Skip to main content
School Of Communications

What Does it Take to be Student of the Year? Golden Spike Award Winners Share Their Experience

BYU students Emily Hooke and Clark Stuart Answer Questions About the Utah PRSA Student of the Year Competition

Emily Hooke Receives the Student of the Year Award
Photo by SALES:CREATIVE Digital Creative Agency

The Golden Spike Awards is an annual event held by the Utah Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) to honor both professionals and students in the public relations field. At the award ceremony, held in December 2023, BYU students Emily Hooke and Clark Stuart received awards in the Public Relations Student of the Year competition.

The student competition is an immersive public relations experience where participants create and present a campaign for a non-profit organization in Utah. Hooke and Stuart competed in a group of five finalists for the title of Student of the Year. Stuart placed third with his project “Hope Across Utah” and Hooke won first place with her campaign “Hope is Dope.” Hooke and Stuart opened up about their experiences in the competition and how they prepared for success.

Q: How did you hear about the Golden Spike Awards?

Hooke: I heard about this competition as a brand new member of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). I joined PRSSA about two years ago, and one of the first big things I was able to do was attend the Golden Spike Awards. As someone that was new to the industry, and new to the major in general, it was enchanting to walk into a room with notable public relations experts and hear about the campaigns they had done to better their communities and make an impact through their creativity. I was surprised when I saw a bunch of students walking up to the stage. After asking some of the BYU PR students around me, I learned that they had participated in the Student of the Year competition. I was curious to know more and after learning about the competition I knew I wanted to do this.

Stuart: The Golden Spike Awards are an annual event held by the Utah Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). I am heavily involved with the associated student organization at BYU, so I have established connections with public relations professionals and the local Utah PRSA chapter. I heard about the event the past few years but was finally able to attend this year after I was selected as a finalist for PR Student of the Year.

Emily Hooke, Utah PRSA Student of the Year
Photo by SALES:CREATIVE Digital Creative Agency

Q: Can you describe the project that won you the award?

Hooke: Every year for this competition, the Utah PRSA selects a nonprofit organization based in Utah that they feel is deserving of free PR support from students across the state. This year, we had the chance to create a campaign to benefit Hope4Utah, a suicide prevention organization that works with students directly to help those who are struggling. I created this campaign called “Hope is Dope,” where the focus was to reach students directly both at and away from school. I also thought about how parents are a mobilizing force in suicide prevention, and planned some methods for inspiring them to have quality conversations about suicide prevention with their children.

Stuart: I developed a campaign called “Hope Across Utah” which focused on hosting a community walk event in cities throughout the state and collaborating with key leaders from government and media organizations. After submitting a written entry according to set criteria, I was selected as one of five finalists and invited to an in-person competition. In this part of the competition I gave a presentation of my campaign plan, wrote a press release within a time limit, pitched my project to an actual reporter and responded to a crisis communications scenario. The competition is designed to give students a PR experience which replicates actual work within the profession. It was surely a highlight of my undergraduate experience.

Q: Where did you find inspiration for this project?

Hooke: I saw the competition as a great learning opportunity and learning that Hope4Utah was a suicide prevention organization only added to my motivation. I have had multiple friends that have either passed away due to suicide or attempted it. I was only a teenager when some of those things were happening and I felt that I was not adequately prepared with ways to help my friends. The opportunity to create a campaign that could help not only the struggling teenager, but those like me who desire to help, motivated me to finish my campaign, and I feel good about the ideas that I put forward. I hope that Hope4Utah can use my campaign to benefit teenagers across the state.

Clark Stuart, Third Place in Student of the Year Competition
Photo by SALES:CREATIVE Digital Creative Agency

Stuart: I was inspired to apply for this competition to challenge myself and put what I learned from the PR program into action. My particular campaign, “Hope Across Utah,” intended to expand the outreach of suicide awareness to all areas of the state, not just Utah County. I was also inspired by everything Hope4Utah had already done in Provo and I believed that the organization’s previous work could easily be applied in schools and communities all over Utah.

Governor Spencer Cox also inspired me and played a key role in my campaign. His work to improve mental health awareness and suicide prevention in the state during his administration made him the ideal partner for my proposed campaign. I even got into contact with some of his staff to get the ball rolling on my project.

Q: How did your BYU education prepare you for this endeavor?

Hooke: I am proud to be a member of the BYU public relations program. This program harnesses our desires to problem solve, connect with people and make a big impact. Then we learn how to apply these desires to real world experiences. I love the program's focus on ethics and aligning our priorities with the audience’s while being creative and working as a team. In terms of this competition, I think the opportunity to work with real clients and learn how to solve their problems allowed me to feel comfortable working with Hope4Utah.

Stuart: The BYU public relations program prepared me for this competition by teaching me each aspect of creating a PR campaign. Throughout the program, we learn how to research effectively, create content, measure the perception of key publics and strategize. The professors in the program shared their expertise with me, and through working with them to prepare my project I was able to succeed in the competition. I met with Professor Steve Thomsen several times, and brainstorming with him was essential to creating my campaign. BYU has taught me to always look for ways to serve others and recognize everyone as children of God. Working with a non-profit organization focused on suicide prevention really opened my eyes to the issue. When I focused on the people affected by depression, it made it much easier for me to be inspired and come up with the ideas in my campaign.

Q: How did this competition build your character?

Hooke: The Student of the Year competition was a lot of work, but it was also fun to push myself! Before the competition, I had never created such a comprehensive campaign. It was a good learning experience for me as I bounced ideas off of professors and people I had worked with in internships. The live competition was definitely intense. I had never done anything like it and the challenges pushed me unlike anything else. That being said, we sign-up to be confronted with new situations, problems and questions every day when we become public relations professionals. We are always trying to innovate how we reach our audiences, how we solve problems and how we navigate the situations that are presented to our clients. It is a daunting task. However, participating in this competition has given me greater confidence in facing it!

Stuart: This competition was incredibly challenging, especially the in-person segment. I had never proposed my own campaign before and having to stand in front of judges who were experienced and notable public relations professionals was incredibly nerve-racking. The crisis communications scenario also tested me and required me to think on my feet and consider how to handle an urgent crisis. After getting through the competition and receiving my award, I gained a lot of confidence in my abilities and excitement to enter this field. I look forward to entering the workforce and applying what I learned from both the PR program and this competition.