What do crayons, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the Big Easy have in common? You’d be hard-pressed to find a thread, but they share a mighty connection when it comes to the path that led me to Interact Communications.
Just smelling crayons takes me back to my childhood. I remember how excited I was to open that box of 64. I’d spread out my hodgepodge of supplies, close my bedroom door, crank up the 45s (Millennials may need to Google that one), and get lost in the drawing, cutting, and pasting. While far from masterpieces, the joy my creations elicited from my family was genuine. Looking back, it seems fitting I’d pursue a calling that’s all about crafting messages.
2. The Ampersand
Some view this symbol for “and” as one of the most beautiful characters in the English language. I find it to be meaningful, perhaps even symbolic of my career path. I started out as a writer, earning my bachelor’s degree in journalism and public relations. Then, while sharing an office with a graphic designer during my early years in community college PR, I became fascinated with design. Bouncing ideas off one another, my colleague and I would often switch roles. She’d come up with a clever headline, while I’d suggest a novel design concept. This collaboration led me to a master’s degree in publications design, where I learned to marry word and image, just like the ampersand.
3. Rosie the Riveter
While working with the college’s women’s program, I helped organize a 50-year reunion of Rosie the Riveters. We gathered “Rosies” from across the nation at our small campus just a few miles from the Sparrows Point shipyards many of them worked in during World War II. The backbone of the defense industry, these women shared remarkable stories, garnering national TV coverage that day.
Not long after, I was plucked from my campus to assume a director-level position within a new central office established to merge three competing colleges into one. Thrown into the fray of an unpopular reorganization, fraught with faculty protests and media frenzy, I summoned my inner Rosie to deal with an onslaught of firsts thrown my way. New college, new identity, new brand. First website, first marketing campaign, first online catalog… I think you see where this is going.
4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I picked up my share of battle skills (and scars) during those early merger days. Eventually, I’d gathered a team of superheroes, capable of fulfilling ever-increasing demands and seemingly impossible tasks. How could I keep them feeling motivated and appreciated? Together, we created a college communications code and internal superhero recognition program that solidified our shared values and revealed the powers befitting each of our best qualities and contributions. My identity? Mary the Vampire Slayer—based on the vampire-slaying TV character, Buffy. Even if you’ve never seen Buffy, it’s easy to see how my team could view me this way.
5. See What You Can Be
Battling on, we soon launched our SEE WHAT YOU CAN BE campaign. Eight years later, it’s still in play, due to its aspirational approach and research-based foundation. But the best marker for this campaign’s success is its impact on the real superheroes in our midst—students like Traci Williams. Traci had been homeless, living near one of our campuses, when she noticed one of our “SEE WHAT YOU CAN BE” lamp post banners. She said seeing that message inspired her to rethink her situation. She enrolled, became one of our star honors program graduates, and earned a full scholarship to Smith College. Traci’s story captures why I am so proud to do what I do. Being able to shine a beacon of hope for individuals like Traci is an incredible gift.
6. The Big Easy
You’d think enjoying the live music on Bourbon Street or my first beignet at Café du Monde would be among my most memorable moments in New Orleans. Well, they are. But so is Dr. Pam Cox-Otto’s session I attended while there for NCMPR’s 2014 conference. Pam’s session on “Using Communication and Psychology to Move Any Audience” moved me even more than the jazz. I’ve kept my notes from her session, which, as always, was standing room only. “No one ever brags that they get their shoes at Payless,” Pam quipped. Pam’s challenge, to rethink assumptions that people make their college decisions based on reason, struck a chord with me.
7. The CCBC Anthem
Remembering Pam’s lessons about the psychology of persuasion, I was well armed when it came time to develop the next iteration of our SEE WHAT YOU CAN BE campaign. With a talented team helping me push the envelope and convince the naysayers—you know, those who insist we detail every program and course to draw students in—we were able to evolve our multi-media campaign to appeal to audiences at a deeper, emotional level. While I could go on, I invite you to see the CCBC anthem campaign for yourself.
8. The Wye River
Pardon my French, but when’s the last time you did anything badass? That’s the question my friend Lily posed while several of us were floating in the Wye River, just off the Chesapeake Bay on Maryland’s eastern shore, one sunny day this past July. Much like the others—dear friends made over the years via the Maryland Council for Community College PR Officers (aka “MCCCPRO”)—I had a hard time responding. Had I ever been badass? Could I be? I vowed to be more badass in the year ahead. Wye not? (In case you’re wondering, according to the Urban Dictionary, a badass is “a person who is the best of the best at what they do professionally and/or personally…badass people are not only respected, they have the same respect for others who respect them.”)
9. Small But Mighty
Small but Mighty was the theme of our most recent NCMPR District 1 conference. The last in a series of conferences I’ve had the pleasure of helping with over the past few decades—at times chairing and even leading as District 1 director—this one captured how I view my community college marketing and PR colleagues. Despite often underwhelming resources, they are creative, resourceful, and innovative. They’ve inspired me time and again. And, many, like my before-mentioned MCCCPRO colleagues, have become my friends. We make each other mightier, and nothing would make me happier than to take on a role where I can help them roar in the new decade.
Which brings me to today. From making greeting cards to creating motivational campaigns…from taking cues from the likes of Rosie the Riveter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to supporting my own team of superheroes… each experience has led me to be Interact inspired.
I cannot imagine anyone bolder, or more badass, than Dr. Pam Cox-Otto. She has built a company that’s as passionate as she is about the community college mission and our collective calling to change lives. What a thrill to join Pam and the Interact team as we help my colleagues become more respected and recognized for being the best at what they do, namely serving community colleges and their students—as Pam says, “the bravest people we know.”