35 Under 35 Class of 2020-21: Alissa Ouderkirk

Alissa OuderkirkAlissa Ouderkirk

Communications Specialist
 New York Power Authority
Troy, N.Y.


What does leadership mean to you?
Strong leaders identify the skills of their team members and continuously encourage their input and involvement to meet their team's goals. Leadership often characterizes just a small percentage of a team or organization, but good leaders know that they alone do not and cannot have all the skills their team needs to succeed. The best leaders know they'll get the best output when their team is nonhomogeneous.

What was the most fulfilling professional moment you have experienced?
Though I am a Puerto Rican woman with family who still lives on the island, when Hurricane Maria touched down in 2017, my first thoughts were with the students of the Greater Amsterdam (N.Y.) School District (GASD), where I was serving as a public information specialist. GASD stands out amongst neighboring districts because about half of its students are of Hispanic descent, and nearly 100 new families joined the district following the storm. In response, I  created a short video, “GASD stands with PR,” featuring students sharing well wishes with those less fortunate.  The video served as a promotional tool for the district’s donation drive and a “Taste of the Mohawk Valley” event at Amsterdam High School, which raised $65,000 for Puerto Rico.  This video earned an honorable mention award in NSPRA’s 2018 Publications and Digital Media Excellence Awards.

What are the most challenging and/or rewarding parts about working in school PR?
Schools can be political. School leaders can have political motives. And when those don't align with your personal beliefs, it can be extremely challenging to understand your role in leading, especially during these divisive, emotionally charged times. 

Finding a way to both address client needs by completing the required tasks and stay true to my ethics, by voicing potential family concerns through strategic advising, has proven to not only be possible, but a win-win for everyone.

How have NSPRA and your state chapter guided you along the way?
I have been particularly pleased with professional development opportunities that have come out of NSPRA and NYSPRA as of late, especially surrounding anti-racism efforts and equity. For example, the panel "'Say What?!' A Positive Framework for Conversations About Race and Equity" that was held during NSPRA Live in 2020 was a great conversation and a great opportunity to hear from members of NSPRA’s Communication Equity and Diversity Task Force.

What are your favorite work and personal apps?
Monday.com, which is a work management tool, has helped keep me organized lately, especially when working remotely. My team uses WebEx Teams to stay connected and have virtual meetings. Though the pandemic created distance between me and my teammates, I have never felt closer to them!

What book has inspired you professionally?
Why Should the Boss Listen to You? by James Lukaszewski

What is a recent communications/media campaign you enjoyed – either one of your own or one you saw nationally?
I have been extremely interested in campaigns that districts are using to help students and their families feel excited and comfortable with remote learning. One campaign I saw recently from the Bethlehem Central School District (a client of Capital Region BOCES, where I previously served as a public information specialist from 2017 to April 2021) was a virtual pack of trading cards featuring new teachers. It was challenging enough to introduce these new faces during an average school year, but with the addition of masks, it was hard to really connect. I thought this was such a fun way to see teachers' smiling faces during a pandemic. 

What emerging trends in school public relations get you excited?
Digital accessibility is my jam right now. In being mindful of inclusivity and equity, we cannot forget about our friends with diverse abilities who are accessing our content, especially given how "online" we all are right now! I was a leader on my team in thinking of ways to provide content that is accessible to all, from PDFs to social media posts and videos.