S&T Live Recap: Student Leaders Become Health Advocates at an Early Age

Since birth, Alyson Hoffman and her twin sister Andrea have lived with cystic fibrosis, a disease that causes problems for the lungs and digestive system and presents infection risks. When the sisters were born in 2000, newborns were not screened for the condition in Ohio.

Their parents became advocates for newborn cystic fibrosis screening in the state. Early diagnosis brings early treatment.

Watching her parents “share our story about cystic fibrosis and then when I started talking about it at the age of 7, shaped my public speaking skills,” Alyson, now 21, said during the Oct. 20 episode of S&T Live, PRSA’s monthly webinar series on LinkedIn.

Alyson Hoffman

Alyson is PRSSA’s 2022-23 president and a senior at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. Her experience “allowed me to openly and honestly talk about such a complex topic, the life-limiting conditions of cystic fibrosis and the opportunities to strengthen our lives.” (Alyson and Andrea have indeed strengthened their lives; the sisters have run four marathons together.)

Talking to people about cystic fibrosis “taught me that there are no limits to what I could achieve, that I could advocate and public speak,” Alyson said. “And that’s really what shaped what I want to do for my career, in communications and PR.”

John Elsasser, editor-in-chief of PRSA’s award-winning Strategies & Tactics and host of S&T Live, asked Alyson how her experiences have helped her as a leader.

Watching her mother and father talk to the parents of newly diagnosed children with cystic fibrosis and be a voice for those families “taught me how to be a better leader, to understand people’s perspectives and… to help their voices shine and advocate for them.”

A triple major in public relations, communications and marketing, Alyson thinks about the student members in her role as president of PRSSA “and how I can help them succeed and accomplish their goals,” she said. “Listening to my national committee and their ideas, they’re some of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my peer class.”

For PR students and recent graduates in the post-COVID era, job internships might be in person, virtual or hybrid. Alyson is optimistic about the job market for young communications graduates, but said “the unique challenge that graduates face is determining what kind of work environment they want — a company that has a really good culture, or a company that can strengthen the muscles [the graduates] want to strengthen.”

Alyson has a job lined up after graduation next spring with Cardinal Health, where both her communications skills and advocacy work will help her launch a PR career.

Toward the end of the livestream, Andrea Hoffman, PRSSA Chapter president at Ohio Northern, joined the conversation with her sister and shared her perspectives on living with cystic fibrosis during COVID-19. (In December 2020, as part of a class project, she had an essay published via CNN titled “The fear I’ve been living with all my life.”)

Andrea Hoffman

“We’ve essentially been prepared for a pandemic our whole lives with the health-care practices that we take,” Andrea said. “I think it’s even more important to show a story of an individual’s personal experiences. It was a great opportunity… and it also gave empowerment to my peers — not only here at Ohio Northern, but also in different groups around the nation to understand what it looks like to add onto your narrative and to show that social awareness.”

You can watch the S+T Live playback via this link

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