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By Melinda Price

The finalists for WWPR’s 27th annual Washington PR Woman of the Year Award have been announced and the celebratory luncheon is just around the corner! To ramp up for the event, we reconnected with last year’s award winner about her experience as the honoree and advice for young women in public relations for this month’s Member Spotlight.

Christina Nichols, M.P.H., M.S., M.S., is the senior vice president, director of strategic planning and research at Hager Sharp. Christina was selected as the 2015 Washington PR Woman of the Year honoree due to her rich background in public relations.

What made you to decide to enter the public relations profession?

This probably isn’t the answer you might expect, but here it goes:

I had a merit scholarship as an undergraduate – that is essentially how I was able to attend college. I really did not have the means to go to graduate school, but I was always certain I wanted to go. Somehow during that year of graduation, I learned if you work full-time at a university, in most cases, you can go to graduate school for free or for a very nominal tuition fee. I had a very good friend in Boston – home to all of those wonderful colleges and universities! – so I went up there.

I got two job offers during my first week there – one from Boston University (BU) and one from Emerson University. The Emerson job paid more, but BU had a greater array of disciplines and programs. Both had very good communications programs. I took the BU job – even though it really didn’t pay enough to live on in Boston – because I hadn’t quite committed to communications and wanted more options. I had thought communications might be a reasonable extension of one of my undergraduate majors – English – but I was also fairly interested in law as an option. BU has a great law school, but at the time, it did not offer evening programs. In the final analysis, the evening programs within the BU College of Communications provided the best fit for my interests and talents.

So, it was a pragmatic career choice based on available opportunity. But it was a good choice, as it is a career that combines well with any number of disciplines. I have combined it with public health over the past decade, and I think communication skills can really make a difference in that discipline. I also teach Advocacy for Public Health at The George Washington University, and that class focuses heavily on policy change. So, I get to live out some of my musings of ‘what might have been’ if I had gone to law school.

How would you describe your experience as the honoree for last year’s Washington PR Woman of the Year?

It was a complete surprise and tremendous honor to be nominated, let alone win! Much of my career in PR agencies has been focused in research and evaluation. I have been fortunate to develop and lead campaigns and communication programs, but I have spent more time as research and evaluation director. I think us research geeks are less frequently recognized in the PR industry, so I view this as a victory for research geeks everywhere! All kidding aside, it really was a tremendous honor to be recognized by my extremely talented peers and colleagues in the Washington PR community.

How do you feel the award and the luncheon fits with the greater community of women in public relations around DC and the mission of WWPR?

I feel it gives communicators a chance to explore, learn from and be inspired by the work of talented others in the field. We all grow when we step away from our daily work to explore the experiences of others. So, it is terrific to have a community forum like WWPR available to us.

What advice do you have for young women who have similar career goals?

Step away from your daily work from time to time and connect with others! Take some time to engage in forums like WWPR and keep your heart and mind open to new possibilities in communications, especially to figure out where it can be most impactful.

What about your role as a public relations professional makes you most passionate about the field?

As a research and evaluation expert, I frequently get to assess the impact of communication efforts, and that impact is often very strong and impressive!  Seeing the real impact of our work is always motivating.

Don’t miss the 2016 Washington PR Woman of the Year Award Luncheon! Register now to join WWPR in celebrating the accomplishments of the talented women in public relations.

Sponsorship opportunities are also available for the luncheon. For more information, contact Co-Chairs Elise Perkins and Dani Veira at woy@wwpr.org.