College of Arts and Sciences
There’s no place like home: Graduate making positive impact on her hometown
An internship for Brooke Cole at Anderson School District 5 turned into a full-time job after she graduated from the Anderson University College of Arts and Sciences. In fact, she was the first staff member in the school district to hold this specific role full time. She is currently the Public Information Officer for the largest school district in Anderson County, which is also among the largest districts in Upstate South Carolina. She’s also a strong believer in giving back to her hometown, serving on local boards that include United Way of Anderson County and the Anderson University Alumni Association.
How did you choose Anderson University?
I was born and raised in Anderson. I went through K-12 in Anderson School District 5, so I’ve been around these parts my entire life. It was always really cool growing up to see that transition from college to university—I remember that being so huge for us here in Anderson. In my senior year of high school at T.L. Hanna, it was time to start thinking about plans after graduation. I didn’t have a plan yet but all I knew was that I wanted to get a higher education. I was not really interested in the route of going straight into the workforce, which has become a super popular route now for many high school students. I knew that obtaining a four-year degree was something that I wanted to do.
Being here, born and raised, I did not know where that would be. Part of me wanted to go somewhere else. But something about this area pulled me here, wanted me to stay here and have my roots here. Unlikely story: Ironically, I completed my first year of college at (another college). Once that started wrapping up, I decided that I wanted to apply to Anderson University.
I toured the campus and it just felt like home, which is cliché because I am home. There’s something so special, something profound. The rich history drew me there so much and such a sense of pride to say that you go to AU and graduated from AU. It just carries a lot of weight. That’s just something I really wanted to be a part of.
I did commute. I didn’t live on campus. Just a little side note—something I wish I had done was to live on campus. I think my experience at AU would have been enhanced tenfold if I lived on campus, even though I lived here (in Anderson) and my parents lived literally 10 minutes down the road, and that’s why I lived at home.
I think just the history that it had, and being an Anderson native—that is what drew me to AU and that small town feel that I grew up knowing is something I wanted to keep through my college experience. It was trying at times, obviously academically. That (small town feel) was going to make all the difference. Being at a school like that where you can go in and talk to a professor or call them after hours, versus if you were at a bigger university where nine times out of ten you were just a number. Those are all definitely factors.
What are your favorite memories of college?
I think AU has done a great job with programs for commuters over time. The commuter programs weren’t as strong when I was there, but to combat that, I chose to do little part time jobs. I didn’t need to do anything serious because my studies came first and foremost. I was looking for a little part-time job to make a little extra money, but also to connect better with the university and other students, and so I actually became a student worker for AU and I worked in the admissions and event planning area.
Those were some of my favorite memories, just building those relationships with those folks and getting my college experience in that way, even though I wasn’t living on campus. I was able to meet a lot of cool folks who I still keep up with on social media. Some are still around. Some have gone elsewhere and it’s cool to see what they’re doing now. Some of my favorite memories… you form such a strong bond, you’re essentially coworkers but also fellow classmates. Those were some of my favorite memories for sure… hosting those events together, working together and having so much fun.
Also my senior year of college is one I’ll always hold very dear to. I feel like that’s really when my experience and my relationships with folks were solidified. Two professors I had, James Duncan and Robert Reeves (he’s someone I still stay in touch with to this day and have for a long time). Just great people who cared about me and who pushed me, that I can do this, I am smart enough, I do know this material, I am capable of this. Those are all things that play into some of my favorite memories at AU.
Another memory that’s worth mentioning: Professor Reeves took a group of us who were interested to a conference in Columbia. We had such a good time, just a like-minded group of folks who completed the last three to four years together and who were all anxious and excited, trying to figure out what we were going to do next. It was just such a really awesome opportunity that Professor Reeves allowed us to do. He actually was (awarded by) the South Carolina Public Relations Society of America at that conference (for service on their board). It just solidified even more what a great professor we had to be recognized like that. I can’t say enough about Professor Reeves. He was a constant in my life at AU when I was there and he’s somebody I’ll reach out to now. As I prepared for maternity leave in late 2021, I reached out to let him know “I’m going to be needing an intern, let’s get us someone good.” And that’s how I pay it forward because that’s kind of how I got my start here, it was because of an internship.
How long have you known you wanted to be in a communications-related position?
Going back to my freshman year of college, I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do, but I knew I needed to get my momentum going and get those prerequisite classes done at least before I knew what I wanted to do. I entertained going the dental hygienist path and after looking at the coursework—this is full transparency here—I saw the amount of math and sciences required. That wasn’t my strong suit. I understand why those courses are important, and of course you have to take “sprinklings” of those (courses) no matter what degree you pursue. I knew I needed to stick to my roots and what I know. I like to talk. I like to write; that’s something a lot of people dread about college—all the papers—but that’s something I could knock out of the park fortunately. That’s how I knew I wanted to go into something that was going to be heavy in those areas.
