, or implementing preventive measures geared toward health and safety.
Q: October is Global Diversity Awareness Month – what does this mean to you?
A: For me, it is an opportunity to bring awareness to the various dimensions of diversity and the uniqueness of individuals to enhance cultural literacy, cultural competence, sensitivity and acceptance. It means recognizing differences and celebrating individual, God-given gifts and talents, as well as differences and experiences of people to appreciate their contributions in this world.
Q: Where do you find creativity and inspiration?
A: I find inspiration not too far from home. My mother is my biggest inspiration. Her brilliance extends beyond her eighth-grade education due to Jim Crow segregation, and she is the strongest, smartest, most decent human I know. I draw from a deep well of experiences in society, corporate and academic settings, while leading as a woman of faith.
Q: What’s your definition of storytelling?
A: Storytelling, to me, means to create a narrative so rich that all five senses are engaged. In public relations, it means to structure and craft powerful key messages, including images, that resonate with targeted audiences.
Q: How do you relax or spend your leisure time when not working?
A: My relaxation involves sipping premium hot tea (with cream and raw honey) or a nice cabernet, good music, aromatherapy and a great book. Spa visits are also part of my relaxation. My leisure time is centered around great meals, international travel and collecting fine wines. For the past 17 years, I have visited wine country during the winter to taste and collect some of the finest wines in the Sonoma and Napa regions, ringing in the New Year there. I love international travel with my best friend, and we consider ourselves intrepid explorers. Each summer we spend almost a month trekking across Europe, learning about the rich history and diverse cultures, and having incredible food experiences.
Q: Do you have a favorite PRSA Georgia memory?
A: Since joining PRSA Georgia in 2012, one of my best memories is taking a group of students to the Real World Conference (editor’s note: now part of PRSA Georgia’s Annual Conference). It was a phenomenal experience. PRSA Georgia is proactive in engaging students and providing scholarship opportunities or reduced rates for PRSSA members to attend. I am impressed with the workshops, internship opportunities and the professionals who spend time in roundtable discussions, networking with students and offering résumé critiques.
Q: Speaking of students, what advice do you have for those breaking into the PR and communications field?
A: I advise them to be ethical and operate with truth as a guiding principle for building a reputation of honesty and integrity. I tell them to be competitive, hungry and humble, as well as eager to learn and grow, quickly. They must be creative and have hard and soft communication skills, and most importantly, be able to write well. They are encouraged to read everything, particularly news of all types as well as become business savvy and have a keen knowledge of strategy, analytics and crisis management. I also advise them to invest in their communities.