Holly Overton, a faculty member of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State, was recently selected as a member of the Arthur W. Page Society, a “prestigious association of leaders and experts in corporate communications,” according to a Penn State release.
Originally from the Hershey area in Pennsylvania, Overton earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree from Shippensburg University before working in corporate marketing in Philadelphia.
She also worked in the nonprofit sector in the health education realm, a role she described as “really, really interesting.”
“I worked as an event planner at a small liberal arts school in Carlisle called Dickinson College,” Overton said, “and it was at that point that I really just kind of fell in love with the higher education sector altogether.”
Overton also worked as the assistant director of experiential learning and career management at Millersville University.
“I loved to help students find internships and jobs,” she said. “That was an awesome way to really interface with students but also to kind of bring together my previous experience… I had that passion for the nonprofit side, for connecting opportunities for students — to do good in the community was something that was really rewarding.”
Although Overton said she wasn’t looking for a new job, she was swayed into teaching when her alma mater, Shippensburg University, offered her a role as a professor.
“I knew I loved working with students,” Overton said, “and so I took that job and just fell in love with teaching.”
While teaching at Shippensburg, Overton began to earn a terminal degree to be on the tenure track.
“I decided I was going to live a crazy life and do my Ph.D. at Penn State while working full time as a faculty member at Shippensburg,” Overton said. “There were years where I was commuting all around Pennsylvania, not sleeping — but I loved the College of Communications and just fell in love with Penn State.”
After finishing her degree in three years, Overton said she decided it was time to move outside of Pennsylvania for the first time. She moved to the University of South Carolina, where she earned tenure and promotion while working as an associate professor for five years until she received a call from Penn State in 2021.
“I’m still in awe of the fact that I’m back here in a different role,” Overton said. “It’s just been so great to be back at Penn State.”
Fuyuan Shen, head of the advertising and public relations department in the College of Communications, knew Overton while she was a student at Penn State and said he was “extremely happy” that she made her way back to Happy Valley.
“We were looking for a senior scholar who has a national reputation and who can teach [public relations] here, and she was the most qualified,” Shen said. “She’s a fantastic teacher.”
While earning her Ph.D. at Penn State, Overton was involved with the Arthur W. Page Center, a major research center housed at the university.
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According to its website, the Page Center is “dedicated to the study and advancement of ethics and responsibility in corporate communication and other forms of public communication.”
Overton said she was particularly “motivated by the Page Center” when she was a student because it helped her “research trajectory.”
“The center is very focused on ethics, integrity and champions research on areas like corporate social responsibility, advocacy, sustainability and topics that just really interested me personally,” Overton said.
When Overton returned to Penn State in 2021, she was named the research director of the center.
“That was a very appealing part of the offer,” she said, “and the Page Center is something I’m just really passionate about.”
Overton said she believes her involvement with the Page Center was a major factor in her recent selection for the Page Society.
According to its website, the Page Society is the world's leading professional association for senior public relations and corporate communications executives and educators.
“I think it is just a tremendous honor because folks here are leading professionals who are committed to not only making change, but they are committed to embracing fresh strategies,” Overton said. “And to have the opportunity to network with folks of this caliber… they offer unparalleled networking opportunities and top-notch resources that I never had the opportunity to be exposed to before.”
Denise Bortree, director of the Page Center and an associate professor at Penn State, is also a member of the Page Society. She said she was inducted in 2017.
“Being a member of the Page Society is a high honor for communications professionals,” Bortree said in an email. “I’m thrilled that [Overton] is being inducted.”
Bortree also described Overton as a “leading scholar in corporate advocacy” and said her research has helped “guide the academic field in their inquiry about the effect of companies taking a stand on social and environmental issues.”
Shen said he was also pleased by Overton’s selection as a member of the society, describing it as a “very respected and prestigious organization made of executives in public relations.”
“To be among that select group is truly an honor,” Shen said. “It’s really a recognition of Dr. Overton’s scholarly contribution as well as her status as an outstanding educator.”
Overton is teaching two classes this fall: Public Relations Campaigns and a graduate class about her research at the doctoral level.
She emphasized how her newfound opportunities and connections within the Page Society can impact her work at Penn State, both at the center and in the classroom.
“I think it’s very empowering for me to be able to take a lot of the wisdom from these leaders across the world and bring that back to everything we do at the Page Center,” Overton said. “It gives me the opportunity to be more effective and to better serve the community in many ways, learning from these global leaders.”
Overton, who is in her 11th year of teaching full time, said it’s her varied industry experience and efforts to stay connected with the industry that have helped her in the classroom and said “nothing can really replace experience.”
“I think it is so critically important for all faculty and [me to] try to constantly seek ways to improve but also to grow and to be in touch with what’s happening in industry,” Overton said. “I’m so glad for the time I spent working in industry and thrilled about the professional opportunities that I continue to seek out and have access to because I think it strengthens anything and everything I do in the classroom.”
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