Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Reed College of Media


Reed College of Media

Committee Chair

Jasper C. Fessmann

Committee Member

Jennifer L. Harker

Committee Member

Dana Coester

Committee Member

Lisa M. Dilks


Despite three decades of literature that has explored the gender imbalance of public relations at a professional level, there is a dearth of information addressing if or how these experiences are informed at a collegiate level. Accordingly, this study examines if the gender imbalance impacts students in the upper-level public relations classroom, and the similarities and differences exist between other single-gender dominant programs including nursing and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) using three dimensions (i.e., role strain, teamwork, and overall social environment) as a comparison. Using qualitative in-depth interview data collected from 13 junior- and senior-standing public relations students from a large, mid-Atlantic university, this study found themes including female-to-female reliance, female-to-female competitiveness, female leadership, perceived low male work ethic, male humor, and siblings and comfort with the opposite sex. The findings suggest that upper-level public relations students do encounter social challenges because five of the 10 challenges are related to the phenomena experienced by upper-level public relations students. These findings were unique to other single-gender dominant programs in that three were similar to tokenism in addressing academic excellence, loneliness, humor, and independence in group work. Two of the findings were different because they addressed traditional roles and leadership which is consistent with role congruity theory. With this, it is asserted that the challenges experienced by upper-level public relations students are most applicable to tokenism and bridging collegiate to professional challenges is addressed in role congruity theory.