In May 2016, Dana Jennings graduated from the College of Media & Communication with a bachelor’s degree in public relations. She spent the following year in the College of Media & Communication’s 30-hour master’s program.
Upon graduation in May, she was offered the position of executive and internal communications coordinator in the Texas Tech System’s Communications and Marketing office. On Thursday, July 20, she celebrated her 22nd birthday, making her the youngest member of the System’s Communications and Marketing team.
“When I got into grad school and I got into this position, I just started to feel empowered constantly,” Jennings said, “because it was never, ‘Oh, you’re young. You can’t do this.’ It was just, ‘You’re here, and you’re doing a good job, so keep going.’ And the same is true with my grad school courses and my grad school professors. I never felt like they weren’t trying to empower me and push me forward.”
However, Jennings did not start her schooling at Tech in the College of Media & Communication. Originally, she said, she was determined to be a dentist. Her love of biology and desire to pursue a degree in dentistry was only dampened by the chemistry-heavy degree plan that stretched before her. After a brawl with CHEM 1307, she started to explore courses offered by other colleges.
Jennings said this is what led her to the College of Media & Communication where she took her first public relations course. During the spring semester of her freshman year, she realized she loved public relations.
“Those courses just kind of sparked for me,” she said. “I made the connection that communication has always been so important to me. Ever since I was a child, it has always been very important to me that people are understanding what I’m trying to say, and I’m understanding what they’re trying to say. And I want things to be very clear, and I want to get my point across, and I want to do it well and intelligently.”
Having been a confident performer and a prolific writer since she was in elementary school, Jennings said she is thankful she went to primary and secondary schools that encouraged creativity and fostered strong communication skills in students.
She said many schools nowadays do not emphasize the importance of creative writing or the arts. To Jennings, these outlets are incredibly important. In fact, she won two awards for costume design in North Texas. However, her greatest passion remained spoken and written word.
“I love language, and I love words,” she said. “It sounds so weird to say that. We use words day in and day out, but I truly love words and the power of words and finding new words to use and things like that.”
Jennings said she always tested into higher course levels in elementary school when given the chance. This same caliber of academic dedication and enthusiasm followed her all the way through graduate school.
Her passion for learning was matched by her professors’ willingness to pour their knowledge into their students, she said.
“My favorite courses always came down to the professors that I had and, I think, in CoMC, we have some stand-out professors,” Jennings said, “that just truly, truly invest in the lives of students, and at Texas Tech, it’s not rare to find professors like that, but I think at other universities, it is.”
Working closely with Lisa Low, assistant professor of practice of public relations, Jennings was able to develop a deeper love for the art of public relations. On top of that, Jennings said Low played an instrumental role in Jennings’ path to the System building.
“I remember, on a Sunday — three weeks before I graduated — I told Lisa Low, who was my boss in the Outpost social media lab where I worked for a year during my undergrad, ‘I think I’m going to go to grad school. Will you write me a (recommendation letter)?’” Jennings said. “(Low) was like, ‘Oh, yeah. Of course.’ The next day, she forwards me an email from someone in the chancellor’s office asking for someone to help tide them over until they hired a vice chancellor in Communications and Marketing to help with the day to day.”
Jennings said it is unlikely she would have received the opportunity to work in her current office without Low’s recommendation.
For Low, there was no question about whether or not Jennings would be a good fit to work at the System building. Low said she could see how naturally Jennings understood the content she was being taught in her classes since the first day.
“She has an innate understanding of public relations principals,” Low said. “She had a strong interest in our major, and you could definitely see that she was learning in every single class. That’s why I say you could talk to any one of her professors, and they’d say, ‘Yeah, I remember her. She was awesome.’”
Though Jennings is no longer enrolled in classes at Tech, she said she is constantly learning more about strategic communication because she works with people who have extensive experience in the communications field.
One of her favorite things about her work in the System building is getting to be around those experienced leaders and coworkers, she said.
“I am surrounded by leadership that I wholeheartedly believe in,” Jennings said. “And that’s honestly my favorite part, because I get to feel like I’m part of building this. I’m part of expanding our brand and executing our vision with the great leaders I’m surrounded by. And there’s constantly things to learn because everyone here has lived incredible professional lives, and they have so much to offer, and they’re so willing to teach, and they’re so willing to share those experiences.”
Brett Ashworth, vice chancellor for Communications and Marketing for the Tech System, said when he was hired this past year, there was no question of whether or not he would offer Jennings a full-time position in the Communications and Marketing office.
From the moment he met her, he could see how driven and hard-working she is. When he first arrived on the scene, he was tasked with the responsibility of constructing the Communications and Marketing team. Ashworth said he knew immediately that he would want Jennings on that team.
“At that time, Dana was really the only one performing many of the functions that we perform today, and she was doing it as a graduate assistant, which, obviously, was very impressive to me,” Ashworth said. “It was easy to see very quickly the skill set and the talent and attitude and work ethic that she possessed, which I thought was a great compliment to the Texas Tech University College of Media & Communication.”
Even when Jennings first began her work at the System building as a graduate assistant, she said her role consisted of helping Chancellor Robert L. Duncan communicate his message and vision to Tech students, faculty, staff, alumni and the rest of the world.
While that seems like a hefty job for a graduate assistant, Ashworth said she handled it with skill and confidence.
“Much of what she was doing was the internal communications or the executive communications and supporting the chancellor and doing some of his speech writing and talking-point and message development, which is a big job,” Ashworth said. “And to think that we had a graduate assistant performing those functions was really impressive.”
Jennings’ work at the Communications and Marketing office continues to center on her mission to share the chancellor’s vision with the Tech community. However, she said her time at the System building has been much more meaningful than most people would expect from a theoretically administrative position.
“I feel as though I’m having a greater impact by being a part of this,” Jennings said.
Even though Jennings has only been out of graduate school for three months, she said she is sitting in her dream job. After studying how to navigate the world of digital public relations, she loves that she is able to hone her writing skills through more traditional public relations work.
She said that public relations is all about telling the story. Everyone has a story to tell, and her job is to tell those stories. So, as she continues to help the chancellor tell the story of his vision for Tech, Jennings said she gets to start the story of her professional career here on Tech’s campus.
“Our motto at the System and Texas Tech University is, ‘From here, it’s possible,’” Jennings said. “And I am that story. I am, ‘From here, it’s possible.’ Texas Tech poured into me everything that I could have ever imagined, and I have the opportunity to pour back into it and give back to this university and this university system at a whole different level than I could have ever imagined.”