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Trace Hughes, 2013-14 president of the WSU Public Relations Student Society of America.

Wichita State's Trace Hughes: From Air Guard to Shocker grad

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Like many college students, 2014 graduate Trace Hughes began his studies at Wichita State University with no idea about what he wanted to do with his life. Four years later, Hughes has accepted an offer to work as a copywriter for an advertising agency, and he says it’s all due to Wichita State and the Elliott School of Communication (ESC).

At the beginning of his college career, Hughes declared a major in marketing because it sounded like the thing to do – get a business degree and work in a business. But that was the extent of his plan. It didn’t take long to figure out that business wasn’t for him, and Hughes used his first two years at WSU to explore different careers and figure out what he was meant to do.

Hughes, a native of Hoisington, Kan., had joined the Air National Guard after high school. He began his college career two years later, but his time at Wichita State was disrupted by a deployment to the Middle East where he managed the wireless data network that controlled the air war.

Finding direction

When Hughes returned to school in 2011, he was unhappy and considered dropping out. But that year he also enrolled in his first course with the Elliott School, Intro to Marketing Communications. That class was taught by ESC instructor Eric Wilson, whose teaching and advice changed Hughes’ life.

In the first few weeks of class, Wilson brought in guest speakers, including one from a local ad agency who piqued Hughes’ interest. It was in that class that Hughes began to think about working in an ad agency himself, although he had no idea what that entailed. Advice from Wilson and guest speakers cemented his career goal, and after a classroom presentation by a representative from the American Red Cross, Hughes approached the speaker about an internship opportunity.

“One great thing about WSU is being in Wichita,” Hughes said, “and having access to all of the businesses that are here.”

Sullivan, Higdon & Sink is a local ad agency that offers a competitive copywriting scholarship through the Elliott School. Wilson encouraged Hughes to apply for it.

Although he didn’t think of himself as a writer, Hughes sensed that he was at a crossroad. Competing for a scholarship was way outside the box for him, but he went for it anyway.

“I didn’t do it because of the money,” he said, “I did it for the opportunity to create something and put my name in front of somebody; maybe somebody I’d want to work for.”

Hughes won the scholarship and another internship, and with it the connections that led to his new job as a copywriter for Tulsa, Okla.-based Brothers & Co. In addition internships, he became president of the Public Relations Student Society of America and had the opportunity to meet Alex Harb, the WSU alumni and entrepreneur who hired Hughes to manage his Ribbit Computers brand.

New opportunities

Even though Hughes was recently honored by the Elliott School with an “Outstanding Senior” award, he still finds it hard to believe the direction his life has taken.

“I am a product of the Elliott School,” he said. “More so, I am a product of the people of there. Without Eric Wilson I would not be here today. He sat me down and told me that I’d won that scholarship for a reason. If he hadn’t said anything I would never have believed I could be a copywriter. The Elliott School will always have a special place in my heart.”

Hughes is moving to Tulsa to begin his career soon, and he couldn’t be happier.

“I know for a fact that all of this is because of Wichita State,” he said. “Had I gone to any other school I would have never had the opportunity; I would never have put myself out there, and ultimately I wouldn’t be where I am today. That’s what Wichita State did for me.”

This story has been tagged Students, Faculty/Staff, Graduate School, Cooperative Education, Alumni, Student Profiles, Graduate stories, Elliott School of Communication, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Experience-based learning. See all RSS feeds here