Even though University of Delaware alumnae Grace Leong and Heddy DeMaria have busy jobs running an award-winning international communications firm, they spent time during the 2022-23 academic year doing a project that was a labor of love: mentoring the next generation of UD communications professionals.
Leong and DeMaria are members of the College of Arts and Sciences Class of 1988.
Leong is chief executive officer and DeMaria is chief insights and strategy officer at HUNTER, a marketing communications and public relations firm which works with leading food, beverage, fashion, and home and lifestyle brands. The firm employs over 250 people across three offices in the United States and United Kingdom and is among the top 50 communications firms in the country.
The pair say they owe their success to the mentorship of strong professors at UD, especially Priscilla Murphy and Phil Toman. Murphy was an assistant professor of communication and a former business executive in the insurance industry. Toman was an adjunct professor of public relations who brought his experience as a lifelong communications executive to his students. A native Delawarean who was involved with local media, he served as communications director for the Christina School District before becoming vice president of communications for Wilmington University.
“Following their guidance meant taking on a lot of extra work,” Leong said. “But their advice made a huge difference in how we developed into professional communicators and now leaders of our communications firm.”
Now they are returning the favor. “Whenever we get the chance to help students who truly want to learn and work hard to achieve academic and professional success, we jump in and push them to raise their own bars,” said Leong, a dedicated supporter of UD. In 2013, she received the Outstanding Alumni Award from the UD Alumni Association. In 2016, she earned her place on UD’s Alumni Wall of Fame. In 2022, she received the Alumni Achievement Award from UD’s College of Arts and Sciences.
This past academic year she and DeMaria advised two teams of UD undergraduates who competed in the national Bateman Case Study competition, hosted by the Public Relations Student Society of America. The rigorous year-long event challenged students to research, create and implement a public relations campaign for the News Literacy Project, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.
Team YoUDee organized focus groups of people who live in news deserts to find out where they get their news. Their research revealed that many use the social media platform TikTok as their news source, so the team launched a TikTok campaign to promote the News Literacy Project.
Team Blue Hens, which earned an honorable mention, hosted an event on campus testing participants’ news literacy skills. Participants answered quiz questions about whether sample social media posts were legitimate. For example, one post showed a dog which was claimed to be the sole survivor of a building collapse during the Feb. 6, 2023 earthquake in Turkey. The image actually came from an unrelated news story published three years ago.