I was speaking to someone the other day and told them why I pursued this area. That’s because I feel like we need more good communicators in the world, simply put. That is what we hang our hat on at the end of every day. Say what you mean and mean what you say, but know how and when to say it; how to appropriately and professionally say it.
Another cheesy quote, but one I really hold onto and think about daily, “Lack of communication can ruin a lot of great things.” That’s so true. I think there is so much strength and weight in being able to eloquently speak and present yourself in any situation.
I think it’s great that you’re working in the district where you attended school. How long have you been with Anderson District 5?
I started my internship with Anderson 5 in January of 2017, while I was still a student at AU. And when I graduated from AU in the spring of 2017, I was fortunate enough to be offered the first full time position of this role. At the time it was a communication specialist position. This past July (2022) marked my fifth full year employed with them and it’s my fifth school year. It’s just been such a great homecoming in a lot of ways. A lot of things have changed for the better since I’ve been a student here, but it is so cool to still see those schools and those teachers and folks I knew who were there when I came along, to see the full circle. My first grade teacher is an assistant superintendent now and I’m working at the leadership administrative level with them… it’s very cool for both of us.
And you’re making an impact in your own hometown.
Some people have that bug to want to travel and go somewhere… You can do big things right there in your hometown, especially here in Anderson. That was something I think I struggled with a little in the beginning, “Do I really not want to diversify myself?” I think it is the best decision I could have ever made. I had countless opportunities here and I know my education from AU carries a lot of weight with my onboarding here at the school district. It’s just been a great experience and I feel very well equipped for the work that I do.
I’ve undergone a couple of title changes. That’s the thing about being the first person to hold a position full time. You build that position from the ground up. I was excited to hear those words when I was hired… I don’t really have anything to compare it to other than what we learned in school, but truthfully, I have felt so well prepared in so many things I’ve encountered during my time here so far. Textbook definitions of things we learned and examined and situations and scenarios that I vividly remember discussing and talking about during my studies at AU that I have encountered the first year—it was very transferable for sure.
Is Anderson 5 growing?
We are the largest Anderson County school district. We serve roughly a little over 13,000 students—and counting. We cover a large geographical area. We have a lot of staff here as well, a lot of teachers and support staff, from transportation drivers and custodial staff to teachers aides and bookkeepers. I would definitely say we’re growing, and that is why our new office downtown was so necessary, not only to accommodate the growth in students but also the growing staff to keep up with those students.
What gives you the biggest sense of accomplishment?
It is a very gratifying position, even though it is a very behind the scenes position. One thing that our superintendent always says of our role:
“You may not be able to explain what it is that you do, but if you didn’t do it, we all would know it.”
That is the best definition of what a public information officer does that I could ever come up with, honestly.
My tasks change so much daily. I may start at a school taking photos. This morning, I started with the United Way, one of our community partners, because I do community liaison work, too. You just never know. Then there may be—I’m going to knock on wood right now—a crisis of sorts later this afternoon that we need to take care of. You just never know. It’s so unpredictable.
I think that Anderson 5 has given me so many opportunities that I’m really grateful for. I’ve been able to expose myself to a lot of community involvement, a lot of programs. And you know in turn it strengthens myself as a leader. I am fortunate to be employed by a leadership with a philosophy that by investing in their people, that’s also a direct investment for the organization.
It’s very humbling and such an honor to get some of the awards that I’ve been able to receive. I know because I work for folks who invest in their people and believe that if someone is bettering and investing in themselves, that’s also a direct investment for their organization.
I was named by Anderson Area Chamber of Commerce one of their 20 Under 40 recipients in 2021. I was also Anderson Area Chamber of Commerce Young Professional of the Year in 2019. I’m also involved with Anderson United Way. I serve on their board of directors and have chaired and served several of their affinity groups.
I try to give back just as much as I’ve been able to experience and be a part of, and I think that is a critical component as a professional in Anderson County. I’m just very fortunate for the opportunities I’ve been given here and the leadership and development I’ve been able to do here as well.
What advice would you give to someone considering a job like you have?
In short, I’d say just maintain a tough skin (laughs). That is truthfully an informal piece of advice I would give someone. I think it’s important to stay level headed and to keep your personal and professional feelings apart. It’s very easy to go home and let what you do bleed into your home life, but you cannot let it, because that’s how you get drained, that’s how you get worn down and burned out. We saw it during COVID. You know what you’re getting into. It’s public service. Just to keep that in mind. It may not be for everyone, and that is okay.
And you’re giving back to Anderson University, which we appreciate. Tell us about that.
Probably the reason why I pursued wanting to join the Alumni Board is that while I had a great AU experience, I did not “put into” my college experience like I should have. I am a firm believer that you get what you put into something. Now, I think with all of the involvements I have around town that I need to get back to my roots at AU and recognize and realize why and how I am where I am at is because of the education I earned there. I think that I wanted to rekindle that relationship. I’m just very excited about the opportunity to be involved with the Alumni Board and just to be part of AU’s journey, their future and the great places they’re headed.