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College of Humanities & Sciences

Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture


VCU_RSMC_Agency_Logo_800w [View Image]



Student-led PR for organizations in need


Launched in 2017, Agency is a senior-level, capstone course that provides public relations and communications support to area organizations. Through an online application process, any organization may apply to be an Agency client. Once selected, students work together over a 16-week semester to create communication plans and campaigns based on the individual needs of the client. The fast-paced nature of the course and the demands of working with clients encourages the highest level of professionalism, performance, and strategic thinking. Each course is supervised by an account director who serves as both an instructor or record and client liaison. Account directors guide student work, while monitoring progress and deliverables. Agency concludes with a formal student presentation (pitch) to the client, with all materials and rights to work passed to the client for use.

Client Service

Client application

Clients range from small start-ups to well-established organizations. The criteria for being an Agency client are based on need and prioritized through an online application process. Each semester, clients are selected and matched with a 20-student Agency class.   [View Image]VCU public relations seniors celebrate after presenting their Agency campaign to their client, the Chesterfield County Police Department.

At the start of the semester, clients and students meet to discuss the needs and goals of the organization and keep in regular communication throughout the process. At the end of the semester, clients are given a final communication plan or campaign presented by students. During the presentations, clients can ask questions and offer feedback.

Clients are given copies of all materials, plans, prototypes, etc. The rights to all work are also given to the client for immediate use. Clients may select students from Agency for internships or to hire to help implement the strategies and tactics presented at the end of the semester. Upon completion of this class, the majority of students will graduate with a bachelors’ of science in mass communication and are seen as independent contractors unaffiliated with Agency, The Richard T. Robertson School, and Virginia Commonwealth University. 

Student Learning

Agency students are senior mass communication majors focused on the study and practice of public relations. Students are only permitted to take Agency after completing prerequisite courses in the program. These include Communication Ethics and Law; PR Writing, Media Relations; Graphic Design and Production; Social Media; Professionalism, Case Studies, Crisis Communication and Research. Students also complete public relations electives like Sports and Entertainment PR; Special Events; etc. to explore different skills required by the PR industry. [View Image]PR seniors from the 2017 Capstone Course, Agency, taught by Beth Musick tour a local public relations firm to get a feel for life after graduation.

In Agency students apply theory and methods to develop a strategic communications plan or campaign. Special attention to the planning process, including issues analysis, application of public relations, and research methods are also implemented. 

Students are given high industry expectations in professionalism, performance, and strategic thinking. Students are also assessed on their individual and group contributions at the midterm and again at the end of the semester. 

Each student is provided an evaluation at the end of the semester with feedback from peers, other professors, and the client. At the end of their Agency experience, students should have a well-rounded understanding of their strengths in both the theory and practice of public relations.

Industry Direction

Agency account directors are highly qualified industry experts hand-selected to manage the relationship between the students and client. Account directors also function to support the overall framework of the class by helping to choose a client, assigning teams, coordinating instruction, and monitoring progress and project development. 

Account directors support the learning functions of the class as the official instructor of record, both generating assessments and assigning final grades to groups and individuals.

Meet the Team

Jen Kostyniuk, Adjunct Professor, Robertson School; Director, Corporate Affairs & Capital Project Support, Dominion Energy

Headshot of Jen Kostyniuk [View Image]Jen Kostyniuk.

Jen Kostyniuk is currently director, Corporate Affairs & Capital Project Support at Dominion Energy. She has been an adjunct faculty member at VCU since 2018.

Kostyniuk began her communications career in advertising with Circuit City and CarMax as a graphic designer and senior copywriter. Recognized for creative tactics and strategies, she is a dynamic communications professional with a proven track record of success from initial concept through project execution. She has a demonstrated ability to satisfy client needs through research and developing 360-degree marketing and communications strategies.

In her 18 years at Dominion Energy, she has held communications roles in: employee communications, public relations, copywriting, editing, design, project management and strategic planning. For the past four years, Kostyniuk has been representing the company’s brand and reputation while building and protecting business interests in a manner consistent with Dominion Energy’s purposes, values and principles.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising, a master’s degree in media management-Mass Communications and a master’s degree in writing and rhetoric-English, all from VCU. She currently serves on the boards of Greater Richmond SCAN, Rx Partnership, Leadership Metro Richmond, Richmond Region Tourism and Richmond Behavioral Health Foundation.


