Retrospective on 'Conversations with Greatness' symposium
AUSTIN, Texas -- "What starts here, changes the world."
That is the motto and message and theme that The University of Texas has adopted.
And, on April 9, Longhorn student-athletes were given a great opportunity to begin putting that university theme to practice, as the first of hopefully many impressive opportunities for mentorship, connection and networking took place as UT Athletics hosted "Conversations with Greatness: Minority Mentorship Symposium."
The morning and afternoon symposium featured high-profile minority executives and stars from the entertainment and music worlds as well as from the business, college administration and law professions, who took time out of their busy schedules to connect with Longhorn student-athletes, coaches and staff members. This event was held at the Hilton Austin downtown.
The program was the brainchild of UT women's track and field head coach Bev Kearney. Her desire -- and her ultimate achievement -- was to bring together a distinguished group of minorities with stellar credentials who could provide UT student-athletes a look at what it takes to make successful transitions from student-athlete and college student into the corporate world.
All day long, the distinguished panelist spoke on necessary life-skills and tools they needed to be successful. Talk and stories resolved around decision-making, networking and relationship-building skills, and taking risks -- all the important components of being a success in life.
Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, UT's Vice Provost of the Office of Inclusion & Cross-Cultural Effectiveness, led off as special guest speaker and he summed up the opportunity for the Longhorn athletes by saying that before them was "a billion dollar roundtable for you -- successful professionals who came here because they recognize the value and power of mentorship and are always ready to ask, 'How can I give back, pay back those who have helped me? They are here to give you jewels of advice, advice which is priceless'."
"Never ever let your ego get in the way of your goals," noted Amber Noble, the highly-successful Director of Marketing for the Island Def Jam Music Group. "When I switched careers from radio broadcasting and its glass ceiling to the music industry, I had to take a step backward in job title and pay. My radio work in Philly was "high school", and I wanted to get to the NBA -- work at Def Jam. My first job at Def Jam was as an administrative assistant; I swallowed my pride and did it for one year until the marketing position was opened.
"Make the decision to not be too big to take that step down to get to your ultimate goal. Be the best you can be -- and do not base it on your gender or race," Noble said, firmly. "Always remember -- integrity counts. Your reputation sits in the front row wherever you go."
"You just cannot be afraid to network and approach people," said Tamra Cobbins, senior basketball player. "You need to get your foot in the door. Everyone was inspiring today. Yes, sometimes you need to take two steps back to take four steps forward. The messages I heard were about not being complacent. Go after things, be resilient."
Persistence and goal-setting were a major theme as well.
"You've got to be yourself and hustle," said Karen Taylor-Bass, the founder and President of TaylorMade Media LLC and a PR wiz who has introduced two ground-breaking musicians to the world -- Jill Scott and D'Angelo.
"When you are hot, everyone wants you, but then, the scorching can turn ice-cold," noted Taylor-Bass, whose clientele also includes ABC Networks, Coca Cola USA and Sony Music. "My business is volatile, and I lost a job years back and had to re-invent myself. I heard Jill Scott in 1999, and she was phenomenal. Then, I heard she was looking for a publicist; there were 26 people up for the job -- and I was the 26th. I bet I called her 25 times and never heard back from her. I hustled to see her in concert, talking my way into the VIP section so I could meet her.
Like I did, you need to claim your power. I just knew once I met her, I could convince her of my worth. I finally got to meet her, and she was startled and said, 'Oh, YOU are Karen? What are you doing tomorrow? Get the train to Philly, and if we jell, you are hired."
I did, and the rest is history. Be unorthodox. Position yourself as an authority. Persist. Every skill set you learn here at UT, believe me, you will use."
Recent UT graduates, part of the breakout session panels, sent strong messages as well.
"Carry yourself in a way that let's people know you are part of a team that exudes excellence," said Kim McGruder '00, former UT All-America track standout who resides in Houston and works for her church organization. "Don't be a negative link in the chain which is your team, your job."
