By Evan Silvera
For The Diamondback

When high school junior Patricia Carmona's teacher told her to look into public relations, she had never heard of the profession. Five years later, Carmona, now a senior at the University of Maryland, was named PRWeek's Student of the Year for 2017.

"It's really what I love to do," said Carmona, a communication major on the public relations track.

PRWeek's competition prompted students to create a campaign that launches a spokesperson for IKEA. This year's task "required students to exhibit more creativity than any time in the past," said Gideon Fidelzeid, managing editor of PRWeek US and a competition judge.

The first part of the competition consisted of the initial submission of a campaign proposal. The students with the top five campaign proposals were chosen to proceed to the second round, when they must make a journalist's pitch, Carmona said. After the pitch, the two finalists went to New York for the award ceremony.

Carmona focused her campaign around the American dream and created "Erik," a stick figure she said was "moldable and adaptable," to be her spokesperson. Erik could be found in every piece of IKEA furniture, as he is able to transform into anything the consumer wants him to be, Carmona said.

"America was built from scratch and bare bones, so I wanted to go with the most bare bones type of idea that I could," she said. "A stick figure made sense."

As part of Carmona's campaign, she said she designed pop-up activations that allowed people to mold a wooden version of Erik from furniture, as well as online games and catalogs that had Erik hidden in IKEA furniture.

Fidelzeid said among the reasons Carmona won was her ability to blend creativity and logic, as well as the "universal appeal" of the American dream.

"The American dream had a naturally broad appeal because everyone can relate to it," Fidelzeid said. "Whether you are a first, second or third generation American, you are close to somebody who came to this country because of the pursuit of the American dream."

He also praised Carmona's tagline, "what you make of me," because it works on a literal level — as Erik represents a furniture company — and on a "broader, inspirational" level.

"I never thought that choosing a stick figure as my spokesperson would win the competition, but sometimes it's the simple ideas that resonate the most," Carmona said.

Carmona originally began working on the PRWeek project for a midterm exam in COMM483: Senior Seminar in Public Relations.

"I assigned the project because it gives students the chance, if they were really good, to submit it and have the possibility of winning a $10,000 prize," Susan Whyte Simon, the class' professor, said.

Carmona is the fourth public relations track student from this university to make it to the competition's semifinals in three years and one of two who made it to the final round, according to a news release from the Public Relations Student Society of America.

"We believe that the PR curriculum is designed to help students get a job," Simon said. "We teach them a lot about writing, but also how to create a PR campaign that is doable and interesting."

Carmona said the tradition of students helping one another is why this university's students have enjoyed success in the competition.

"I have been able to look up to other students who have been successful in the past and learn from them," Carmona said. "We all strive to be better."