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April 13, 2013
By Philip Gruenwald, media relations assistant
After four years of education and training at Northwest Missouri State University, three accomplished students – Kate Bridges, Alison Hartong and Kelsey Larson – are graduating this spring with public relations degrees and will begin their professional careers with Cerner at its Kansas City headquarters.
The company is a leader in digital health care communication and technology with profits that rose a record 22.6 percent in last year’s fourth quarter. The three graduates will work in client and internal communications positions, applying their public relations training and distinctly unique college experiences.
Bridges and Hartong say they appreciate the visual and personal side of public relations, which they practiced as Northwest student ambassadors. They valued their public relations training at Northwest, which they say emphasizes specific, real-life experiences within each major.
“Public relations is basically communication in all different aspects,” Hartong, a senior public relations major from Savannah, said. “Verbal or non-verbal, whether it be through marketing strategies or talking to people, it is hard to put a label on it because it’s just all-encompassing of communications.”
Through internships in event planning, writing and philanthropy, Bridges explored the diverse aspects of public relations. Though she grew up knowing of Cerner as her brother’s employer, the company was not a bright blip on her radar until she talked with a recruitment specialist at a Career Day visit. After a two-day interview at their Kansas City office, she was sold on Cerner.
“Healthcare has always been really important, and it’s booming now,” Bridges, a senior public relations major from Albany, said. “With public relations, I felt like it shaped me to handle myself in any situation and market the company in the best possible way.”
Because of her interest in non-profit work, Hartong is glad to apply her training to the medical field. After an internship with the March of Dimes, Hartong met with a Cerner recruitment specialist at a Career Day visit. Soon, she was hired as a velocity analyst.
When Hartong begins work in June, she will apply interpersonal communication skills to internal analyst work in one of 30 internal teams. She appreciates the on-the-job training provided by Cerner.
“I’ll spend four weeks in a classroom learning everything there is to know about Cerner and another five weeks acting as an employee in different teams in the company,” Hartong said. “At the end, based off of need and where you want to be, you’re placed. With Cerner, there’s a lot of potential movement laterally and vertically, so it’s really cool that they give you the opportunity to see what everything looks like and get some experience under your belt.”
Larson, who also played volleyball for the Bearcats, began her journey to Cerner with internships in Northwest athletics marketing and event planning for radio stations in Kansas City.
During a summer internship at Cerner, Larson started working with the company’s creative team, communicating with international offices in Dubai, Australia, Spain and elsewhere. When the public relations department had a sudden shortage, they asked Larson to fill in because of her public relations training and communication competence. They asked for her input during meetings with top-level executives.
“I expected them to treat me like an intern, like telling me to go get some coffee,” Larson, a senior public relations major from Fargo, N.D., said. “Being valued was really cool, but I had to be up on things. I looked back on some of the PR plans we worked on in class because I couldn’t remember some of the steps, and it was helpful.”
Larson also discovered Cerner is full of alumni who are glad to share stories with a fellow Bearcat.
“I have the Bearcat paw on my car and whenever I’m parking people say, ‘Go Bearcats!’" Larson said. “Everyone talks about how much Cerner loves Bearcats. They all have Northwest gear hanging up on their desks and Bearcat paws in the parking lot.”
Larson will start with Cerner in October, representing the company to clients around the country as a U.S. business consultant. Similarly, Bridges will work as a professional services consultant, visiting clients throughout the country to train them on medical equipment.
“I’m big on personal communication and making that short amount of time that you’re talking to someone valuable,” Bridges said. “At Northwest, you learn from the small class sizes, the opportunities to get involved and the opportunity to meet a lot of people. I think employers see that when you shake their hand and meet them.”
About 20-25 students graduate from Northwest with public relations degrees every year. Accordingly, Northwest faculty give specialized attention to students and help them develop necessary skills for success in the public relations field.
“The professors at Northwest truly care about our futures,” Hartong said. “They do so much to prepare us for the real world, and I think that’s why we’re so highly sought after.”
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468