We’re putting a much-deserved spotlight on our spring 2020 graduation award winners. These are the students who were to be honoured for their exceptional achievements at spring convocation. Though we couldn’t spotlight them on the convocation stage, we’re thrilled to celebrate these stand-out students through special features.

Marissa Wilmot
Bachelor of Public Relations | Hometown: Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Marissa was the winner of a Kappa Gamma Pi Prize this spring. Membership to Kappa Gamma Pi, the National Catholic College Graduate Honor Society, is based on scholarship, leadership, and service.

Q: Why did you choose to study at MSVU?

A: “It all began when the MSVU recruiters delivered a compelling presentation at my high school. I learned that MSVU provides students with many opportunities to travel and that their professional studies programs combine academics with experiential learning. I liked the idea of learning skills that could lead to favourable and versatile career prospects. What’s more, is that MSVU is the only university on the east coast that offers an undergraduate degree in public relations.

Descriptions of the courses intrigued me as they aligned with what I already did in my spare time (web design, graphic arts, writing, video making, etc.). Career aptitude tests confirmed that public relations was a good fit. I had some familiarity with the campus, as several events for junior high students were held there. A friend encouraged me to sign up with her when the recruiters returned to my school. Thankfully, the university accepted my application and ultimately made me an offer I could not refuse.”

Q. What is your favourite location on campus and why?

A. “Any place with peace and quiet is best. The far corner of the library overlooking the Bedford Basin has lots of natural light and comfortable seating. The computer labs on the third floor of Seton Academic Centre are also a good choice for studying as they are full of calm and warm energy. I think the furnace room is nearby.

I encourage anyone in need of concentration to invest in a quality pair of noise cancelling headphones – that way, it does not matter where you are!”

Q: Tell us about the kinds of extra-curricular activities you were involved in.

“My introduction to the MSVU campus was through a leadership conference organized by the Nova Scotia Secondary School Students’ Association (NSSSA). It was a significant event in my life and I returned to campus again and again for more – in the end, I attended 10 NSSSA conferences. I credit them with teaching me how to be a leader in school and in my community. Their lessons on how to advocate for yourself and others came in handy on a number of occasions. I continued to be involved with the NSSSA while in university by helping out with event logistics. Exposure to the behind-the-scenes world of events prepared me for serving on the executive committee of the Public Relations and Communications Society, where I was responsible for planning events with the team.”

Q: Were you part of an experiential opportunity (co-op, practicum, internship) during your time at MSVU? If so, please describe.

A. “Yes, the public relations program has students incorporate three co-operative education terms into their degree. I chose to work at a charity, government agency, and private corporation. Cool and exciting things happened during each placement! While at Alice House, my public relations efforts were picked up by a journalist which resulted in front-page coverage in the Halifax Star. I was stunned and amazed that as a student I could make that happen.

While at Nova Scotia Power, I toured the Tufts Cove Generating Station in Dartmouth – that’s where those three iconic red and white smokestacks are located. I got to enter the buildings and witnessed a controlled fire burning at over 3,200°F! While staring into the fiery abyss, I was glad for assurances that every precaution was taken to ensure that everything and everyone was safe. Throughout the term I was treated as a legitimate employee, whether that meant being welcomed onto the company team volunteering at the IWK Telethon or being invited to meet with the Mooseheads to plan a sponsorship ceremony in relation to the Memorial Cup.

From my professors I heard you must get out of the office to gain an appreciation for what is happening in the field if you are to be an effective public relations practitioner. While at the Nova Scotia Health Authority, I had the privilege of receiving a tour of the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner’s Office. I witnessed highly competent employees display a culture of respect, professionalism, and compassion for the dead and their families. Throughout my co-op, I had exposure to diverse health care roles and initiatives when writing feature stories that highlighted those making an exceptional difference in the health care sector. During the pandemic, we have all heard how dedicated health care workers are to their roles – I can confirm this is absolutely true.

Overall, the co-op program greatly enriched my MSVU experience. My coursework granted me the ability to see specific ways in which public relations could support each organization and gave me the self-assurance to act on that knowledge. Participating in the program helped me to answer questions I had about my future. I can see that my placements will shape my career path because they helped to define what is important to me in a job.”

