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President’s Message

As a parent, what do I worry about most?

Protecting my child from bullies and predators. Making sure she gets her homework done and she makes friends at school. That she eats a nutritious diet and not so many chicken nuggets.

But having safe water to drink? Never crossed my mind.

Until the Flint water crisis hit, that is.

It angers me that so many children have been poisoned by lead, and parents had no idea it was happening. And right now, they can still do very little about it.

This April, the Blue Ridge PRSA chapter will have a rare opportunity to learn about the public relations efforts behind Virginia Tech’s Flint Water Study. The Virginia Tech study team’s ongoing research and support of the citizens of Flint has had a significant impact on not only shining a bright light on the emergency situation, but in helping provide short and long-term solutions.

Join us on Thursday, April 14 at noon at the Blacksburg Hilton Garden Inn. To register, visit

Have a great month!

Betsy Parkins
PRSA Blue Ridge President

The Flint, Michigan Water Crisis and the New Model of Communications at Virginia Tech

There’s a crisis in the water and change in the air as Virginia Tech takes charge of communications! With new leadership at Tech, a reorganization which has University Relations inside the new Advancement Division, and the University’s Flint Water Study of Flint, Michigan, Tracy Vosburgh and Mark Owczarski have been getting the job done in more ways than one.

Be sure to join us for a professional development luncheon you won’t want to miss at the Hilton Garden Inn in Blacksburg on April 14 at noon. Tracy Vosburgh,senior associate vice president for university relations and spokesperson for Virginia Tech, will share an overview of Virginia Tech’s new communications model in university relations, and Mark Owczarski, assistant vice president for university relations, will share his recent experience, strategies, and challenges handling multiple national news outlets covering the Flint, Michigan water crisis, where the Flint Water Study with Marc Edwards and his team has been at the forefront of scientific reporting with regards to the drinking water. 

To register for the luncheon, visit:

For more information and news coverage on the Flint Water Study by Virginia Tech, visit:


Senior Associate Vice President for University Relations

Virginia Tech

Tracy Vosburgh joined Virginia Tech in September 2015 as the Senior Associate Vice President for University Relations.  In this role, Tracy provides communication leadership for strategic university initiatives and serves as a member of the Senior Leadership Team for the Vice President for Advancement.  She heads up Media Relations, College Communications, Development Communications, Television Productions, Publications, Web Communications, Trademarks and Licensing, and the public radio station serving Central and Southwest Virginia, WVTF.  Tracy also serves as the university spokesperson.

Prior to joining Virginia Tech, Tracy was the Associate Vice President in the Office of the Vice President for University Communications at Cornell University, operationally leading the division and overseeing strategic communications.

Prior to joining Cornell, Tracy was the station manager for Penn State Public Broadcasting where she was in charge of broadcasting and production for WPSX-TV (PBS) and WPSU-FM (NPR) and head of Creative and Educational Services. She served as executive producer of the national PBS production Small Ball: A Little League Story, distributed in 2004, and served as production manager for the first Legendary Lighthouses series, distributed nationally by PBS in 1998.

Tracy has over 25 years of professional, creative, and management experience in public television and documentary filmmaking and higher education.  She was the production manager for WETA in Washington, D.C. for the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. She has served as production manager and post-production supervisor for National Geographic Explorer and worked in production management at ABC/Kane Production for the ABC/World of Discovery series.


Assistant Vice President for University Relations

Virginia Tech

Mark Owczarski is currently Assistant Vice President for University Relations at Virginia Tech and provides leadership for the university’s media relations, college and other unit-based communications, crisis communications, and internal communications programs.

During his 13 years at Virginia Tech, he has led university efforts to move communications products to digital platforms. Virginia Tech News ( is the daily news services that provides the university’s latest news and information via the web, email, social and multimedia platforms, and these modes of communication are leveraged as part of its crisis communications plan. Today, more than a million people visit the news website annually.

Over the past decade, as Virginia Tech has strengthened its global reputation as a leading research university, media relations initiatives have supported that growth. Widespread national and international media coverage of Virginia Tech’s work has included high-speed computing, robotics, drones and autonomous vehicles, and clean drinking water and the Flint water crisis.

Prior to coming to Virginia Tech, Mark served as Director of Communications Programs at Syracuse University from 1998 to 2003 and oversaw the university's national media relations program and several specific strategic communications projects. From 1994 to 1998, he was Director of College Relations at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., and held media relations and publications positions at the State University of New York at Stony Brook from 1989 to 1994.

A native of Cheshire, Conn., Mark received his bachelor's degree and master's degree from Syracuse University.

