PR, By Accident: A Q&A with Master’s Student Matthew Wallace (SAR ’20, COM ’21)

Crossing Commonwealth Avenue, Matthew Wallace, a first year in BU’s graduate public relations program, found his love for communicating despite his health science roots. Studying a completely different subject in a manner shaped by the ongoing pandemic, Wallace offers his unique insights into the graduate PR life and the future of communications careers shaped by the current global health crisis.

Caroline Floam: Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from? Why did you choose BU for your undergrad and now graduate experience?

Matthew Wallace: I’m from Brooklyn, New York, and originally BU wasn’t even my first choice. It was like my fifth. I got in only for second semester in CGS, and I was like, “Oh, I don’t want to start school in January when all my friends are going to already have college stuff.” But then I took a tour with my dad, who loved it so much and really loved our tour guide. It was sunny and warm, and everyone was on the BU Beach, and it was so nice. And I was like, “You know what? I could wait until January to start school.” During my gap semester, I did this program at Oxford in England. It was the best decision I ever made. I met so many amazing people that I wouldn’t have met if I didn’t go to BU … So, looking back, I made an A1 decision.

CF: You studied health science at Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences as an undergrad and are now pursuing a master’s degree in public relations at the College of Communication. Why the shift in focus?

MW: I am the kind of person who can never make up my mind. My freshman year, I wanted to do science. I was pre-dental at first. Then I took Chemistry 101 and said, “Never again.” So, then I wanted to do physical therapy, which was a super competitive program at BU, so then I wanted to do occupational therapy. That’s even more competitive. I never enjoyed my Sargent classes. There was never a class I was excited to attend, and some of them were just very hard. But then, in my senior year, I had an internship required by Sargent. It was this nonprofit, health sciences internship, but they made me do more PR stuff. I would design their website, create newsletters to donors, and organize events. I realized that I kind of liked this and I’m actually not bad at this. So, then I took CO 201 [Introduction to Communication Writing], and I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t like Sargent in that you can talk to your professors and see what you can do better. I didn’t have to know every bone in the body and the whole endocrine system and all that. So, I applied to COM last minute after I graduated. I got it, so here I am. Back.

CF: What do you think is the biggest difference between Sargent and COM in terms of the academic environment?

MW: In Sargent, there’s always a gap between people who get all A’s and the strugglers. There’s an environment of group stress. COM doesn’t have that atmosphere. The professors are also more approachable, and it’s so much easier for me to talk to them. I also participate way more than during my three and a half years in Sargent, where I would want to speak, but I didn’t know what I was talking about.

CF: You were a PR intern at Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition. What are some things you learned that you will carry with you into your communications career?

MW: Collaboration is a big thing. You can rely on other people to help you and meet deadlines. I also learned that you cannot rush the process. You can’t find shortcuts, especially when you’re trying to send a message your organization wants communicated. You have to put yourself in your publics’ shoes and ask, “Would you want to donate? Would you want to come to this event? Would you want to volunteer?” I never really thought about this before because I never really did any professional communicating before. 

CF: Shifting focus, where do you see yourself in five years and how do you think COM can help you get there?

MW: I’m all over the place. Maybe doing PR on behalf of pharmaceutical or science companies. I’d like to be in a place where I can combine both backgrounds of things I’ve learned in undergrad and grad school. But, I also really love clothes and fashion … One of my professors recently introduced our class to a PR professional in the video game industry, and I could also see that being me. I’d like to find some kind of internship that propels me to one of these positions. It’s helpful that COM has a lot of career fairs and professors know a lot of big people in the industry.

CF: Do you think the role of the strategic communicator is forever changed with the pandemic? If so, do you think this is ultimately for the better or for the worse?

MW: I think the role has changed, and I think it is for the best. Transparency has become really important now that everyone has a voice and a lot of opinions and outside noise comes from social media. Companies need to make sure their messaging is clear, concise, and easily digestible. This pandemic really stressed that because there was, and is, a lot of panic. I was panicking too. But I think a lot of companies have prioritized truth, communicating “here’s what we hope to reach and here’s how we’re going to do it.”

Stumbling upon the PR field accidentally, Wallace now plans to dedicate his life to a practice he believes is forever changed with the pandemic and its accompanying call for greater transparency. This year proves especially challenging for him as he is studying a completely different subject area in a mostly online format. However, his flexibility, ambition, diversity of interest, and good-humored nature will afford him the power to excel in his studies and eventual position as the public voice of a vibrant brand.

Caroline Floam, Staff Writer

Born and raised in a suburb of Washington, D.C., Caroline Floam is a third-year student studying Public Relations and Political Science, with an eye towards law school and the government relations field. Caroline has combined her communications skills and political knowledge as a media relations intern at the American Enterprise Institute and director of communications for the Boston Political Review. In her free time, she enjoys playing tennis, traveling, and eating avocados. She is a staff writer for the 2020-2021 academic year.

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