Entering the College of Communication faculty team amidst the pandemic, Alex Villanueva, a BU alumnus, shares his vision for contemporary public relations and the people teaching it to graduate students.
Photo credit to Alex Villanueva
Amy Peng: You received your bachelor’s degree in history and political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. What made you decide to pursue PR for your graduate studies at Boston University?
Alex Villanueva: When I wrote my thesis in my junior year, I realized that research isn’t necessarily that much fun. But at the time, I was doing a lot of student government stuff at the mercy of Illinois. I was the vice president of our student government. I oversaw the communications for the University and the student body. I also had a couple of communications internships at the University, and I enjoyed them very much. I knew that I had to go to graduate school to bolster my background in PR since I didn’t study PR as an undergrad, and that led me to BU.
AP: You were also the first president of BU COM’s Graduate Student Council.
AV: That’s right. I loved student government so much in Illinois that when I got to BU COM and found this very loose graduate government, I stepped in. I think I wrote a constitution even.
AP: In March 2020, you landed on your current job as an Account Supervisor at Ball Consulting Group. What are some things you enjoy as an account supervisor?
AV: Every day is different. One day, I might be working on two or three larger things. The next day, I might be working on half a dozen smaller things. I like that change of pace. I like jumping from one account to another. If I’m tired of working on a news release, I like being able to send it off, and then switch to something else different. Being able to do that is also really fun about PR in general.
AP: Before this, you also worked for political campaigns, the 2020 Census, and other PR firms. What made you decide to come back to BU and become a professor?
AV: I had always wanted to be a history and political science professor. I just really wanted to teach. We all have connections through history in a nation by nation or culture by culture way, so I think studying humanities, at a foundational level, makes better PR professionals. It develops critical thinking skills and knowledge of the language and of writing that I think is really beneficial to what we’re doing in Mass Comm.
It’s fortunate to have an adjunct role so I get to keep my full-time job at the agency and come in one night a week to teach a class to a small group of grad students. I think my experience in BU’s program and my short, varied experience in PR would be a value to the students. And I really hope I can help them discover what PR is and how they can see a career in PR.
Alex Villanueva (Right) in a campaign for the 2020 Census | Photo Courtesy of United States Census Bureau
AP: You’ve entered COM’s faculty team at a tricky time as the pandemic disrupted the traditional classroom dynamics. How are you making your first teaching experience engaging?
AV: I always had this dream of teaching in a small classroom, especially in the first year, so it is difficult. I think it’s really hard to have an engaging and natural conversation [remotely], so I try to create an engaging atmosphere outside the classroom. We have discussion boards, and I ask my students to engage with each other on Twitter and retweet every week or two or make a tweet every week.
AP: Since you mentioned Twitter, what kind of vision do you have for utilizing multimedia platforms like Twitter for teaching PR?
AV: First of all, I don’t like Twitter, I find it annoying, so I don’t use it a lot, personally. But I understand the value it has in public relations, and we have to take advantage of the trend. A lot of journalists share their content on Twitter, so you can figure out their personal details, what they’re writing about, what their interests are, what their history is, through Twitter. And I think in a classroom setting, you have to be able to evaluate what’s going on in the environment outside of the classroom, and make sure that what you’re teaching is as relevant as possible to what’s going on in the outside world.
AP: What does “professor” mean to you?
AV: Well, I think my big caveat is that I’ll go by the title “professor,” but we should really understand the value of adjunct instructors. They bring to the table actual experiences. It’s important to recognize experiences as they’re occurring and make a mental note and learn from them. If I’m not learning in my nine to five job, I don’t have anything to share with the students at night.
AP: Finally, can you give me three words describing Adjunct Instructor Alex Villanueva?
AV: “Regimental” is one, because there’s a certain set of steps that are important for teaching and for being a student, I think following that regimen is important.
But at the same time, “flexible.” Because we’re here in the pandemic and everything is different the next second. Being able to have that flexibility to turn on a dime, I think is important.
I guess a third word that describes me more personally is “casual.” Even though I usually have a tie or a blazer on, I really want students to feel engaged, let your guard down a little bit, and be more casual. I think it’s important for students to be able to take a joke and give a joke without losing their professionalism.
If I can have a fourth word, I would add “humbled.” Just because I’m in a great place in my career, I’m very happy, and I enjoy it. Being able to teach what I learned, especially at a young age. It’s a very humbling experience.
Amy Peng, Staff Writer
Born and raised in China, Amy Peng is a senior studying Communication and Japanese Language and Literature with a dream to work in Publishing or become a translator. Though a proud introvert, Amy takes pleasure in conversations and loves talking with strangers on the T. Aside from daily blogging and rummaging through the Kindle store for good reads, she also enjoys comedies, cooking, and The New York Times’ Metropolitan Diary.