In both the marketing and academic worlds, you tend to meet a lot of people. Sometimes, those meetings lead to long-standing relationships. Occasionally, you even meet someone who truly excites you or gives you hope. That’s how I felt when I met Nick Gilyard.
A few weeks back, I was asked to speak to speak as part of a “Career Linkages Panel” organized by the Potter College of Arts and Letters at Western Kentucky University. Being a WKU alum, I spoke about my experience as a Hilltopper, where that work took me, and what I do today. Not surprisingly, the event gathered a small but dedicated group of students, some of the “cream of the crop” at WKU, and they asked a lot of good questions about what a student should do with a degree in the humanities when, so often, there’s a feeling that the humanities simply don’t lead to solid career options, a particular concern in our season of a turbulent job market.
When the event was over, I was told by one of the organizers that there was one student in particular who wanted to speak with me. I grabbed some hot chocolate and a Rice Krisipie treat (proof that WKU knows how to treat its guests) and sat down with Nick. And Nick, armed with a notepad and an array of questions, proceeded to ask me about my career and my life as a student–and lay out his own life-plan-in-development.
I soon came to realize that this enthusiastic and prepared young man was a freshman at WKU, standing in stark contrast from the upperclassmen who joined him in attendance. Rather than trying to think through what to do with the degree he was about to graduate with, Nick was trying to think about how he framed his WKU experience from the beginning and how he should build his undergraduate program in a way that would best prepare him for his future career.
Nick came to WKU from Miami Gardens, Florida. At Nova High School, he was one of the top-ranked debaters in the country through the National Forensic League. Gilyard is a member of The WKU Forensics Team. The forensics team is a nine-time National Forensic Association national champion and the only team to ever win both the NFA’s national title and national debate title, as well as the American Forensic Association’s title, in the same year (which it has done on five separate occasions).
It was debate that brought Nick to WKU, but he had quickly decided that public relations would be his career and that, to distinguish himself and blend his passions with his career, he was going to double-major in WKU’s popular culture program (as far as I can tell, one of only two Bachelor’s degrees in popular culture studies offered in the nation). And, given my own background in media studies and work at a PR agency, he asked a variety of questions about how to build his work at WKU from the beginning to get the most out of his college experience.
I was floored. Not that I don’t often meet inspired college students, but Nick was a freshman on a mission. A few days later, I received an invitation from Nick on LinkedIn (as our conversation included an in-depth discussion about ways social media allows students to interact with academics and professionals in ways few take advantage of) and an email follow-up.
If Nick retains this type of passion, I can only imagine what he’ll have to bring to the public relations field. His focus is matched by his desire to understand the world more broadly, to bring something to his work beyond just knowing how to “do” PR. I hope that he will be a source of inspiration to his peers at WKU and beyond. I know he’s certainly inspired me.
Sam Ford is Director of Digital Strategy for Peppercom, a PR agency, and a research affiliate with MIT’s Convergence Culture Consortium. Ford was previously the Consortium’s project manager and part of the team who launched the project in 2005. He has also worked as a professional journalist, winning a Kentucky Press Association award for his work. He also blogs for Peppercom’s PepperDigital. Ford is co-editor of The Survival of Soap Opera with Abigail De Kosnik and C. Lee Harrington and co-author of the forthcoming book, Spreadable Media with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green. Follow him on Twitter @Sam_Ford.