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Building an empire with Nia Strothers

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College of Charleston

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Building an empire with Nia Strothers

"Sometimes you have to skip the party to start a business."

4.20.17

I first met the incredible Nia Strothers my sophomore year in Geology lab, where we were both thrown together in a science class simply trying to make the most of it. It didn't take long for me to learn just cool Nia was -- she had plans to go abroad, was a part of more organizations than I could count, and even had her cosmetology license. How much cooler could this girl get? Two years later, and she has somehow grown to be even cooler than she was two years ago. You can't make this stuff up.

A young professional, scholar, entrepreneur, and communication student all-in-one, Nia isn't slowing down now, and I had the chance to sit down and chat with her about her reflections from the past four years, her advice to others, and what she hopes to accomplish next.

What brought you here to CofC?

I was originally supposed to go to USC, which is my mother’s alma mater, but I ended up coming here for MOVE, an initiative that recruits freshman students to the College. I heard a speech from George Benson,a previous president of the College, and he said to sit down and do a bench test to whichever schools you’ve been accepted to. He said to sit on a bench on campus where most people go to relax our sit out, and look around and take a deep breath to see if you feel like you fit in in that atmosphere. I did that here and I did that at USC, and here felt more right.

What have you been involved in at the College over the past four years?

The first thing I got involved in was Alternative Break; I traveled to the Dominican Republic my freshman year during Spring Break, and did community service in Monti Cristi promoting English literacy in low-income schools. Right after I got back from there, I joined my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., and then that summer I started working for the School of Humanities and Social Sciences as a student worker in the Dean’s Office. That position ended up leading to an internship for Johnson & Johnson Insurance, so I interned with their Human Resources Department for about a year and a half. That next semester after I got the internship, I became a peer academic coach for the Center for Student Learning, so I mentor provisionally accepted students to ensure that they meet their academic goals so they can attain full acceptance to the College their sophomore year. Senior year, I became a Martin Scholar, and I was also an Resident Assistant for a year in Berry's sixth floor penthouse.

What has it been like working as an entrepreneur and running your own business, and being a student? What challenges have you had?

It’s been really challenging. I’m usually up really late at night drafting social media stuff, writing blogs, or thinking of ways to sell more hair extensions for my online hair boutique, Reflections Hair Boutique, or finding more clients for for Social Savvy, my digital marketing company. It’s difficult, but it’s really about being productive. I did a blog post a few months ago about being as productive as you can with your time, because it’s not really about how much time you have, it’s about making the best use of the time you have. You have to prioritize and figure out what needs to be done and when. I think my biggest sacrifice while being in school has been not going out on the weekends.

My motto has been “Skip the party, start a business.”

It’s been my dream to work for myself, so I’ve skipped that party for four years, which is kind of sad but it was my choice, and I’m thankful for those decisions. One thing that has really helped me is mentorship; finding people that can give me advice. I’m involved in SCORE, which is a mentorship program for people who are aspiring business owners or small business owners seeking help from seasoned business owners or professionals from various fields of business, so that mentorship has been really helpful this semester in starting a new business. My mentor in that program is a retired marketing professional who did marketing for multi million dollar companies, so that mentorship has been really important, paired with prioritizing, being productive with time, and skipping parties.

Going off that, who’s been one of your biggest mentors in college? I know you’ve had a quite a few within the Martin Scholars program and the program you just mentioned, so is there anyone that sticks out or even a few people who stick out?

That’s hard. It’s hard to pick one person. Dr. Goodier just became my mentor this year, and she’s been super helpful because she always gives me a new perspective or makes me think about things I would’ve never considered, so she’s really helpful. My SCORE mentor, Dr. Von Freeyman, has been really helpful because my business is centered around social marketing, and his expertise is in marketing. Tom Martin has been a great mentor, always connecting us with someone new or giving us insight on the field of communication and all of the possibilities centered around careers of communication. There are so many, Celia Dennison who assists with the Peer Academic Coach program for CSL -- she’s been a great mentor. My mom as well -- I mean, I feel like everyone influences me in different ways.

What has being a part of the inaugural class of Martin Scholars meant to you?

It’s meant a lot. This program in its first year has been such a big part of my senior year. I can’t think of senior year without it or having that guidance or insight from Tom and Goodier. All of the people we met at different company visits gave me that insight about what communication could offer. I mean, to be completely honest, I was a junior and didn’t really know what besides radio what broadcast journalism or journalism there was. I didn’t know what PR was; aside from careers surrounding writing or radio, I didn’t know what branding was, and didn’t know it was a large factor of the field of communication. The Martin Scholar program has really opened my eyes to what communication can offer, what services I can offer to my clients. It’s kept me updated on what the newest things are in communication because, I mean, to that know influencers are the future and journalists may not be the future of communication is mind-boggling so we may need to jump on that influencer or blogger wagon, who knows, but, that’s what it’s meant to me and how it’s impacted me.

What has been a major defining moment for you here at CofC?

I would have to say last semester. My capstone this semester was "Wired and Inspired," which a lot of people think is a "bs" capstone or that we don’t do anything in there, but that capstone has changed my life. Dr. Ferrara, my professor had us sit down and talk about embarking on our senior year. Senior year is that defining year, and it really sets the stage for your next steps in life. She had us sit down and write what we currently want to pursue in the next eight months, since that’s how far away graduation was, and then she had us list our passions, what really lights our soul on fire, or what would help us get out of bed in the morning and feel great about life. Then she had us write down what we think we ought to be doing after graduation based on our parents, family influence, what the College thinks we should be doing or what our professors think we should be doing. Then she had us write what we really want to be doing, and how that should align with what we ought to be doing and what people say we should be doing. After doing that activity, I realized the things I were pursuing were the things I wasn’t really passionate about.

I was doing what I thought I should be doing or what people thought I should be doing, as opposed to pursuing my passions and what I really wanted to be doing.

What I ought to be doing felt so much safer, and I was playing safe instead of pursuing the things I was really passionate about. Then, at that point, I was like forget my internship, I’m quitting. This was supposed to turn into a full time job, a salary job in four months, but I’m quitting the job, quitting the internship, I’ve been here for a year and a half but whatever. So then I started my social media consulting business, which I have three clients so far. That was kind of my defining moment, saying “Okay, this isn’t going to work.” I didn’t want to be stuck at a desk working forty hours a week because it’s safe, I’m just going to do what I’m passionate about and hope it works out, and it’s been working out.

What advice would you give incoming freshmen?

My biggest piece of advice would be to start networking from now until your senior year. Network from the beginning. I didn’t start networking until my junior year. I met people and built connections and formed relationships with people at the College, but I wasn’t networking outside of this realm of academia. It’s hard to do that, because you don’t know what to do or envision what it will be like after college. It’s so important to go to networking events outside of the College. There are so many events for young professionals. Look outside of what the College has to offer, and yes, the College has a lot to offer, but look outside of that to make connections with people outside of the College, because once you leave, those are the connections you need and if you’re only connected to people here, it’s more difficult. Imagine how easy it would be to find a job in this area, or anywhere, if you had connections built up over four years instead of just the past eight months.

You can keep up with Nia, her business, and her blog @niawithpurpose on Instagram, and check out her website at www.niawithpurpose.com.