Rising Star Q&A: Erica Hughes

Erica Hughes graduated from ComArtSci in 2008 with a bachelor’s in communication. In 2018, Hughes was honored with the ComArtSci Alumni Board’s Rising Star Award. Hughes currently serves as director of multicultural marketing for Ally Financial, where her primary role is to help support communities of color. Hughes has past experiences including digital marketing for Sears, GM and Chik-Fil-A. Hughes also sits on the ComArtSci alumni board.

What was your favorite class at ComArtSci?

My favorite class at ComArtSci was an interpersonal communication class centered around gender communication. I loved that class so much because it helped dissect the differences between men and women in communication. It was very insightful, both professionally and personally. For example, when you think about the temperature in an office, I remember the class talking about how women were often cold at work because the temperature was designed to fit a male wearing a sport coat, shirt, and tie. That class is very relevant with all of the movements happening in society over the last three to five years. 

What was your favorite study spot on campus?

My favorite study spot in East Lansing was definitely the library in the business college. Not many people would go to the business library, so my sister, who also attended MSU, and I would go there. It was always quiet, and we could get a lot of work done. It was also very convenient for renting textbooks back in the day. 
What was your favorite thing to do around East Lansing?

My favorite thing to do was to attend football and basketball games. I was an intern for the athletics department for two years while being on campus. So, I was able to attend not only all of the football and basketball games but also hockey, volleyball, and many other sporting events. As someone with a huge passion for sports, this was a great way to experience the energy at the Breslin and Spartan Stadium. 

What’s your favorite MSU Memory?

I have two. Both sports-related. The first one was that I worked the night that Mateen Cleaves’ jersey got retired at the Breslin. Growing up in a big basketball city in Flint, Michigan, it was just so great to be in the environment with both of us being from the same place.

The second one, which I remember so vividly, was when Michigan State beat Ohio State when they were number one in basketball, and Greg Oden was playing at the time. He was this big NBA prospect, and we dethroned them that night. Everyone rushed the court, and there was so much energy at the Breslin.

So, you earned your degree in communication at ComArtSci, can you speak about how things have evolved in your industry since you graduated and where you foresee things going from here?

The industry is so different from when I started. I started my career in digital and social media, and when I think about it, I was probably one of the first people with the title of social media specialist back in 2008 when I started my career. I think the industry has completely changed with the rise of technology. The rise of Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and the rise of us trying to figure out what journalism is on the internet, what advertising is on the internet, and how do all of those mix. What I'm doing today is not what I thought I would be doing 13 years into my career, and I have had so many different roles in my career.
What was your biggest lesson learned during your time at ComArtSci? And what was your biggest lesson after ComArtSci?

The biggest lesson learned while at ComArtSci was that I would not have it all figured out coming out of college. Before that, I was very much a high achiever, and when looking at a class syllabus, it was evident how you achieve success. Coming out of college, everything was more ambiguous and nebulous, and there was no determined path in a career. So that helped me learn that I was going to have to be more flexible and nimble and learn on the fly, but even when I was at ComArtSci, I had multiple internships that showed me that I was going to have to try new things.

After ComArtSci, the biggest thing I learned was that relationships take you just as far as intellect in the real world. Coming up through academia is more or less a meritocracy. You do well, and you get a good grade. When you get into the real world, you could be doing everything correctly, but if you don't know enough people, mentors, sponsors, advocates, then your career may not thrive and flourish. Relational currency is just as important as intellectual capital.

Fast forward to the end of your career. It’s your retirement party and everyone is there celebrating your achievements. What do you hope people say about you?
I hope that people say I really worked hard to open doors for those in diverse communities and that I made a difference and an impact in the lives of others. I can remember growing up and my mom telling me that the most important thing that I could do while I was here on earth was to have an impact and to try and do as much as I could while living to make the path easier for the next generation. If I can help one person, or two people, or five people with the work I do, then I will feel really good about retiring, knowing that I made an impact in the lives of others.

Growing up, especially students of color, you often don't have representation, and you don't see people in roles and leadership positions in careers you aspire to be in. It's nice to be charting a path and get to be a role model for those coming up around me. We always say, ‘lift as we climb,’ and it’s great to be in a position where I can lift as I climb.

To those students who are confused, overwhelmed, not sure what they want to do, unsure about what a degree from ComArtSci can do for them, what would your message be to them?

To current students who are unsure, the first thing I would say is to use the time in university to try as many things as possible, including jobs, internships, and different paths, so that you have an idea of what you want to do when you graduate. You can only know what different people do in different roles if you try those roles and get the experience. Then when you are in your junior and senior year and starting to focus on a specific path, use the time while you're in university to connect with professionals and fellow Spartans so that you can get insight into what they do and start building relationships. 
The last thing I would say is to relax. You don't have to have it all figured out the day you graduate. Life will come to you, and don't put so much pressure on yourself to get that first job. Try to have fun with it and learn as much as you can. Everything that is meant for you will find you.

By Joe Strother