(This is the final installment in a series about my career’s twists and turns. If you missed the previous three posts, I encourage you to go back and catch up: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Now, for the final chapter… so far:)
When I left GTRI for Institute Communications at Georgia Tech, I didn’t just move across campus. I traded a 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, schedule for being on call 24-7, nights, and weekends.
I was the Institute’s media spokesperson and the public information officer for the Georgia Tech Police Department. Tethered to a mobile phone, I was never completely off work, and I endured some of the most difficult circumstances of my career, including the night a Georgia Tech police officer shot and killed a student.
That tragedy took a toll, and invigoration turned to exhaustion. By the time ethics complaints had me on local television once a month explaining the latest violations and firings, I was ready for a change. My great boss, Associate Vice President Lisa Grovenstein, retired, and I decided my performance in the job for three years would be enough evidence that I was capable of moving up into her job.
I made it to the final two candidates before losing out to a highly qualified external candidate. I was disappointed but not crushed, and I was staying busy serving as the chief intermediary between Georgia Tech and the University System of Georgia’s communications team. The USG lined up the television interviews, coached me on speaking points, and relied on me to carry the message they wanted delivered. There were times I felt like a double agent, trying to carry the message of Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson as well as the University System’s talking points. Then my own department at Georgia Tech was embroiled in a transition when our vice president was let go.
I was asked to attend the August Board of Regents meeting to facilitate media interactions for President Peterson. I showed up at 8 a.m. to meet with Charlie Sutlive, the USG’s vice chancellor of communications at the time. Instead of going over the details of the day, Charlie informed me he was leaving his job at the end of the week, and he wanted me to serve as the interim in his place. I would be on loan from Georgia Tech, and it would be a great opportunity to gain visibility with the USG leadership before his replacement, the out-going governor’s communications director, Jen Ryan, could return from maternity leave and take over the job on a permanent basis.
I had been deep in conversation with NCR about a position to serve as a university relations representative, building a program for the Atlanta-based financial technology company to interface with the institutions in the state. I decided to withdraw from that process and pursue the interim at the USG. President Peterson was understanding and glad for me to have the opportunity to look out for Georgia Tech from the USG headquarters. Dene Sheheane, Georgia Tech’s vice president for government relations, was put in charge of Institute Communications, and he blessed the arrangement as well, serving as a confidant and mentor throughout my tenure downtown.
It was an insightful experience, which I found challenging and exciting. Other than having to carry three mobile phones – one for USG, one for Georgia Tech, and my personal phone, I enjoyed it. Consulting with 26 institutions instead of just one was dizzying but enriching.
The four months flew by. Jen and I were originally scheduled to overlap the first week of November, but when she arrived, the decision was made to keep me on until the end of the calendar year. Those additional two months made Jen’s transition smoother and helped me land back at Tech with a new job on top of my old director of media relations position – interim associate vice president for creative strategy and brand management.
I took on management duties for half of the Institute Communications operation and began interfacing with a new team of direct reports. I also applied for the vacant vice president of Institute Communications position, and although I felt like it was premature for me to ascend to that position, particularly after not getting the AVP job, it was an opportunity from which I knew I would learn and grow.
Winter and spring 2019 were difficult as I juggled the responsibilities at Georgia Tech, continued interfacing with the USG and went through interviews, presentations and project proposal drafts as a part of the VP search process. I was also able to participate in the USG’s Executive Leadership Institute, further allowing me to grow as a leader.
But when the dust settled in the spring, I did not get the VP job, and I was feeling more and more burned out by the amount of work I was producing and the feeling that my profession was dominating my life. Jen Ryan kept in touch throughout my Georgia Tech VP candidacy, and when that fell through, she reached out and asked if I would be willing to come back to the USG as the associate vice chancellor for communications.
I needed a break from Tech, and working as the no. 2 to Jen seemed promising, particularly since she indicated she had a clear exit strategy she was planning over the next two years. I came back to the USG in August 2019, feeling relieved of the burden of 24-7 on-call work for Georgia Tech and its myriad, daily crises.
Jen announced her departure ahead of schedule, and I was not tapped to become the vice chancellor. Former WSB-TV investigative reporter Aaron Diamant, one of the people I had recently stood in front of cameras for explaining a Georgia Tech cybersecurity breach. I liked Aaron, but I was disappointed that my plans were not working out.
The full scale of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic became known in late winter, and I started working from home exclusively in mid-March. Not commuting two-plus hours a day gave me back time, and I began to write again for fun.
I re-launched this blog, and blew the dust off my novel manuscript, which I had set aside in 2012 after attempting a rewrite. In May, Carla gave me the StoryWorth online weekly memoir, and I began to carve out time each day to write. For nine months, I worked on my novel, wrote a series for the Reflections devotional book, wrote monthly View from the Pew and New South Essays blog posts and crafted responses to the StoryWorth weekly writing prompts. The time was a gift, and the opportunity to write reconnected me with the dream I had as a 7th grader writing short stories.
One month ago this week I accepted the position of vice president of marketing and communications at Oglethorpe University, leaving the USG after three years as associate vice chancellor. Joining the team at Oglethorpe, meeting new people, working on communications plans and engaging in pro-active media relations has been fun. And who wouldn’t want to go to work at Hogwarts. In fact, I learned this week that a former president from long ago in Oglethorpe’s history called the Gothic architecture on the Brookhaven campus “the silent faculty.”
My career path has been winding, but so has everyone’s in the communications world as the analog era shifted into the digital age and communication became nonstop and ubiquitous. After 30 years of writing, editing, crafting stories and engaging with the media and the public, I don’t know what the future holds, but I am thankful for the experiences, the people and the successes along the way. I’m filled with gratitude and eager to make an impact, ready to embrace the next chapter.
Thanks for sticking with this winding story over these four posts, and if you missed one, feel free to revisit them. I appreciate you reading!