Assistant professor integrates public relations leadership research into her teaching

Juan Meng always wanted to work in communications, but early in her career, she couldn't have predicted where that passion would lead her.

“For me, life is magic,” said Meng, an assistant professor of public relations in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. “Certain decisions you make, you may not see their contributions to the future at that time. But looking back, you realize that all your experiences actually connect in a meaningful way to make who you are today.”

Fresh out of Fudan University in China with a degree in economics, Meng began her career as a journalist for the largest TV network in Shanghai. Her interest in public relations was piqued while covering the international education beat.

“PR was made in the U.S., so it was the best place for me to study,” she said.

Her journey took her to Bowling Green State University in Ohio for a master's program in organizational communications. Wanting to deepen her knowledge of teaching and research in public relations, Meng completed a doctoral program at the University of Alabama and concurrently earned a second master's degree in marketing.

She developed a unique, integrated perspective of concepts and theories in persuasive communications and quantitative methodology.

“The research methods and advanced analysis of multiple data sets really opened my eyes about how to look at a big set of global data more deeply and comprehensively,” Meng said.

Those skills have been essential to her research of strategic leadership in public relations, leadership development process and multinational corporations' reputation and knowledge management strategies in emerging markets.

A research fellow at the University of Alabama's Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, Meng was drawn to the Grady College because of its supportive research environment.

“Everybody has his or her own research specializations, but together we make the department and college really strong,” she said. “We find a way to collaborate, a way to share through a mutual learning process. It stimulates productivity as a scholar.”

Meng's research has appeared in the Journal of Public Relations Research, the Journal of Communication Management and the International Journal of Strategic Communication, among other scholarly publications.

In 2014, she co-authored Public Relations Leaders as Sensemakers. The book summarized a three-year global study-the largest-ever of its kind-of public relations leadership. For her devotion to research, she was recognized as one of UGA's Superstar Researchers that same year.

Meng integrates her research into the classroom to help students understand convergent trends of the business. Her students also participate in her research.

Last fall, undergraduate and graduate students in her PR classes conducted in-depth interviews for a study examining issues related to recruitment, retention and engagement of millennial professionals in the public relations industry.

“It was an authentic learning experience to help them understand the process of designing and carrying out research and summarizing insights,” Meng said. “From the professional development side, they got the opportunity to learn from the professionals by talking to them directly.”

Because of its experiential and service-learning elements, Meng's favorite class is PR Campaigns, which she currently co-teaches with Karen King, a professor of advertising. In teams, students tackle projects for real clients.

“Eventually they work together as an agency, integrate the knowledge they have learned from their majors and produce a 360-degree strategic plan to present to the client,” she said. “It is collaborative but challenging at the same time.”

Named a Grady College Outstanding Teacher of the Year in 2013, Meng attributes her love of teaching to her many mentors.

“They did not just teach me skills, but cultivated me to become a more enriched person internally,” she said. “And I am passing the torch to my students. I hope they can think beyond what they've learned and transform such knowledge into real impact.”

Date: February 23, 2015
Author:  Stephanie Moreno,
Contact:  Juan Meng,