Associate Professor Dr. Rita Colistra is the founder, director and principal investigator for BrandJRNY, a community branding initiative at the Reed College of Media that has attracted nearly $400,000 in grant funding. She returned to her home state and alma mater in fall 2008, after working in the field, traveling and earning her doctorate. She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the WVU P.I. Reed School of Journalism, where she graduated with honors in her graduate studies. In 2004, Colistra was awarded a prestigious Roy H. Park Fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication and completed her doctoral studies in 2008. During her time at UNC, her research in media management and economics earned her two top-paper awards as well as the Minnie S. and Eli A. Rubinstein Research Award. Colistra also was inducted into Alpha Epsilon Lambda, a national honor society for graduate/professional students. Before entering academia, Colistra worked as the events and sports marketing coordinator for a major casino in southwest Colorado. She also has years of experience in nonprofit public relations and strategic communications consulting for various companies and organizations.
Colistra teaches beginning and advanced public relations, advertising and strategic communications classes in the Reed College of Media. She is an award-winning professor, having won five prestigious teaching-related awards:
Promising Professor Award (First Place) from the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication (AEJMC) (National Award, Awarded 2012)
PR SuPRstar Award for Professional Freedom & Responsibility from AEJMC (National Award, Awarded 2011)
Public Relations Educator of the Year Award from the Public Relations Society of America—WV Chapter (State Award, Awarded 2012)
Faculty Excellence in Civic Engagement Award through the WVU Center for Civic Engagement (University Award, Awarded 2012)
Golden Quill Teaching Award (College Award based solely on student nominations, Awarded 2014)
Colistra Extended Bio
Photo credit: David Smith. Reed College of Media at West Virginia University. Copyright 2019.
Colistra also has developed several courses and has extensively redeveloped others to include a service-learning component so students may obtain real-world experiences by working with clients. Her redevelopment of two courses, PR 324: PR Writing and PR 459: PR Campaigns (capstone), has been implemented by all other sections and serves as the model for these courses within the College. Colistra has obtained nearly $200,000 in grant and client funding to develop and implement successful strategic communications campaigns for real-world clients with her students. These campaigns have not only served as innovative educational opportunities for her students, but they have made a positive impact on communities, organizations, and West Virginia through economic development and awareness of integral programs throughout the state. These student-based campaigns have won state awards from the WV Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), totaling 13 Crystal Awards (the highest honor) and six Honorable Mentions. Colistra also has mentored several graduate students, serving as both chair and committee member for thesis projects.
Although her responsibilities at the College of Media have included a strong teaching focus, Colistra has been an active scholar and has a passion for research and exploring new ideas. Her research focuses on extramedia and organizational influences on media content, particularly economic pressures, and she has further developed and tested a newer theoretical approach, agenda cutting. One of her most recent publications, "Are Advertisers Potential (and Effective) Influencers on News Content? An Examination of TV Reporters’ Perceptions of Extramedia Pressures on Media Content & Coverage Decisions,” published in Electronic News (June 2014), used three different theoretical approaches to examine how advertisers, public relations professionals, and political and government officials may attempt to influence news coverage. The piece aimed to build off her previous, more extensive monograph that was published in Journalism and Communication Monographs and titled "Shaping and Cutting the Media Agenda: Television Reporters' Perceptions of Agenda- and Frame-building and Agenda-cutting Influences." Her research has received positive attention and inquiries from both national and international scholars regarding this agenda cutting theory/approach. Colistra has also begun to extend her research to social media platforms as well as community branding and development, which strongly ties in with her teaching and client work. She has won two research awards and has obtained several smaller grants to support her research. Most recently, she was awarded a $9,770 WVU Senate Research Grant to support her longitudinal research about the news coverage and editorial framing of the FCC’s 2002, 2006, and 2010 review of media ownership rules. Colistra has presented and published her research both nationally and internationally, and she has served as an international keynote speaker.
In addition to her teaching and research, Colistra is also active in service. She has delivered several professional workshops throughout the state to help small business owners and nonprofits to better publicize and market their businesses and organizations. Colistra has also been invited as the featured speaker at the Blaney House to speak of her extensive work with her students and communities to develop Buy Local Campaigns. Senator Rockefeller also invited her to participate in a “Buy Local Roundtable” because of her extensive work in this area. Colistra is a strong advocate for service learning, and she has worked closing with the WV Campus Compact and the WVU Center for Service and Learning to develop and enhance service-learning opportunities on campus. Her own service-learning work has served as a model for other campus-wide courses. She also holds professional memberships in the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).
In addition to chairing and serving on several committees within the School of Journalism, the University, and a national professional organization, Colistra previously served as the faculty adviser for the national award-winning WVU Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). Under her mentorship role, the organization won numerous awards at the university, state, and national levels. Additionally, members were awarded $6,000 in competitive scholarships, and the group obtained more than $2,000 in grant funding for professional-development activities. Furthermore, members used their professional skills to plan events to raise money and support area nonprofit organizations, and the organization remains nationally known for its commitment to community service.