It’s Award Judging Time!

Each year, the PRSA Blue Ridge Chapter serves as judges for another PRSA chapter's awards program. This year, we are judging entries from the West Michigan Chapter.

Judging is going on now. Just go to this Dropbox folder and read the judging instructions to begin.

With a little less than 110 entries (and each entry needing to be judged twice), we need all the help we can get! The more people help out, the quicker we knock this out. It only takes about 10 minutes to judge one entry and it’s all online, so judging can be done at work, home, wherever. Hopefully you will have some time you can devote to helping us judge awards. 

We have a hard deadline of April 12, so we’d like to get these done by April 8, if not sooner.

If you have any questions, please contact Chuck Lionberger, APR.

Thanks so much for all your help as we work to advance the PR profession and the PR professional!

Get Your Story Told!

Does your organization have a great initiative going on that you want the region to hear about? Do you have a media pitch you’re sure is a real winner, but you’re just not sure who to contact? We can help! PRSA Blue Ridge is bringing back its most popular professional development event – Media Speed-Networking. Sit down face-to-face with some of the Roanoke area’s fantastic journalists to pitch your story ideas and receive instant feedback.

Join us on Friday, April 29 from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the Green Ridge Recreation Center for your chance to speak with:

  • Connie Stevens, News Director – WVTF/Radio/Virginia Public Radio
  • Tim Thornton, Editor – Roanoke Business magazine
  • Shayne Dwyer, Reporter – WDBJ7 TV
  • Gene Marrano, Reporter/Anchor - WFIR News 960AM/FM 107.3
  • Becky Freemal, Anchor - WFXR News First

Early registration is $10 for PRSA and PRSSA members, $15 for non-members, if registered by April 4th (Late registration is $15 for PRSA and PRSSA members, $20 for non-members). Space is limited, so register now to save your seat at this event!

Mission Possible

PRSA Members—

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to use your network of connections to help us locate the following individual:

  • Public relations professional
  • Passionate about PR
  • Wants to learn and connect with PR peers
  • Looking for opportunities and programs to better their organization and themselves

If you successfully complete this mission, you will receive a $25 e-gift certificate to Amazon for every member that you refer. The person you refer to PRSA will receive the following:

  • Waived initiation fee ($65 value)
  • 1-year free section membership* ($60 value)

To complete this mission, have your contact complete the membership application here. Make sure they use your name in the "How did you hear about PRSA" section and include the promo code MP16 in the Coupon/Promo Code field upon checkout to receive the discount.

*Counselors Academy is not included in this special Sections offer.

This concludes your mission!

eXperience 2016

If you are a young professional in the Roanoke or New River Valley, or an upcoming graduate looking to get plugged in to the healthcare, technology, or entrepreneurship opportunities this area has to offer, be sure to attend the “eXperience 2016” young professionals summit this April 7-8. 

It will be a one-of-a-kind event filled with ideas and inspiration to get you connected, engaged, and involved in what’s going on in this region. Find out more here:

New Member Spotlight

Name: Ruth Jones

Title & Company: Communications Manager for the City of Staunton

Joined PRSA: 2013

College/University attended?Virginia Commonwealth University and Bridgewater College (B.S., Communication Studies)

Why did you choose PR as a career? You could say that PR chose me. I studied journalism and public relations in college, but I was set on being a journalist. After working in journalism for nearly six years, I realized that it wasn’t the career path I envisioned. I found myself working in public relations after I was contacted by a non-profit organization in need of a PR professional immediately, and I jumped at the chance. I was hooked, and I’ve been in marketing and communications ever since!

What have been the highlights of your career, or what are some goals of your career? It was a distinct honor to work as the communications director for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, the largest provider of charitable food assistance in Central and Western Virginia. My encounters with the people we served and the trust they afforded me in telling their stories was incredibly meaningful and fulfilling, not to mention the exceptional team I had the pleasure of working alongside. It is an experience I will hold close to my heart in perpetuity.


Upcoming events at a glance: 

  • Thursday, April 7- Friday, April 8—eXperience 2016 young professionals summit;

  • Tuesday, April 12 – West Michigan PRoof Awards judging deadline

  • Thursday, April 14 – “Flint Water Crisis & VT Communications Model” professional development luncheon; Noon; Hilton Garden Inn, Blacksburg; Register here

  • Friday, April 29—Media Speed Networking; 8:30 a.m.; Green Ridge Recreation Center; Register here


Tell Us What's Going On!

Help keep PRSA Blue Ridge members informed by submitting items for the chapter newsletter. Please send your industry-related story ideas and articles to newsletter coordinator Allison Lindy.

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