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This qualitative case study considered the relationship between a Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter at a public state university in Northern California and its local Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) affiliate chapter. Its purpose was to explore student perceptions of the contributions of this relationship to what they learned about leadership while serving as club officers. Research was conducted during the fall semester 2010.

The study explored efforts designed to help PRSSA chapter officers fulfill their individual responsibilities. Local and national PRSA representatives provided advice and counsel through diverse channels, the intent of which was to help PRSSA chapter officers meet the challenges of their respective roles. These industry professionals in turn observed leadership development in the students included in this study.

The study also probed student views on leadership related to their PRSSA chapter officer experience. The officers who participated in the study adopted a leadership purpose grounded in advising and guiding fellow students who aspired to enter the public relations profession. Learning about what public relations people do, the different environments in which they work, making contacts, and identifying internship and job opportunities was deemed fundamental for fulfilling this purpose. Chapter officers thus participated in national PRSSA events as well as activities sponsored by their local PRSA affiliate chapter, and also planned and promoted programs to build a necessary base of knowledge and experience to fulfill their responsibilities.

This study added to the body of knowledge on leadership development in undergraduate public relations students, a topic that had received minimal attention in previous research. In basing results upon data collected through qualitative research methods, moreover, this study began to fill the void in empirical data on student perceptions of the PRSSA experience. Finally, this study added to the understanding of how PRSA and PRSSA undertake leadership development of future practitioners.