By Natalie Arch | AC JosepH Media Guest Blogger
GLASSBORO — Joe Cardona is used to telling great stories about those who have walked through campus of Rowan University as its Vice President of University Relations.
After 26 years at the university, though, Cardona has a story of his own to tell, as a student, climbing the ladder at the university to hold one of its most visible positions on campus and in South Jersey, to owning a little bit of Rowan history.
“There’s a lot of differences, a lot of wins, and challenges as well with the PR profession but I couldn’t be in a better place,” Cardona told Front Runner New Jersey.com.
A native of Fair Lawn, N.J., Cardona graduated from Rowan in 1989 with a marketing degree. However, thanks to his experience as a resident assistant, or RA, he knew that his passion was for public relations.
A resident assistant is a student staff member who lives in the residence halls. They help with counseling, emergency response, event planning, as well as other activities.
According to Cardona, he didn’t consider himself active in high school and wanted to change that when he came to Rowan.
“Resident’s life certainly was the thing that sort of turned me on to public relations,” Cardona said. “Being able to communicate with people, being able to manage crisis situations, needing to explain complex matters with students and making it easy for them to understand, all of that is public relations.” Cardona gives credit to the RAs, noting how much they greatly impact a college student’s first couple weeks at school.
“Frankly, the RA makes all the difference in the world. They’re the ones that walk down the hallways, and check on the kid that’s sort-of not engaged, and maybe having trouble,” Cardona said.
“It’s up to the RA to try to bring it through the student and say, ‘Hey, do you need help, do you need an explanation?’ Most students don’t need that, but the few times that you save the day makes all the difference in the world.”
After being an RA, Cardona became involved in Rowan University’s student government. He then became the Student Government Association president in 1988-89. Cardona’s son, Daniel Cardona, also served as SGA president in 2016-17, making Joe and Daniel the only father-son pairing at Rowan University to ever serve as SGA president.
“He has the same personality that I have, a little bit more outgoing, enjoys organizing things, and so he fell into that same rhythm that I had,” Cardona said.
Once Cardona completed his undergraduate degree in marketing, he still knew he wanted to work in public relations.
“I got a job at a local car dealership, after undergraduate, but I knew that based on my RA experience, I really wanted to be in public relations and not in marketing. I graduated with a marketing degree, so I said, ‘Okay I gotta go back and get a master’s,’ because it was too late by the time I figured it out,” Cardona said.
After working at the dealership for about a year, Cardona went back to school to get his master’s in public relations. Part of his master’s degree was an internship, in which he did PR for Mobil Oil in Paulsboro.
After working there for a couple of years, there was an opening at Rowan in the Equal Opportunity Fund department, better known as EOF.
“I worked in that office for two years knowing that was my way back into the university,” Cardona said.
While Cardona was working in the EOF department, there was an opening in the public relations department.
“There was an opening in the public relations department, someone had a baby and there was maternity leave, and they left and I came in and I was able to hold onto the job until I proved myself, and then from there I went from an assistant director to the director, to the vice president. That’s over many years,” Cardona said.
Cardona said there are significant public relations challenges that come with the job, balancing the privacy of students in the ever-growing demands from the media, the public and never ending social media.
“Some of the hardest [challenges] are student deaths, because obviously that’s just gut wrenching, and people want information, and you just can’t give certain information, especially if it’s a suicide, and people think you’re hiding things,” Cardona said.
Privacy also comes into play when it comes to speaking to the public about university relations.
“I can’t tell all the nitty gritty about a student because it’s a privacy issue, so it’s complicated. But frankly, a person in my position has to be very comfortable with being able to talk to anybody on the fly, about any issue. From a professional perspective, that’s enjoyable.
It’s taking a complex issue and once again, like I was an RA, taking a complex issue, and boiling it down so anybody can understand,” Cardona said.
Another challenge that has reared its head in the public relations field in more recent years is the way that information can be spread on social media.
“All of the sudden, a rumor will take off, before you even saw that the rumor was there,” Cardona said.
Despite the challenges that come with being the vice president of University Relations and the university spokesperson, Cardona calls himself lucky, and considers his position to be “one of the best positions there is.”
BIO: Natalie Arch is a student journalist at Rowan University who works as an editor for the student newspaper.
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