My College Story: Thriving at Clemson University

My College Story: Thriving at Clemson University

Whitney Meade

In 2008, Whitney Meade graduated from Clemson University with a BA in communication studies, having known that she always “wanted to be on television or in a public relations-related field.” After a few years as a stay-at-home mother, she returned to the workforce to act as Chief Operating Officer of Meade Agency, a video production company.

Q. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Florence, South Carolina. It’s a relatively “medium”-sized town with about 140,000 residents throughout the county. Our roots run deep in Florence–my grandparents lived there, my parents met in high school and married there, and then, after a brief stint in another state, moved my brother and me back there in early elementary school.

Q. What were your educational experiences like before college?

I had a pretty normal public school education. I definitely could have tried a lot harder in high school to get more AP credits and perhaps taken some college classes my senior year. I wish I could go back to [visit] my high school self for a motivational talk! The best thing my parents did for me in preparation for college was enroll me in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program in middle school. I learned how to create a study plan, perform well on standardized tests, and go above and beyond on projects. Although I didn’t continue with IB in high school, it definitely prepared me for high school and college!

Q. Did you always know you were going to go to college? How did you choose a school?

Yes, college was never a question for me; it was the expectation. The real question was where I’d end up attending!

[Unfortunately], I didn’t get into my first choice school, which was Vanderbilt University in Nashville. I knew some other students who’d attended there, and it always seemed like a great place to get an education. But, it wasn’t meant to be. My SAT scores weren’t high enough!

Clemson University in South Carolina was my second choice. My father attended Clemson, as well, so it was always a given that if I stayed in state, it’d be Clemson.

Q. Did you receive any scholarships?

I received the LIFE Scholarship straight out of the gate, which gave me $5,000 per year. But I was also given a SUPER special scholarship opportunity during my sophomore year at Clemson. The South Carolina Cable Television Association chose two students from Clemson and two students from South Carolina State University to be recipients of 100% full-tuition scholarships, with internships at Time Warner Cable and Comcast during the summers, and book stipends. The chair of our department picked me to be one of the recipients! What was even crazier was that it was a character-based scholarship, so I didn’t even have to maintain a certain GPA. It really was a surreal experience. I think that this scholarship is a great example of the importance of paying attention in class, answering questions when professors ask them, stopping by office hours just to get to know the department, and always presenting yourself well for the job you want in the future–even as a student.

Q. Did you study abroad in college?

I didn’t! It honestly didn’t cross my mind. I was very active in student life at Clemson. I was the vice president of my sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha, on the IPTAY Student Advisory Board (the booster organization for Clemson Athletics), and in Blue Key Honor Society. All of those things kept me really busy during the school year.

Q. What was your favorite experience in college?

This is totally unrelated to my education, but in 2006, ESPN came to Clemson for College GameDay. It was a night game, and this was during the reign of James Davis and C. J. Spiller (two really awesome players). [It was] way before we were dreaming of a national championship; we were just excited to be winning! The players got off of the bus and they were dressed head-to-toe in all purple (we usually rock all orange or orange and white uniforms)… and the stadium just went WILD. It was absolutely electric. I remember thinking to myself, “THIS is why I came to Clemson!” I’d never experienced anything like it! (They don’t say it’s the most exciting 25 seconds in college football for nothing!)

Q. If you had to go back and do one thing in college differently, what would it be? Why?

I would have set up a weekly study routine that was structured like a 9-to-5 job. The library would have been my hub, and instead of heading back to my dorm or my apartment in between classes, I would have studied, written papers, and prepared for class during the “business day” so that I could truly enjoy the weekends. Nothing was worse than staring down a Sunday night, knowing that I had 10 hours of work that I could have taken care of during the week ahead of me.

Q. Did you have any pivotal experiences in college? Tell us about one.

Freshman year, I took a class called “CU 101.” The course was designed for us to learn the history of Clemson, and one of the orientation ambassadors suggested that I sign up for it. I needed an elective, and so I thought, “Sure! Why not?” It ended up being one of the best classes I ever took, mainly because of our professor, Rusty Guill. Rusty was the associate dean of students and he only taught one session of this class per semester, and luckily, I picked his session!

It’s easy to feel “lost” at a big school like Clemson. You’re 18 years old, away from home for the first time, learning how to feed yourself and do your own laundry and study with no parameters or structure. Here’s Rusty who pours into us for three hours each week, teaching us the rich history of our school and why we should be proud of ourselves for getting into it. And then he invited us all over to his house for a meal! It was a beautiful home-cooked meal prepared by his wife Melanie, and we met his family and kids. I just remember thinking, “This school… it’s a family. These professors really do care.” And many of them do. Not every professor you run into is going to be like Rusty and bring your class over for a meal, but a lot of them are like that!

Q. What is something you struggled with in college?

One of the first things I experienced in college was rejection. Like many men and women who go through the recruitment process to join the Greek system, I didn’t get my top choice of sorority. Getting cut hurts! I cried many, many tears on Bid Day. But, it provided me the opportunity to get to know 60+ other girls in my pledge class who I never would have met otherwise, and in the years following on Bid Day, there were lots of moments for me to be a shoulder to cry on for other young women who didn’t get their top picks either. It was a very raw emotion, and it’s one of the hardest parts of the Greek system! I do want to note, I ended up loving my sorority. But I still have moments of sadness whenever I see pictures from Bid Day each year, knowing that there are girls whose hearts are broken behind the scenes.

Q. What is your current career? How did you get into the field?

I am the Chief Operating Officer of Meade Agency in Charleston, SC, a high-end video production company that was founded by my husband Kris, who still serves as the CEO. We also founded a nonprofit, Christian, pop rock radio station [called] Radio Free. [You can listen on] WYRF 92.5 FM in Florence, SC.

After college, I briefly worked in IT sales, and then moved into corporate healthcare marketing. I loved working for the hospital system! We had two babies, and I stayed home with them until they were one and four, and then we made a family decision for me to come back into the workforce full time to join Kris as the COO of our company. I’ve now been in the professional marketing and communications world for 11 years. I love running a business with my spouse!

Q. What's one piece of advice you have for people going into your field?

Hone your writing skills! Grammar is crucial. Don’t turn in work to your supervisor unless you are 100% sure it has zero spelling errors. That’s my pet peeve! Also, take as many graphic design classes as you can in college. If you have graphics skills and know how to navigate the WordPress dashboard, and perhaps even do a little HTML coding, you will be leaps and bounds ahead of your peers.

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