A quartet of young black Presbyterian College alumni weighed in on their professional challenges and triumphs during a panel discussion on Feb. 17.
PC graduates Avril Fennell ’12, Bryan McDaniel ’11, Dr. Kristen Peagler ’17, and Deon Speaks ’14 took part in this spring’s Black History Month Alumni Career Panel co-sponsored by the college offices of Career and Professional Development and Religious Life and Multicultural Community Engagement.
Each panelist began by telling students how they arrived at their current professions.
A former Blue Hose football player, McDaniel said he bounced around jobs before going back to school and earning a master’s degree in public administration from Georgia College and State University. Now he is the assistant to the city manager of Rock Hill.
Fennell earned her master’s degree in social work from the University of New England and is now the clinical director at Gateway House Inc., a mental health service in Greenville.
Speaks has built numerous business interests since he graduated. In addition to serving as co-owner of Speaks Holdings Transport, LLC, he is the chief information officer for REI Culture Co., a licensed realtor for Excel Real Estate, and the owner of South Legacy Insurance.
Peagler, who earned her veterinary medicine degree from the University of Georgia, is currently doing her residency at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
She said her PC experience shaped her career path. Coming to a predominately white school, Peager faced challenges but found comfort with her soccer teammates and professors.
“But I won’t lie, being a minority can get lonely,” she said. “You have to make your space. I had to make my own space. I know who I am.”
Peagler said less than two percent of all veterinarians as minorities. But regardless of that outlook, she said she has learned to “keep the main thing the main thing,” and that is her success at becoming precisely what she set out to become.
On the other hand, Fennell grew up in a predominately white community and knew firsthand what it was like to be part of a smaller ethnic group. Still, she said meeting PC’s Multicultural Student Union members and making friends with other minority students helped her navigate through college.
McDaniel said many people at PC were invested in his success, and he admitted it took him a while after graduation to discover what he was passionate about. He told students they should stay open to change if they aren’t happy about what they do.
“If something doesn’t serve you or you’ve outgrown it, then it’s time to leave the nest,” he said.
“If you get tired of something, change it,” she said.
Panelists consistently advocated taking a proactive role in their careers.
Peagler called it getting “comfortable being uncomfortable.” For her, it meant coming out of her shell and being persistent with questions, and networking with new people.
Speaks advised students to say “yes” to as many opportunities as possible. By doing so himself, Speaks said he is building interconnected businesses.
The group encouraged future PC graduates to learn empathy to relate to clients or coworkers, develop leadership skills by getting involved on campus, and be organized. They said all those “soft” skills are essential to professional success.
“I think the most underrated soft skill is practicing kindness,” Speaks said. “If you are kind and caring, and loving, it’s easier to sell and market whatever you’re doing.”
McDaniel said it is highly likely all minority professionals will encounter some adversity along the way.
“Just remember that you are competent and capable,” he said. “Don’t let people bait you. Never let anyone define your success.”
Peagler ended with a piece of sound advice, as well.
“Always remember who you are and to whom you belong,” she said.