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Faculty Focus: Holly Overton

Posted April 4, 2018
By Blaire Taylor, CIC graduate assistant


Since joining the School of Journalism and Mass Communications in 2016, Dr. Holly Overton has hit her stride as a professor in the public relations sequence. In addition to teaching the essentials to students at every level from bachelor’s to Ph.D., she’s also making an impact as faculty director of a new research group that includes students who are already garnering international awards.

Overton earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. After finishing her master’s degree, she worked in non-profit communications and corporate marketing before taking a job in experiential learning and career management for Millersville University. During this time, she also did part-time public relations work for Dickinson College. Though Overton loved university work, she couldn’t shake her desire to be in the classroom. Adding adjunct professor to her growing list of roles helped her realize her true calling.

“I decided this is what I wanted to do,” Overton says. “I was very fortunate to obtain a full-time faculty position at my alma mater, Shippensburg University. Then, I started my Ph.D. at Penn State and completed my program in three years while working full time as a SU faculty member.”

Overton’s area of interest is in corporate social responsibility, better known as CSR. CSR focuses on how businesses can give back to their community and benefit society.

“As a doctoral student, we were all encouraged to find a niche area,” Overton says. “I became interested in learning what good businesses are doing. This was back when CSR was a new concept rather than an expectation. I became curious about how organizations are exciting their audiences and impacting what people think.”

Overton’s interest in research led her to create the Public Relations/Strategic Communications Research Group for master's and doctoral students at USC. The six-person group, launched this spring, conducts empirical research on public relations topics, issues and trends. Students and faculty collaborate to produce high-quality research papers, which are then submitted to public relations and strategic communications conferences and journals. Students in the group have already won awards from the 2018 International Public Relations Research Conference in Orlando, Florida, and 2018 International Communications Association Conference in Prague, Czech Republic.

“I attribute a large part of my research success to a research group I was a part of at Penn State,” Overton says. “I decided to bring that dynamic space to USC. This is a really good way to bring people together who have varying levels of research experience and skill sets to have collaborative discussions about the latest in public relations research.”

As a professor, Overton finds pure joy in what she does, particularly when she’s able to integrate her research into the classroom. The most rewarding part is watching those lessons result in exciting jobs or prestigious awards for her students.

“When the light bulb moment hits, the students connect the dots and take that strategic example and turn it into practice,” Overton says. “It is as much as an accomplishment for them as it is an honor for me to celebrate their success.”


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Blaire Taylor

Blaire Taylor is a first-year graduate communications student with an assistantship in the web communications office of the college. She is working towards a career in visual communications and public relations. Outside of school, she loves to travel and explore.