Chet Wade, Adjunct Professor, Robertson School; Principal, Afton Rock Communications 

Chet Wade [View Image]Chet Wade

Chet Wade is principal of AftonRock Communications LLC, a Richmond-based public relations consulting firm, and chair of the Advisory Board of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. He has been an adjunct faculty member at VCU since 2013. 

Before founding AftonRock, Wade was Vice President-Corporate Communications at the Fortune 500 firm Dominion Energy. He has held public relations leadership roles for 25 years and has been recognized for his strategic work in crisis communications, employee communications and corporate culture, executive communications, mergers and acquisitions, and stakeholder engagement. 

Wade began his professional career as a newspaper reporter in suburban Pittsburgh and later served as business editor and science and education editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Wade also worked part-time in local public television. 

He has an MBA from Robert Morris University and a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Penn State University. His other community engagement includes serving on the board of community healthcare provider HealthBrigade.

Brian Ellis, Adjunct Professor, Robertson School; Executive Vice President, Padilla

Brian Ellis [View Image]Brian Ellis

Brian Ellis is a 29-year veteran of Padilla and serves as the strategic leader of Padilla’s crisis management and executive training consultancy. As a former journalist, Ellis has offered a unique perspective on how the media operates during a crisis to such clients as Bridgestone, Girl Scouts of the USA, Pfizer, Ford Motor Company, The Federal Reserve and Abbott Laboratories. Ellis’ media training students are no strangers to national network programs such as NBC’s “Nightly News,” ABC’s “20/20,” NBC’s “Today Show,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” MSNBC and CNN.

For more than two decades Ellis has been coaching corporate leaders from organizations like Altria, Capital One, CarMax and Barnes & Noble to become more effective communicators and presenters. Having worked in many sectors across the agency including Food and Beverage, Consumer Products and Heath, Brian also serves as a strategic planning facilitator for clients.

Ellis has been invited to speak at numerous national conferences and universities on a variety of topics including dealing with the media in trying times, driving internal communication during mergers and acquisitions, and creative brainstorming.

Prior to joining Padilla, Ellis worked for 10 years as an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter, anchor and producer. In addition to assignments in Augusta, Georgia, Richmond, Virginia and Tampa, Florida, for local network affiliates, he also contributed to national networks like CNN, CBS and ABC. 

Community Value

Agency is a VCU Service-Learning course designed to serve area programs and organizations. Through client research, planning, materials development, and a final communications plan, each student will complete a minimum of 20-hours of community service. 

Agency estimates *$30,000 of pro bono community service through **2,040 hours of student work annually

*Financial impact based on local average of $15hr for entry PR work per student at $30,000 per yr ($5,100 per client)

**Hours of work based on 17 Students per section (or 102 students per year) completing a minimum of 20 hrs of community service per student 

“The VCU Division of Community Engagement mobilizes university-community partnerships that generate innovative solutions to societal challenges and prepares the engaged citizens of tomorrow.” ~ VCU Division of Community Engagement 


Would you like to be an Agency client? Click here to apply. 

Clients Served

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VCU News: "VCU’s new ‘Agency’ provides Richmond-area nonprofits with pro bono PR, communication strategies"

PRWeek: "Student counselors: Why undergrad-ran agencies are popping up across the country"

VCU Statement of Service-learning
Service-learning at Virginia Commonwealth University is a course-based, credit-bearing educational experience in which students participate in organized service activities that meet community-identified needs. Service activities vary based on the individual course, but may:
* be direct (e.g., mentoring youth, volunteering with patients, working in community gardens) or indirect (e.g., creating research reports, designing online or print materials);
* be individual or group-based;
* occur either on- or off-campus;
* be scheduled at varying times of the week/day;
* be focused in different parts of the city or state;
* and involve a single community partner or a variety of community organizations.
While individual service-learning classes do not offer all of these options, there may be some flexibility within the service partnerships and/or activities to be completed by individual students. Students are expected to familiarize themselves with the service activity options that are available in this class and, with their faculty members, to select from available options. Students in all VCU service-learning classes participate in reflection activities that are designed to increase students' understanding and application of course content and to enhance their sense of civic responsibility.

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