the golden gate bridge

March 30, 2022

Share this Post:


March is Women’s History Month and to celebrate, the PRSA-SF chapter recognizes a local woman whose efforts have made a positive impact in the community. We are proud to announce Dr. Zifei Fay Chen, an assistant professor in the Communication Studies Department at the University of San Francisco (USF), as the 2022 PRSA San Francisco Bay Area Chapter PR Woman of the Year award recipient. We asked Fay a few questions to learn more about her career and her advice for PR professionals looking to grow their careers.

Tell us the story about how you got into public relations?

The way I got into public relations was a journey of exploration. I first heard of public relations as a profession when I was a college student back in China. It was relatively new as a field of study, and I didn’t know what the profession was about. But through some research, I felt it could be a field where I could put my interests in writing and business into use at the same time. I was working as an English news reporter and translator during my senior year in college and decided to apply for a graduate program in public relations in the United States. After graduating from college, I came to the United States and got my master’s degree in public relations at the University of Georgia, where I learned public relations theories and practices systematically and got connected with many professionals and scholars. After getting my master’s degree and spending a year working in the industry, I went to the University of Miami to get my doctoral degree in Communication with a public relations concentration under the supervision of Dr. Don Stacks. My experience over the years cultivated my strong interests in public relations research and education, especially on topics of social media, corporate social responsibility, startup and entrepreneurship communication and ethics. 

What has been the most memorable experience of your career?

This is a difficult question because there are so many great memories! One of them was definitely the founding of the PRSSA Chapter at the University of San Francisco (or I would say “re-establishing” because there was a Chapter a decade ago but it became inactive and needed to be re-applied when I joined USF). The Chapter was founded *during* the global pandemic online and quickly garnered a lot of interests. The whole process really showed me how supportive our PRSA community is and how great the students are! The PRSSA USF Chapter just elected its 2022-2023 e-board in March, and we are looking forward to so many exciting opportunities!

What experience did you learn the most from? Would you have done anything differently?

Over the years I’ve learned so much from experience in and out of the classroom, in the academy and the industry, but I’d like to share a (most likely) unexpected answer here! During my doctoral studies of public relations I took seven classes related to statistics and measurement. Although they may not appear to be directly related to public relations, the knowledge of data analysis was extremely helpful for me to learn from some of the most cutting-edge studies in public relations, corporate communication, marketing and consumer psychology, and apply the knowledge to my studies and practices. Data allows public relations professionals to establish our value to the dominant coalition in a credible, convincing way. Using statistics analysis such as regressions and structural equation modeling, PR researchers in the academy and industry were able to demonstrate with empirical evidence how public relations efforts could bring tangible and intangible values to the organization and the society, which is so important as our profession strives to gain a seat at the table. If I would have done things differently, I would have tried to get more training in computational methods and big data, because they are really the trend of the industry now. I’m currently doing some collaborative work with data scientists using computational methods, and I hope I can have a more in-depth understanding of these methods through more robust training in the near future.

What has been the biggest challenge or change you’ve navigated as a PR professional?

As a PR professional, researcher and educator, the biggest challenge for me was the changes brought on by the global pandemic. Not only did I have to move my classes online or hybrid and change some approaches pedagogically, but the pivot also required me to grasp the changing landscape of the industry quickly so I could continue offering relevant advice and mentorship for my students. I want to give a big shout out to PRSA San Francisco Bay Area and all the PR professionals who took their time to continue offering support for me and my students through guest talks, PRSSA events, and virtual coffee chats. It is this community that helped me navigate this biggest challenge and helped my students cope with the uncertainties as they prepare for a career during the trying times. 

What’s your best advice to the new generation of PR professionals?

Find your mentors (yes, plural) and become a mentor to others! Having multiple mentors will allow you to gain diverse perspectives; being a mentor yourself and giving back will keep you connected with the next generation and make you a happier person.