Speech: Dr. Cathy Rogers, 2018 Educator Honoree

Cheryn Robles: Good evening, I’m here this evening to introduce Cathy Rogers, who is the 2018 recipient of the Bruce Berger Education award. Doctor Rogers serves as the Shawn M. Donnelley professor for non-profit communications at Loyola University in New Orleans. I met Dr. Rogers, I can’t compare to some of the earlier speakers, but I met her more than 20 years ago, when I was working in a communication’s department at Leola University in New Orleans. I was a work study student, and she was the Public Relations Sequence Chair.

Now at that time, when students started at Loyola, they had a couple years of introduction classes. So before you decided if you were going into broadcast, or journalism, or Public Relations, you had all the basic courses. I had grown up always wanting to be a writer, to be a journalist. But one day, we were sitting in the office, and we were talking and Dr. Rogers walked in, we were talking about what sequence we were going to choose because it was getting very close to the time to choose what sequence. And she helped me realize that a good journalist will be very balanced, and present a story in an unbiased way, but that in public relations, you can be passionate. I have a tendency to get really riled up about things.

So whether it’s being passionate about where the best pizza place is in town, or whether it’s about the environment or women’s equality, she was the one that helped me realize that if I went into public relations, I could use that passion as an asset. So I would be able to use that to grow, and also, it was the beauty of having Dr. Rogers that in many times, you don’t even realize you’re learning a life lesson from her.

So whether it’s sitting in class, and I distinctly remember being in class and her teaching us how to have a good power point presentation, which still some people don’t understand how to do. Or if it was something she didn’t know it was necessarily a life lesson, but it was really valuable. Like in terms of group management and team work, I distinctly remember telling a story about how sometimes if your spouse may open the door in a really loud way, and that drives you crazy. So rather than wait to that point as a good leader, you can take the moment, and you can talk to the other people on your team. Those little lessons, she wasn’t being obnoxious, or being whatever, it was super helpful to see this little thing and how it can make you a better leader.

So early in my career, I had a lot of conflict with a supervisor. So much so, that I was considering just getting out of the business entirely. So, I called her because she knows everyone in New Orleans who does public relations, to try to get a connection with someone, and instead of helping me just connect with someone, she actually talked to me, and counseled me on how to bring up to the senior management that there was an issue.

After the conversation, once I got up the courage, I did go to the senior management, and I was able to get the conflict resolved, and she had told me, one of the things that she had told me, is that having relationship with people who are really unpleasant, is going to be a really great asset in life. And I did not understand at the time, but now I work in politics, so it is so helpful to just understand and appreciate that working with difficult people, and trying to negotiate conflict and doing conflict resolution, and mediation is a really valuable life skill.

So Cathy lays the foundation for success in each and every student that she has, and once she’s been your professor, she’s the biggest cheerleader. She can make you feel like the most important person she’s ever taught, and it’s really easy to forget that she’s had student who were press secretaries at the White House. Not this administration, the other one. And also headed public relations firms at Atlantic Records, run marketing campaigns for FedEx, and she has numerous students who run their own public relations agencies that are award-winning. She should probably start collecting endorsement fees for some of the descriptions she gives for former students, but she also has an amazing memory.

I was on the PRSA Bateman team in 2001, and tonight we’re talking about how she remembers that we came in second, and if you were there earlier tonight, I met … Xavier University I can’t remember your first name, sorry. But we met her tonight, and she started talking, I’m looking at you right now, sorry. She started talking about our public relations team, and it’s just like … She makes you feel … If you’re spending time with her, she makes you feel like you’re the most important person, like you know so much, and I don’t even want to speak anymore, because I don’t want anyone to change their opinion, because she just gave me this great introduction. And she does it to all of her students too.

I was talking to some of my friends on my way before we came up here, and everyone was like, “Oh, you should say this, and oh, you should say that.” And I’m like, oh, you only have three minutes. And I know I’m going over, sorry.

There’s a Maya Angelou quote, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said, or did, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.’ And this is one of the qualities that Dr. Rogers has that I really hope to emulate, and I hope that you all will, too.

On a personal note … Well, we live in New Orleans, I’m actually from California originally, and you know how a significant milestone romantic relationship is bringing over a spouse to meet your parents? I’m sorry, bringing a boyfriend or girlfriend to meet your parents. Well since my parents don’t live in New Orleans, Dr. Rogers does that role for me. So it’s only on very few occasions that I felt comfortable to actually introduce someone to her. Every year she hosts the PRSA Holiday party, and it’s the place where, even if I don’t see anyone for years and years, it’s at her house where everyone is happy to be there, and happy to be together. And I always aspire to have someone that I like enough to bring and introduce to her.

She treats us more like family, and we’ve actually even incorporated, tonight, her husband Danny is with her tonight. He has just retired as a state trooper and he has been enlisted as part of this mentorship program, because before we buy houses, we have Danny go and check to make sure the neighborhood is safe.

So, I’m the accreditation chair for the New Orleans Chapter PRSA, and there’s an ebb and flow in public relations professionals, who are interested in getting their accreditation. But when I became the accreditation chair for our chapter, I made a decision that my goal was going to be to get every public relations professor in New Orleans to become accredited. More specifically, I wanted the best public relations professor in New Orleans to become accredited. So it was a real treat last year when, after I had reminded her for a couple years and emailed her, and mentioned it at lunch. Then when I saw her at dinner and at the grocery store, I encouraged her to start the process, which is very rewarding.

So last year, at the PRSA banquet, I finally had the opportunity to present Dr. Rogers, who had been my mentor for so long with her APR pin, and it was a real treat.

So with that, please let me introduce you to Dr. Cathy Rogers.

Dr. Cathy Rogers: Thank you Cheryn for that introduction and thank you to the Plank Center, and to the board for selecting me. I’m especially grateful that you selected someone from a small liberal arts college, who’s work is focused on undergraduates. Undergraduates, as you all know, show amazing promise, but they also face incredible challenges and struggles, and anxieties about their career path and lots of other things.

To be honest, the most satisfying part of my job, is mentoring students in and out of the classroom, and after they graduate. When I first got the call from John Devaney that I was being recognized, I was really overwhelmed. How gratifying to be recognized for the very favorite part of your job, right? So thank you again. But the first thing that came to mind, was my first mentor as an undergraduate. So I invite all of you to think about mentors or advisors you had when you were first an undergraduate. And I was a freshman in an English Freshman composition class, and my English professor recognized my writing ability, even though I was a dental hygiene major. Yes, believe it or not, and encouraged me to write for the campus weekly newspaper.

Well, I did, and about a year later, Dr. Roseanne Osborne recruited me to be the editor of the campus paper, and encouraged me to change my major, thank goodness. From dental hygiene, to English and journalism. What a life changing milestone and mentoring moment that was.

Dr. Osborne also encouraged me to pursue my Master’s Degree, and my PhD. You really never know how influential one conversation can be with a young person.

I also want to thank my students. My students inspire me every day, in and out of the classroom, and even after they graduate, even more after they graduate. As Cheryn just said, after almost 30 years of teaching, she encouraged me to get my APR. So, I want to say, I really believe in reverse mentoring. We’ve talked about mentoring tonight, but I want to encourage all of you to think about and go to reverse mentoring if you haven’t already. And with that, I want to say again to the Plank Center Board, and to all of you mentors out there, thank you very much.


More from Dr. Cathy Rogers:

Resources of Interest

The Plank Center is committed to helping you expand your skills and advance the practice of public relations.