"I wish someone had taken me aside and put financial responsibility in my head when I was at UT," noted former NCAA champion and All-America track performer Angie Vaughn '98, who currently resides in Atlanta and is pursuing a career as an event planner. "You are bombarded with credit card offers, and there's a theme to always look good in college. But, good money matters are your key to freedom. Employers do credit checks. Go to 'www.myfico.com' and know your credit information! If someone had told me in college all of this, I would have been financially responsible earlier than now."
"This was a serious magnitude of speakers for us," noted senior All-America trackster Sheretta Jones, a business major. "I am grateful for their time and patience to speak with us. Everyone came from similar backgrounds with roadblocks along the way, and to see them excel now, is inspiring. It -- the learning and lessons -- don't stop here for us. There is more to come, and more to do. That's what I will take away from today."
"What I'll take away the most from today is that you learn from your mistakes," noted freshman basketball player Erika Arriaran. "Mistakes and hard lessons make you appreciate life more. That's how I think, and I was glad to hear that. I don't regret anything I've done because of that way of thinking."
One of the messages expressed was that a student-athlete should not be defined only by the sport he or she plays or his background. The notion of diversity is not something simply manifested by a person's color; being diverse means having a variety of interests and doing something more than playing a sport.
"The reality of it all has hit me," said sophomore volleyball standout Leticia Armstrong. "I heard how people made it big, regardless of their circumstances and upbringing. I can relate to Mister Mann Frisby. He is from the hood of Philly and made it big as a writer, coach and author. I come from a similar hometown situation, where drug dealers and crime are everywhere. It doesn't mean I ever have to accept that. I am here at UT as a steppingstone, and I am determined to achieve more than anyone back home thinks I can."
Panelist Hill Harper -- an actor/author/entrepreneur -- served as a valid example himself of not being defined by others.
During his opening remarks, Harper, who stars in the acclaimed CBS drama "CSI: New York", acknowledged that his graduate degree from Harvard University serves him little as an actor. Very simply, he does not want to be defined as an actor; as an actor, author and entrepreneur, Harper elects to define himself rather than allow others to do that for him.
"An event like this can show the university and the student-athletes that they aren't defined by athletics; they define the athletic program," Harper said. "You define yourself, and in so doing, you will be a better student-athlete and you will be happier when you show the diversity of images."
Harper's message of self-definition resonated with UT football linebacker Drew Kelson.
"Hill answered questions today that I've asked myself for years," Kelson,, a junior, said. "I feel like I have so many different things going on, and I have struggled to find one to focus on. Hill says you should focus on all of it, give your all and excel in everything you do. It was important to me to hear that."
Keith Tribble, now the CEO of the FedEx Orange Bowl, was in Kelson's position in the 1970s as an offensive lineman at the University of Florida. Ever mindful of the demands and pressures put upon NCAA student-athletes, Tribble shared his experiences of how he dealt with those demands.
"I tried to convey a sense of commitment, purpose, dedication and attention to detail," Tribble said. "Those are things you learn as a student-athlete, and you have to carry them into your working environment, too."
Not coincidentally, Tribble found many of those same qualities in a young up-and-coming female assistant track coach he met several years later while he was serving as associate AD at Florida.
"We were looking for a new head track coach at Florida, and I went to various track meets around the Southeastern Conference," recalled Tribble. "Bev Kearney was at Tennessee as an assistant, and we brought her in with a couple of potential candidates. We interviewed her, and she blew us away. She was outstanding!
"Bev commanded excellence, and that's the one thing I saw from her when she worked with our student-athletes," Tribble noted. "The total development of the student-athlete -- with the social skills and giving back to the community -- is just part of what she is all about. It is what we all want to be about."
And that message resounded throughout the ballroom panel discussion and breakout sessions with the Longhorn student-athletes during the highly successful and inspiring "Conversations with Greatness."