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Q&A with Alumnus Eric Winkfield

Eric Winkfield   
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Eric started the IMC program right after earning his bachelor's degree in Public Relations from Florida A&M. Which program is right for you?

Eric Winkfield (IMC, 2017) is a Public Affairs Manager at Pepco, an Exelon Company in Washington, D.C.

Why did you choose WVU’s IMC program?

I chose WVU’s IMC program because it was one of the top programs for the field. Besides just focusing on things like university merits, I looked into who actually went through the program so that I could see where they were before and after the program in terms of their level of growth after receiving an IMC degree. I then linked that back to myself and thought about how an IMC degree would help me push my career forward.

Why did you decide to start graduate school right after you received your undergraduate degree?

To be honest, I chose to go to graduate school because I was not ready to work full-time. Not to say that I didn’t have the skills I needed or job offers to do so. I felt like I had so much more to learn and explore academically, and I really wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to do that while still being young.

During my time at Florida A&M University, I was fortunate to have very unique experiences and internships that allowed me to stand out. I served on the chapter and national level for the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) and interned at a variety of organizations such as Edelman, NBC Universal, Bowstern Marketing Communications and Armstrong Creative Consulting. My decision to attend graduate school directly after finishing my bachelor’s degree was due to me personally feeling a needed for more. It also allowed me the opportunity to take some more time to figure out which industry I wanted to pursue for my first job.

The IMC program really offered me the opportunity to explore various industries through my coursework and my time as a graduate assistant. I had classes with vice presidents and directors of communications, as well as mid-level practitioners, such as senior account executives or managers that worked in different sectors of the business. I loved the opportunity to listen and learn from my professors and fellow classmates about what life was like at different agencies and organizations.

What was the best part of your education at WVU and how did your time there prepare you for the profession?

Hands-down are the countless opportunities for mentorships. A lot of people view mentorships as always being formal sit-down meetings with someone who is a senior executive or in a position you see yourself being in the long-term. Yes, those are great and I have informational meetings like that often because I am often curious about the many ways to get to that level. However, while in the program, I met people who were at different stages of their careers and they all have given me golden advice that has helped me with my own journey. The lesson there is that you should be open to listening to anyone willing to take a quick moment to give you advice or give you some background on what they have gone through to help navigate your own success. My professors especially served as great mentors. It was amazing to note that all of them professor brought a level of expertise, insight and compassion to my classmates and I and we are better professionals because of it.

How did the IMC degree help you during your job search?

My master’s degree gave me a competitive edge. I did not go into the workforce right away, so I knew that finding work would be a bit of a challenge because a lot of employers want you to already have job experience. My IMC coursework gave me a deep dive into not only what makes good communication strategy, but also the crucial components and tools needed to creative transformative strategy.

Coming into my role as a communications specialist at PEPCO last year, my colleagues were highly impressed with my ability to see what they were doing and give coloring and details into their strategy without even seeing their strategy document. A lot of people cannot do that right away and even fewer 24 year olds can do it. In fact, my first project with Pepco was joining the project team to launch our company’s multimedia content hub – The Source .

My professor, Dr. Kohler, told me that you become irrelevant when you stop learning. I walked in with the idea that even though I knew a lot, I had a lot to learn and came to every project, job and assignment willing and able to learn more. Not only did I bring that mindset, but I also brought my degree and exposure to strategy and tactics into my role. I was so prepared that after one year, I was offered a promotion to become a Public Affairs Manager.

What is something you learned during the program that you have been able to apply to your current job?

Aside from writing, I would say the time management. In this program, you have to manage your own time. You have deadlines and assignments on top of your regular life and job. To get everything done, you really have to hone in your time management skills. Looking at my job now, the sector I currently work in is very complicated and has many projects. These include communication as well as supporting the very technical operations of our business. I am also working with timelines and budgets to make sure people are delivering to clients on time. To deal with all of these moving pieces, I have to manage my time effectively.

The program has also taught me to be open. Going into the IMC program, I was nervous because I had never done an online program before. I told myself that I was going to be open to the experience and the online experience was actually better for me than being in a “brick and mortar” program. Because we were online, we were forced to communicate with each other and it really made for a rich experience.

In my current job, I must have an open-mind in order to communicate what my company is doing in certain communities. A lot of times, the communities have one view of our company or one view of what a construction project looks like and how it impacts them. I have to go in with an open mind so that I can open up their minds. That way, they see past the short term destruction and instead see the long term service that they will receive once we are done.

What would you tell someone who is considering a program like IMC, but is unsure about doing an online program?

I would say to have an open mind and do your research. Having an open mind is important because oftentimes, people will get complacent and only do things within their comfort zone.  A lot times, we must get uncomfortable to achieve our maximum amount of success . No successful person has gotten where they are by being comfortable. If all that is holding you back from this program is that you’re uncomfortable with it being online, then I don’t know how you will face other challenges in life that will require leaving your comfort zone.

What advice do you have for PR and communications students today?

First, soak in every experience you have as a student because you will lean on those experiences as a professional. Second, boldly take on new challenges. The more you challenge yourself, the more you will grow. Finally, always reach back and mentor someone else. The only way we continue to grow as a profession is to take the experiences that shaped us, and use them to help others. My biggest life goal is to continue to be an advocate for and a mentor to others. It doesn’t have to always be something deep. It could be as simple as helping someone out with a project or helping to provide perspective to something that you went through while you were in school or just starting out in your career. Things like that can make a huge difference on someone’s career and someone’s life.