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Coming Home

Holly CooperHolly Cooper (right) with EMBA Program Director Nancy McNelis

The story of Holly Cooper's decision to move to the Charlotte area and her personal journey here is about family and heritage, but even more about her determination, professional expertise, and spirit of service and community.

Holly relocated to Charlotte in 2008 from New York City, where she was born and raised and built her own public relations consulting firm. Her sister had moved her family to Rock Hill, South Carolina 15 years before; the area became a second home for Holly as well. "We were raised in New York with very strong Southern values - our father is from Greensboro and our mother is from Augusta.  Moving to the Carolinas felt like coming home.

Arriving in Charlotte just as the new uptown cultural campus was nearing completion, Holly quickly landed a public relations and marketing contract to lead the opening of the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. It was the first new facility to open within the cultural campus and it offered Holly the chance to demonstrate her skills and learn the Charlotte community. As a result of her great work there, she was invited to lead the opening of the new Mint Museum of Art as well.

Even as those projects proceeded, Holly was considering her future in the region. She had settled in Rock Hill to be near her sister's family. She made the bold choice to run for the South Carolina State Legislature in 2010. She ran against a longtime incumbent, and although she didn't win she counts the campaign a success: "I vote for the person, not the party, and that's how I ran. I have beliefs that cross party lines, and I believe in being a public servant. My two major priorities were strengthening education and protecting our seniors, and we succeeded in advancing those issues."

Holly received 38% of the vote on a shoestring budget while building relationships across York County; as a result she was invited to serve on the boards of the York County Chamber of Commerce Area Council and Habitat for Humanity.

During her campaign, Holly made another major decision, this time in her personal life, when she relocated her mother, who has early stage Alzheimer's, to Rock Hill. She says, "That's the thing I am most proud of since coming here. The woman I am is because of the women she is. She is safe and I love being able to spend special moments together."

After the campaign, Holly turned her attention to finding a permanent professional role. Her passion for advocacy and serving others led her to focus on the non-profit sector, and she was thrilled to learn that Goodwill was seeking a director of marketing and communications. Her experience combined with the strong network that she had built in the region served her well; she landed the job.

"Non-profits are sometimes misperceived as being just mom and pop shops," Holly says, "but we have 600 full-time team members, and many of them have been with Goodwill for years or decades. Some have what we call 'employment barriers,' which range from disabilities to family needs or police records. We pride ourselves on providing family-sustaining employment for them while also serving the broader community."

Never one to rest on her laurels, Holly began looking for an MBA program after she was settled in her role at Goodwill. She spoke to her contacts and mentors and says they unanimously recommended the McColl School of Business at Queens. Her experience in the Executive MBA program has given her the skills she expected, as well as something greater.

"I thought I was getting my MBA for professional reasons, but I am actually receiving more personal growth. My classmates are smart, engaging and so diverse. Every one of us plans to graduate in 2014 together. If someone is struggling in an area, we lift them up. It's challenging when you've been out of school for 20 years, but it's entirely worth it."

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