My Winthrop Experience

Name: Erica Wright '04
Residence: Charleston, South Carolina
Degree: Integrated marketing communication
Occupation: Regional advocacy director, Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce

As a child, Erica Wright '04 used to record herself interviewing her stuffed animals, reenacting whatever she had seen on the talk show "Oprah" that day.

"I have video tapes of me filming at the kitchen table, interviewing my stuffed animals, because that was the image I had seen," she said. "I wanted to be Oprah. It was nice seeing someone who looked like me as a leader, telling stories. People were listening to what she had to say."

The North Charleston, South Carolina, native toured the Winthrop University campus and decided to pursue a major in broadcast journalism.

"Winthrop is known for a great journalism department," she explained. "My goal was to be a talk show host, and to me Winthrop was the best school for that."

Though Wright doesn't host her own talk show today, she's still a leader in her community. As the regional advocacy director for the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, Wright helps promote chamber initiatives through building relationships with local elected officials, pushing for growth and bringing the community together and informing them on issues.

"I've heard it said that Charleston is a tale of two cities: the beautiful, historic Charleston that covers magazines and gets all these accolades," she said. "But then you have the part no one wants to see or talk about." Wright believes there are some cultural implications there. "I'm trying to figure out how to bridge the gap between the two Charlestons."

Ultimately, she likes to "bring the community in the board room and let them tell us what's going on."

Her chamber work, along with her work transforming Charleston Young Professionals from solely a networking group to a regional engaging platform, led to her recently being named one of Charleston Business Magazine's 50 Most Influential People.

"I'm grateful, but I still have a hard time believing it's true," she said.

Wright, who describes herself as an introvert, opened herself up to opportunity while a student at Winthrop. She served on the then-Student Government Association (now the Council of Student Leaders); as secretary for the Association of Ebonites; and as vice president of Winthrop's chapter of the NAACP. She also participated in the gospel choir and Dance in Motion and worked for the phonathon.

After listening to fellow students talk passionately about a marketing class project, she made what she calls a "soft switch" from broadcast journalism to integrated marketing communication.

"I just fell in love with what they were doing with their majors," she said. "[Integrated marketing communication]'s still that communications element; it just combines the communication with business courses."

Wright remembers rigorous classes with Marilyn Sarow, professor emerita of mass communication, whom she calls "tough." Sarow helped open the door to an internship for Wright at LKM Advertising, where Wright worked with an account services team.

"Dr. Sarow was preparing us for life after Winthrop," Wright said. "When I got that internship, she was so proud, you would think I was her daughter the way she beamed with pride when I told her. I saw how a project goes from just in theory and in someone's mind to actually building out a plan, buying ad space, etc. It was the first time I was doing it off paper."

After graduation, Wright worked as the marketing manager for ARAMARK at Winthrop; account coordinator for Carolina Healthcare Systems with the Marketing Consortium LLC; and then in marketing and advertisement for The Citadel, where she earned an M.B.A. in 2011. She joined the Charleston Young Professionals organization and was matched with Steve Warner, senior vice president of recruiting for the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, through a mentoring program. Little did she know, the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce was watching her and noticing her good work.

Looking back on her career so far, Wright pointed out how it all comes back to finding your purpose. At first, she said, she was too focused on creating a name for herself.

"Purpose is a selfless concept; it takes the ˜I' out," she said. "When you're locked into purpose you're less likely to let other people's opinions drive you. Purpose has kept me at the chamber for seven years. What is it that you are supposed to be doing and assigned to be doing? Find your purpose instead of trying to get your name out there."