WSU Student Takes Top Honors in Competition to Build Major Brent Taylor Foundation

OGDEN, Utah – A Weber State University student took top honors in the 2019 Utah Public Relations Student of the Year Competition, where students created a yearlong strategy to raise awareness of the Major Brent Taylor Legacy Foundation.

2019 Utah Public Relations Student of the Year Competition:
Kylie Harris, Karen Valdez, Jennie Taylor,
Samantha Johnson, Conner Arvidson, Jeremy Ludwig

WSU senior Karen Valdez, along with Samantha Johnson of BYU-Idaho, shared first place in the competition hosted by the Salt Lake City chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. They will be honored at the Golden Spike Awards, Nov. 14, 6-9 p.m. at the Living Planet Aquarium (12033 Lone Peak Parkway, Draper). Weber State students Kylie Harris and Conner Arvidson were selected as runners up.

The competition invites university students to apply their public relations knowledge to a community challenge. This year the contest focused on the foundation created by Maj. Taylor’s widow, Jennie, to “perpetuate his example of service, sacrifice and statesmanship. The foundation’s mission is to motivate and inspire future leaders to see past their own individual lives while focusing on true service-oriented leadership.”

“The Major Brent Taylor foundation was launched shortly after my husband’s combat death, without much time to organize,” Jennie said. “The college students who participated in this competition all presented great ideas and strategies, which I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. The foundation is thrilled to move forward with the assistance of this year’s co-winners, as well as with the support of the other finalists of the competition. We are forever grateful for the guidance we are being given to get this foundation up and running in an organized and innovative fashion.”

Maj. Taylor was killed in Afghanistan on Nov. 3, 2018, while on his fourth tour of duty as a member of the Utah National Guard. He was also the elected mayor of North Ogden.

“Much of the media attention Maj. Taylor has received has focused on the story of a ‘fallen soldier,’ Valdez said. “This campaign seeks to push beyond this narrative and to showcase Maj. Taylor’s values and morals.”

Major Brent Taylor

The lessons Taylor taught his seven children and exemplified to others are the lessons Valdez said she learned from her own parents. They pushed her to become the first in her family to attend college.

“My parents are such hard workers,” Valdez said. “When I was young, my dad worked two different jobs, and he would get up really early, and he used to say, ‘If you’re ever going to do something, give it your best shot. If you’re not going to do your best, you might as well not do it at all.”

Valdez said she will do her best next year promoting the foundation, which is dedicated to making a difference in the local community, raising scholarship money and supporting military families. Winning the contest came with $1,000 and the opportunity to implement Valdez’s plan, which includes six “signature events” throughout the year.

Each event reflects a different aspect of the Maj. Taylor’s life. For example, the final tweet he sent from Afghanistan encouraged Americans to vote, so Valdez will work with WSU students to create a series of videos encouraging citizens to vote in the 2020 election.

“I feel as if I've really gotten to know a man who was so influential and such a leader in his community.” Valdez said. “Maj. Taylor was a father, husband, serviceman, North Ogden mayor and American. I felt so emotionally invested. I felt like I owed it to Jennie Taylor and her family; they have been through so much. I stopped looking at it as a client and started looking at it as a family.”

According to contest faculty advisor, Nicola Corbin, an associate professor of communication, this is the seventh time since 2011 that Weber State students have earned a top prize in the competition. Public relations majors are part of the WSU Department of Communication in the Telitha E. Lindquist College of Arts & Humanities.

“This year was especially poignant for us as Maj. Brent Taylor was the mayor of North Ogden, a city right in our university's backyard,” Corbin said. “He had personally touched or connected with many of our students, faculty and staff. For us, this competition represented all the goodness of our home. We are so honored that a Weber State student is a co-winner and will assist in elevating the wonderful work of the foundation."

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For photos, visit the following links.


Nicola Corbin, communication associate professor
801-626-7980 •


Allison Barlow Hess, Public Relations director
801-626-7948 •