Meet Perri Hiergesell, a senior public relations major with a minor in event and experience management, who found her passion during her undergraduate experience in the School of Communication. Her engagement within the department and commitment to her courses has set the stage for her future in public relations. 

As a creative communications assistant for the Virginia Tech swimming and diving team, Hiergesell uses her diverse skill set to represent the athletic team through verbal and visual communication. In the summer of 2022, Hiergesell held a full-time position at Eddy Alexander, a PR and marketing agency in Roanoke, Virginia, where she gained insight and a real-world application. Through these experiences, she acquired a sense of versatility that she said she deems relevant to her future aspirations. 

On the side, Hiergesell enjoys doing photography for DJ Lee Wade, a disc jockey in Blacksburg, to capture vibrant photos at scheduled events that include date parties and tailgates. She stated that photography provides a creative component that she values to chronicle different angles of a stationary moment. 

Back at her family home in Moneta, Virginia, Hiergesell enjoys boating and jet skiing at her house situated on a spacious lake. 

Why did you choose public relations as your major? 

Hiergesell: I originally came into Virginia Tech undecided [about a major], because I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to do. I took a class called Pathways to Success my first semester, which helped me see the diversity in the field of public relations. My sister also did the same major at Virginia Tech and she saw that it would be a good fit for me. I was never a big writer in high school, so the idea of PR was scary, but the pieces I write are clear and concise — just how I like to write. 

What is the appeal of PR for you? 

Hiergesell: I enjoyed the flexibility of skills I would be learning in the major, such as public speaking and writing. In PR classes, you learn a lot about business and ethics, but also creativity all the way from different styles of writing to editing photos on Adobe Photoshop. I’m able to get some business experience while also showing my creative side. The PR courses at Virginia Tech are also certified with the Public Relations Society of America, which holds a lot of weight in the PR world. 

I also enjoy that the major requires everyone to have one minor. I’ve always been a big planner, so event planning is right up my alley. It also complements PR really well. 

What’s your dream job? 

Hiergesell: My dream job is to do PR or marketing for an NHL [National Hockey League] team. PR and communications is essentially storytelling, and I want to do that on a large scale one day for a sport I’ve been passionate about my whole life.

Are you in any clubs or organizations related to your major? 

Hiergesell: I’ve been involved in the Public Relations Student Society of America since I was a freshman. PRSSA taught me many skills that aren’t taught in the classroom, such as networking, how to build a resume, and how to be your best self in an interview. The biggest takeaway from the organization is the connections. Last summer, I applied for an internship in Roanoke and, to my surprise, the head of PR at the company was the president of the Blue Ridge PRSA chapter in Roanoke, our regional chapter. Seeing VT PRSSA on my resume made me stand out, and I’m grateful for the opportunities it has given me. I’m currently treasurer, which allows me to expand my leadership role in the organization. 

How has the Virginia Tech School of Communication helped you in your education, social, and professional life? 

Hiergesell: My advisor, Stephanie Smith, has helped me tremendously. I was originally a student in her PR campaigns class. Eventually, I asked her to be my advisor because the help she gave in class allowed me to advance my skills as a student and young professional. She became my independent study supervisor last semester and eased me into my new position at Virginia Tech Athletics. 

The curriculum has helped me with every single internship I’ve done. Building a portfolio isn’t something I’ve seen other schools do, and my portfolio helps when applying for jobs. I also learned how to write a good press release, which is something I do almost every week in my job. The experience is what counts in PR, and the PR campaigns class is just that — a real-world PR campaign. I had the ability to work with a real client and do work I’ve never done before. This experience is something that I talk about in every job interview. 

What does your role as creative communications assistant entail?

Hiergesell: I write all of the preview, recap and feature stories on the HokieSports website for the team, run Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and serve as the communications contact for the swimming and diving team. I’ll sometimes travel with the team to get content, submit ACC awards, edit Photoshop graphics, and much more.

The best part about my position is the leadership opportunity it gives me. While it was difficult at first, it helped me become more independent as a young professional. I have a supervisor to help me out, but, overall, every decision is my choice. It’s scary posting on an official Instagram account for the first time or writing your first piece for a website, but now I have the skills to do that all on my own. 

Has the VT School of Communication held any event that you found particularly useful for your career journey? 

Hiergesell: Comm Week has been super helpful in my professional development. When I was a sophomore, I went to a “Dress for Success” workshop because I didn’t know how to dress for interviews. That workshop helped me build a professional wardrobe that made me feel comfortable and confident. 

I also attended a LinkedIn workshop last year, which helped me build my profile to highlight my achievements. LinkedIn is crucial in the world of communications, so any guidance to establish a professional profile is valuable.  

What do you consider the most fulfilling aspect of your undergraduate career? 

Hiergesell: Meeting all of the people in my major has been the best part. PR is a small major, so you take most of your classes with the same people. Having people that can relate to your schoolwork and your job struggles is comforting. Talking out everything I’m going through helps me know that I’m not alone. 

Also, in general, all of the people I’ve met during my time here at Virginia Tech. I’m involved in the sorority Alpha Delta Pi and that organization gave me people that I’ll be friends with for the rest of my life. 

What are your post-graduation plans?

Hiergesell: As of right now, I don’t have any plans for after graduation. I’m trying to keep my options open while I still have some time to solidify a job. 

What advice would you give to underclassmen in the School of Communication? 

Hiergesell: Utilize their connections. If you’re not even looking for a job, but you mention a specific field that you want to go into and someone offers to help when the time comes, use that connection to your advantage. Communications is all about connections, and I’ve heard about every job I’ve had through other people. Also, build a great LinkedIn profile that’ll help you build those connections further. 

On a different note, what advice would you give yourself if you traveled back in time and started college again? 

Hiergesell: If I were to go back, I would tell myself that while school matters, experience is what gets you hired. Getting a bad grade on an assignment won’t ruin your life. It’s what you do with the skills you’ve learned that matters, not how well you can regurgitate facts. 

Written by Jessica Kim, student writer for the School of Communication