Q. Is there a particular course, book, experience or event you would recommend to others?

A. “To feel super empowered and validated, sign up for the Women’s Awareness Survival Program offered through the Mount Fitness Centre. It is a four- or eight-hour workshop for women 12 years old and up that teaches both mental and physical self defense. The instructors acknowledge that random acts of physical violence are only one piece of the puzzle. Danger may also be lurking in a familiar environment you consider safe or while you are with someone you trust.

Through this workshop, you learn precisely how to take control of a threatening situation even if it involves someone you care about. Breaking free from a naïve mindset in which you look past or are oblivious to red flags is far better to do in a classroom than learning through a harrowing experience. I am so grateful to Johanne and Frank Zinck, who created and presented the workshop. Now I feel that I can rely on myself to astutely navigate through life by using their evidence-based strategies for predicting, avoiding, and if necessary, confronting danger.”

Q: What class, professor, project or learning activity has held the most meaning for you? Why?

A. “The course that held the most meaning for me was THMT 3380, a half credit that affords professional studies students the chance to travel to New York City, NY or Orlando, FL as part of the lesson plan. Students do not visit the cities as tourists, but rather as voluntourists, since they participate in volunteer work prior to and during the week-long trip. Exclusive access to a behind-the-scenes view of the tourism and hospitality industry is part of each trip, whether that means exploring the underground tunnels at Disney World or receiving a back-of-house tour at a Times Square hotel. The trip is always scheduled to take place during reading week so as to not conflict with classes or exams. Essentially, THMT 3380 connects students to their communities and the world at large to teach them the value of giving back, developing them into guardians of MSVU’s tradition of social responsibility.

I took part in this course twice, once in 2015 and again in 2019. Students were in good hands with Scott Daniels [Manager, Co-operative Education], who masterfully planned both trips. A stand-out experience was volunteering with The River Fund, a non-profit organization that aims to empower those they serve to move beyond poverty. In the early hours of a frosty November morning, hundreds of people lined up around the block to reach a single house in Jamaica, Queens, NYC. My classmates and I served them food and essential items. Swami Durgas Das, the executive director, took us on a tour of the house and joyfully explained his life philosophy of selfless action.

The way Swami approaches life and his non-profit work was chronicled in the Long Island Report, in which he mentioned his spiritual mentor. He said: “She taught me how the fastest way to God, no matter what you believe in, is through service” and that “it’s all about the death of the ego; the death of the I.” It was clear when I met him that Swami walks the walk. The centre of operations for The River Fund is Swami’s house! The on-site pantry service happens there every Saturday, rain or shine. How wonderful it was to bear witness to what is effectively God’s work.”

Q: If you could share just one piece of advice with your pre-MSVU self, what would it be?

A. “Seek help for problems you are not equipped to solve on your own. How can you tell when you are in need of help? The problems are not going away despite your devotion to their resolve. It doesn’t initially matter why this is the case, as you don’t have to figure that out before confiding in someone. Just ask someone trustworthy for help. If the solutions offered do not work, get a second opinion – but not only from the people around you! As they say, you can’t read the label from inside the bottle. Someone with an outside perspective is in a better position to offer genuine insight and present a way forward that you may not have considered.

I cannot stress enough the importance of believing there is a solution for every problem. There is no difficulty that cannot be overcome! Although I am not convinced that all anguish has a greater purpose, it can leave you with the gift of perspective. Learning to cope with life’s big problems will teach you to not take life’s little problems too seriously.”

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A. “I am keenly aware that tomorrow is never promised and this has been an inspiration to focus on offering my best effort for each day’s work. I have found this approach paves the way to opportunities that I could not have planned for. Generally speaking, I wish to live a life filled with peace and freedom and stability. Receiving a post-secondary education has already helped me get closer to this vision. Thank you, MSVU!

For anyone who has gotten this far in reading this Q&A piece – I want to share a poem with you. My hope is that it brings you strength and comfort as that is what it does for me. It is the 1883 poem “The Pillar of the Cloud” written by Saint John Henry Newman. Here is my favourite verse:

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th’encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.”