When first-generation college student Amy Shanler came to Boston University as an undergraduate in 1992, she was not entirely aware of the opportunities available for her.
She was on her way to getting a Psychology degree, but with AP credits and already fulfilled requirements, Shanler realized her journey would end in less than two years. Searching for other studies to enrich her college life, Shanler read through all of the ridiculously long class names on BU’s course listing bulletin.
There, she bumped into Public Relations.
Shanler has now stayed with PR for 25 years. She said it was “the best accident.”
The love Shanler has for PR is almost romantic. She became addictive to the gratification and enjoyment she felt whenever a story she pitched to a reporter was published. The rush of emotions made her powerful, and she was proud to use her “superpowers” cultivated by her love for PR to help people, communities, and causes.
This love has gone through an evolution. So did Shanler’s role in her career as a professor in Public Relations.
As the co-director of the award-winning PRLab, Shanler enjoys seeing her students grow from hesitant, anxious newbies in the PR field into confident practitioners who embrace and trust a process that seemed so foreign at first. The pride she feels coming through her students at the end of every semester is what Shanler loves the most about PRLab. To help this student-led agency flourish, she becomes the coach and sounding board to help students discover the best solution to dealing with a particular situation. Shanler is keen on providing students with practical skills through lectures, hands-on experience with actual clients, and an internal support system through training student presidents and supervisors who then go on to become mentors for other students.
“We not only teach them how to do the work, we also focus on how to talk about it.” Shanler said in an episode of Chats with Chip in February 2020.
Yet not every student becomes interested in Public Relations, just like not every line of communications is promised to reach an audience. As an instructor of some introductory classes in PR, Shanler takes off her professional coach cap and teaches PR as a science course beneficial to students in all fields. To her, tools in PR including good writing, researching an audience, and evaluating a situation before making a recommendation are skills that last forever not just for PR practitioners, but also for lawyers, scientists, or even chefs.
“Trust my experience, and take this leap of faith with me,” she says.
To her students outside Public Relations, Shanler is a credible and reliable authority who helps students emerge victorious from the quest of learning PR. The memories on the road may taste sweet or sour, but the knowledge gained will forever help students to become smarter consumers, and that, for Shanler, is a mission accomplished.
For students, Shanler is willing to become the person they need the most.
“They need me to be a colleague, then I’m going to be a colleague. If they want me to be a friend, I will be there. And if they need me to be a mom, then I will be there as a mom, too.”
Even this resolution was based on PR, on knowing the audience and what they need to establish a mutually beneficial relationship.
Why does every decision Shanler makes relate back to Public Relations?
She did not answer directly, but told me the story of brown bag lunches she used to organize when she was working at a PR agency. Everybody of the same level would get together and talk about their days during lunch time. These casual lunches became problem-solving seminars and later, organized training camps.
“Nobody paid me extra for it,” said Shanler, “I think it comes down to my natural ability to want to help people.”
When her children were young, Shanler was thrilled by the opportunities she had to help out her kids. But as they got older and more independent, she had to let go. The energy stored for helping people was then directed towards her students, and Shanler began practicing her ability through teaching Public Relations.
“I might be even more attentive to my BU students, whether you like it or not, because I have this…this helpful gene that needs to go somewhere. My own children are not needing as much of me, so it’s gonna come to you. Sorry.”
She apologized over Zoom with a dashing smile.
“I just love helping people.”
She looked away at the setting sun outside her window, and then back to me in the eyes. I have lost count of how many times she said this line in our 30-minute interview.
So, it all comes down to love.
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.