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USC Annenberg student wins Case Study Competition

Stephen Zelezny examined a JetBlue case in which a pilot was subdued by passengers. (Photo/Courtesy of USC Annenberg)

Stephen Zelezny, an undergraduate at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, has won the $5,000 grand prize in the Arthur W. Page Society’s annual Student Case Study Competition.

Zelezny earned the top prize from the society, a professional association for senior public relations and corporate communications executives who seek to enrich their profession. The society received more than 100 submissions, including Zelezny’s examination of an infamous JetBlue case in which a pilot was subdued by passengers midflight.

A native of Fresno, Calif., Zelezny used the Strategic Planning Model taught to all public relations students at USC Annenberg. He prepared a competitive analysis and a detailed study of both the airline and its public relations troubles.

“I think the best part about this award is that I’ll have my published case study on the Arthur Page Society website for anyone to view,” he said. “This includes potential employers and students from across the country who are interested in the subject matter. Just to have tangible, published work is the best part about it. I hope it provides value to the communication field.”

A representative for the society said the standards for the competition are very high: “We look for professional quality plans that reflect great critical thinking.”

The society requires the student to work with a mentor throughout the process. Professor Jennifer Floto said she was “over the moon” when she received the call that informed her about the award.

“This is such an honor, especially for an undergraduate student,” said Floto, who won USC’s 2012 Mellon Mentoring Award. “Stephen has done the whole school proud.”

Zelezny expressed his gratitude for Floto’s help.

“None of this is possible without the mentorship of Professor Floto and her belief in me to tackle this project with nothing less than 100 percent of my effort,” he said.

In addition to the $5,000 prize, Zelezny won a trip to an exclusive spring seminar at the Page Society in New York City, where he’ll receive his accolade at an awards banquet. He will be joined by Jerry Swerling, director of public relations studies at USC Annenberg and a recently named member of the society’s board of directors.

Zelezny said this semester has shown him that public service may be his calling.

“Right now, though, I’m just taking one day at a time and ensuring I reap every last benefit I can from this university, heading into graduation this May,” he said, adding that he couldn’t imagine attending any university other than USC.

“It was truly the best fit,” he said. “And I couldn’t thank the Annenberg School enough for the resources it’s provided me over these past few short years — the advisers, professors, events and the skills they embed in its students from the get-go,” he said. “Just walking through the Annenberg lobby gives you a glimpse of what this school is all about — taking action.

“The communication/PR/journalism field desperately needs problem-solving innovators that aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions, to advocate for worthy causes and, above all, to lead. I found there’s no better place to find that than right here on this campus, in the heart of it all.”

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