Caroline Griffin, 2017 alumni of NC State’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management program didn’t always plan on getting a four year degree. In fact, it wasn’t until a “heart to heart” talk on Father’s Day 2015 she had with her dad, uncle and grandfather that changed her mind. They explained how important a four-year college degree is and how earning a bachelor’s degree can open so many doors. Up to that point, Caroline who grew up in Raleigh, had graduated from Broughton High School and earned an associate degree in Hospitality Management from Wake Technical Community College. Once the decision was made to go back to school, she knew she wanted to apply to NC State because her grandmother, Nancy Bailey Rich, taught English there for 33 years and her mom attended NC State Graduate School.
Caroline jumped into life at NC State as a transfer student, she made the Dean’s list all four semesters, became a member of Rho Phi Lambda Honorary Society, and received two scholarships. Her hard work paid off though, after proving herself as an intern, Caroline received an offer from NC RIoT (a leader in IoT opportunities) for a job which started during her last semester of school. Since then, Caroline has settled into her role as the Event and Operations Manager and enjoys it’s location at HQ Raleigh in downtown Raleigh. She plans a series of ongoing networking events (and invites anyone to attend) as well as RIoT’s annual event, IoT Demo Night, a large tech event at the Raleigh Convention Center. She enjoys working in the tech industry and being surrounded by innovation, it keeps things fresh and is an energy that suits her well.
A Conversation with Caroline…
During college, did you know you wanted to focus on event management, or did you figure it out along the way?
I’ve always loved planning events, whether it be bachelorette parties, birthday parties, holiday parties, etc. I take pleasure in having my hand in making key decisions about events and executing the planning process. What can be better than getting paid for something you enjoy doing?
You were very involved during your time at State, what was your favorite project?
As much as I disliked participating in group projects, I discovered how important it is for students to learn to work together as a team. Event planning is indeed a joint effort. Event planners must put together various “pieces of the puzzle” when working with caterers, bartenders, photographers, venues, etc. It is imperative to learn to work with multiple people and adjust to each person’s schedule and deadline, no matter how frustrating that may be. Separately, volunteering during my time at NCSU was very rewarding. Whether I was keeping score at the Senior Games, stuffing eggs for the Rho Phi Lamda annual egg hunt, or interacting with students from Bugg Elementary, I was grateful for the opportunity to give back to the community and spend time with my fellow students.
Was there a faculty or advisor that affected your personally?
There were several faculty members and advisors that had a positive impact on me personally. Kathy Gore was my advisor, and she encouraged me to work hard to finish my degree in a timely manner – which drove me to take 19 hours while working part time at RIoT during my last semester at NCSU. I always say, “If I can do that, I can do anything.” Dr. Bocarro emboldened me to find an internship that would teach me to truly learn through experience. So rather than accepting my originally offered internship at the NCSU Club, where I had already worked via a separate internship through class, I accepted the internship opportunity with RIoT which led to my full time job. Susanne Morais urged me to work harder on my resume, LinkedIn, WordPress, and other career building skills which pushed me to not settle for something that was mediocre. Annette Moore invited me to join Rho Phi Lamda, which pressed me to network and volunteer and meet amazing people. I could keep the list running, but the above professors and advisors truly shaped me into the professional I am today.
How did you become an intern at RIoT and at what point did you know you wanted to stay?
I initially applied to HQ Raleigh for their summer internship position, but they had already filled their interns for the summer, so they asked if they could post my resume on their Slack Workspace (Slack is a communication channel) and I said yes, please! From there, RIoT’s Executive Director Tom Snyder reached out to me and asked if I would come in for an in-person interview. I then had a phone interview with RIoT’s Founder, Larry Steffann. After I completed my 400-hour unpaid internship, Larry and Tom asked if I would stay on part time during my last semester at NCSU. I struggled with the idea of working part time while taking 19 credit hours, but I feared that if I left RIoT, they would find another intern and I wasn’t willing to risk that. After my last final exam, I met with Tom and he offered me a full-time position as Event & Operations Manager of RIoT – the third full-time hire for RIoT. I accepted and have been with RIoT full-time since January 2018. I feel fortunate to be a part of the RIoT team. It has been remarkable to watch RIoT grow over the 2.5 years I have been on the team. Since RIoT’s creation in 2014, we have grown from 6 sponsors to over 85 sponsors and have helped the startup companies we support raise over $300 million in capital and create over 400 jobs. I look forward to the future of RIoT and watching the company continue to grow.
What do you enjoy most about being the Events and Operations Manager?
I love coming into work everyday and knowing that day will be different than the previous. I am privileged to work with incredible sponsor companies and amazing entrepreneurs. Working with the RIoT Accelerator Program teams has also been a real treat. Witnessing companies grow from the ground floor up is amazing and I feel very lucky to be a part of that. I also enjoy working with my wonderful team. Tom, my boss, respects my personal and professional life balance and encourages me to try new things, meet new people, and work toward goals that will further my career.
Where do you get your personal motivation?
Eddie Anderson, my partner, is my daily motivator – he tells me to keep going on days where I feel like I have no energy, and nothing left to give. He is the one I come home to on my happy days to tell him how amazing my job is, but he’s also the one I come home to and cry to when the day has been stressful and I think I can’t do it anymore. I cannot thank Eddie enough for all the encouragement, love, and support he gives me daily. I also have my family and friends to thank for always believing in me and encouraging me to continue my education and be the best version of myself. Dolly Parton is also a big motivator for me. Eddie gave me a book of Dolly quotes that I keep on my desk and look at when I’ve had a hard day. One of my favorite quotes of hers is “If you see someone without a smile, give them yours.” That quote reminds me to be kind to everyone all the time, no matter how stressed or exhausted I am. You truly never know what someone else is going through, and all of us have the ability to make the world a better place.
Since being in the work world, what “life lesson” has most affected your approach to your job?
The biggest “life lesson” that I’ve learned since being at RIoT is how important it is to take time for yourself. In the event planning industry, people are constantly calling you, emailing you, texting you, and asking you do something for them. For my first year (and sometimes even to this day) I used to think that every email, text, message, etc. needed to be answered immediately. It really started to take a toll on personal life. I would find myself checking my email on holidays and weekends and responding to emails when I was out with friends, family, and loved ones. My best friend Celeste, who is a nurse at Duke Hospital once told me “You are not a brain surgeon. No one is going to die if you don’t answer that email right now.” One time while I was on paid time off at the beach, I was checking my email and Eddie said to “You are not going to look back when you are 60 years old and say ‘I should have answered that email.’” They are 100% correct. I am still working on separating my professional and personal life, but I have come to learn that email works for me, I don’t work for email.
Any tips for undergraduate students thinking of going into this industry?
Take care of yourself – get 8 hours of sleep a day, drink water, get exercise, eat right. It’s easy to push your personal needs to the side, but by doing that you will not be your best self and it will negatively affect your work. Go to class – you are literally paying thousands of dollars to learn, so show up and pay attention your future self will thank you. Also, you are not smarter than your professors – they are older and wiser – listen to them, confide in them, respect them. Same goes for your family – appreciate them and love them – they know more than you may think.