Rising Star Q&A: Traci Carpenter

Traci Carpenter, a 2005 journalism graduate, received the ComArtSci Alumni Board’s Rising Star Award in 2012. Carpenter currently works at Google where she has been a part of the executive communications team for three years, specifically as a speechwriter. Prior to Google, Carpenter has enjoyed a successful career with a variety of speech writing roles including working with former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, as well as with the Clinton Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and Nissan. 

What was your favorite class at ComArtSci?

Probably the class that impacted me most was one I took on political communications. That was the first time I realized ‘Oh! That’s something I can do with my journalism degree.’ I realized I didn’t necessarily need to be on the reporting side, I could work for a campaign, which I eventually did. 

What was your favorite study spot on campus?

I lived in Mason Hall for 2 years, so my favorite study spot was actually behind the Student Services building. There was a fountain there. I love fountains and nobody else seemed to know about it, so it was always pretty quiet to get some reading done.

What was your favorite thing to do around East Lansing?

I loved the campus so some of my favorite memories were just walking around. My friends and I could spend hours walking around campus and seeing the [Red Cedar] river. I especially loved walking around on campus during gamedays.

What’s your favorite MSU Memory?

Every spring, on the first warm day, everyone would be out in shorts and bathing suits, and there was always such a great energy on campus. My friends and I would go play frisbee or get outside after a long winter. I have very fond memories of those days.

So, you earned your degree in journalism 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 amazing thing about getting a degree in journalism from Michigan State was just how applicable it has been in so many different roles. I use it every day as a speech writer, and it has made me a better communications professional. A lot of my coworkers will come to me to copy edit just because I learned those fundamentals. 

As for the evolution of the industry, when I graduated in 2005, digital journalism was starting to become a thing, and newsrooms were trying to figure out what that would mean for their business model. My first internship was with Newsweek on the digital website. I was the only intern, and at that time nobody was really focusing on the website. It’s been interesting to see how that has evolved and how now [the thinking] is often web-first in journalism.

What was your biggest lesson learned during your time at ComArtSci? And what was your biggest lesson after ComArtSci?

The necessity of getting out of your comfort zone. I knew I was a good writer but there was so much I didn’t know. So, I really had to push myself to take some risks. For example, joining an online news magazine as opposed to doing something more established like The State News. I learned so much and so that was my big takeaway: being open to a lot of different possibilities.

The biggest thing I’ve learned since MSU is that I expected my career to be linear. That has not been the case for me or anyone I know. Taking a long view for your career is important and knowing that if something doesn’t work out, that’s okay. It’s not if you fail, but when you fail, and what you will do to keep moving forward.

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?

That I wrote words that mattered, that are worth reading, that helped people through tough times, and that helped change their perspective on things. 

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?

That’s OK. That’s normal, and you shouldn’t know. Speech writing was something I didn’t know I could do when I graduated, and now it’s a great job that I love and that I have been doing for 15 years. The career you will love might not even exist yet. My advice: See it more as an opportunity and know that it is okay to not know. Great things are ahead, just be open to the possibilities. 

By Joe Strother

Interview was edited for length and clarity.