Andrew Stofleth, all 5-foot-2 of him, surveyed the room, filled mostly with Eastern Kentucky University faculty and administrators.
“You guys,” he said, “sure know how to make someone feel 6 feet tall.”
Speaking at the University’s annual Scholars Assembly, the spunky Marine Corps veteran was specifically referring to his two honors that morning: the College of Business and Technology Distinguished Senior Award, which comes with a $1,000 prize, and a $500 Phi Kappa Phi Chapter Fellowship.
In the larger context, though, he was referencing his four years on the Richmond campus, where Stofleth found faculty and staff “who always took an interest in my personal growth,” and something that was missing in his life after a four-year stint with the Marines – a new challenge.
And, just as he had years earlier during two deployments to Iraq, the Evansville, Indiana, native turned Richmond resident met every challenge at Eastern, recording a 3.88 GPA, graduating magna cum laude in December 2015 as a public relations major and business minor, and rising within Phi Kappa Phi to serve a two-year term on the honor society’s National Council of Students.
Yet his Eastern Experience almost didn’t happen. After completing his military service in 2006, Stofleth moved to Richmond in 2008 with two close friends, both Marines. The friends enrolled immediately, while Stofleth worked at the Blue Grass Army Depot.
“I procrastinated ... because I worried about my ability to transition into the university environment,” Stofleth said.
After driving by EKU for almost four years and watching his two friends graduate, Stofleth “finally made the decision to pursue a degree that interested me. While I was making a decent living, I felt something was missing – a challenge.”
Stofleth sought an opportunity to pair public relations and business “so that I could develop all the technical skill sets with solid business acumen.”
Now pursuing a master’s degree in integrated marketing communications from West Virginia University, Stofleth is slready doing just that. He recently accepted a position with Alltech, working with the corporate marketing team based in Nicholasville.
He said the combination of his military service and college experience prepared him well.
“Eastern has numerous opportunities for aspiring public relations students to combine practicum and theory with functional campaigns and community relationships,” Stofleth said. “As a Chamber Colonel, I assisted in planning, promoting and staffing several ribbon-cutting ceremonies, fundraisers and other social functions that fostered good relations between the University and local businesses.”
As part of his capstone course, Stofleth created a public relations campaign for an engineering consulting company specializing in the life science and pharmaceutical industries. “A few weeks later, I was on a conference call with one of the VPs who was showing me how they had already implemented some of our tactics,” Stofleth said. “It was a gratifying moment.”
In addition to Phi Kappa Phi, where he worked on “many large-scale initiatives with students and faculty, both at EKU and on national campaigns,” Stofleth was inducted into Kappa Tau Alpha, a journalism and mass communications honor society, and Beta Gamma Sigma, a business honor society.
As he looks back on his Eastern Experience, Stofleth said he cherishes most the relationships he forged with faculty, with whom he enjoyed “some long and amazing conversations that have helped me a gain firm understanding of my chosen field.
“I’ve had several business and communication faculty help me along the way, though Dr. Jim Gleason (Department of Communication) put a lot of trust in me to work with the executive leadership at Vantage Consulting Group to develop a custom PR campaign. Kathy Barr (external affairs coordinator for the College of Business and Technology) also taught me the ropes while I worked with her.”
For five of the past six years, EKU has ranked third or higher nationally among four-year schools in the Military Times “Best for Vets” rankings.
Stofleth certainly wouldn’t argue.
“Had I gone anywhere else, there is no doubt I would have faced overwhelming challenges and possibly failed. To any veterans considering pursuing a degree, Eastern has a number of understanding faculty and the programs to help you succeed and feel at home on your journey.”
Inset photo: Stofleth accepts award from College of Business and Technology Dean Dr. Thomas Erekson.