Troy Etta Knox
York Technical College
"I’ve learned to embrace and enjoy the journey, and I think that’s part of my superpower. I love community, and I’ve been able to mentor up, down, and across and get people excited about discovering their own superpower."
Troy Etta Knox is in a category of her own. In one year at York Tech, this first-generation college student’s influence was profound. She had a positive impact on students as President of Phi Beta Lambda, on faculty and leadership as a student representative on the Dean’s Council, on staff as a Learning Commons Assistant, and on the community as a project leader of Safe Passage’s playroom renovation. “I’ve learned to embrace and enjoy the journey,” she says, “and I think that’s part of my superpower. I love community, and I’ve been able to mentor up, down, and across and get people excited about discovering their own superpower.” And she’s not done yet!
Being the first in your family to try – and succeed – at something new requires bravery and perseverance. Tell us your backstory and how you became a first-generation college student.
I grew up on a farm in Lake Wylie, SC. My mom had me when she was still in high school. She tells the story that we graduated at the same time because she completed school in May, and I was born in June! But neither she nor my dad completed college.
Going back a little further, I remember staying with my grandmother while my mother worked, and she would have to sign her name with an X. She helped raise me, but I also supported her while grappling with the fact that she couldn’t read or write.
My grandfather… he had a sixth-grade education.
But despite their educational limitations, they were leaders in their community. Because they were skilled farmers, they also did well financially and bought up 400 acres around Lake Wylie. A lot of people had homes and food in our community because of their generosity and resourcefulness.
I guess I inherited their determination, willingness to help others, and desire to create a good life and future for myself. Before I came to York Tech, I was doing landscape design and had my own thriving business. But I always knew I wanted to go to college and get my degree. I just didn’t know where or how. Plus, I had all these other thoughts in my head, and I felt like I was fighting against myself. You already have a successful business. It’s too late. You’re older.
Then one morning I saw on tv these twin brothers at the DMV in Rock Hill. They were celebrating their hundredth birthday by renewing their driver’s licenses. That was the moment when the light bulb went on and I realized that I have so much life to live. I am not old. It is not too late for me – and I need to get out there!
Two weeks later, I was enrolled and started my program at York Tech.
And transferring to a four-year university was always part of the plan?
Yes. But I was really nervous because it had been a while since I’d been in school, and I had no idea how I was going to perform. I decided to pursue an Associate of Arts degree and get my core classes out of the way. I initially thought that I would go into York Tech’s Winthrop Bridge program, but I also expanded my search to the University of South Carolina as well as Clemson.
I went to classes around the clock, doing summer and winter sessions as well as the traditional fall and spring semesters, because I wanted to matriculate as quickly as possible.
But what was beautiful about York Tech is that I also knew that I wasn’t just there to get a degree. I wanted to get involved. I wanted to, you know, really immerse myself in my new community, and that level of engagement was the core reason for my success at York Tech. I was excited and motivated and inspired by other students and faculty and staff.
Tell us about your most memorable student involvement experience.
Okay. So there are these digital monitors throughout the school with information about upcoming events and other ways students can get involved, and I was interested in learning more about the monthly student newsletter. I set up an appointment to meet with Jennifer Roberts, who works in Student Engagement, to talk about that opportunity, and after our meeting, I sent her a writing sample. She responded very enthusiastically and encouraged me to write a column for the newsletter. I began to do that, and my whole world started to open up!
I also spent a lot of time in our business center, and one of the guys I met there was the president of Phi Beta Lambda, which is the business club on campus. We became friends, and he noticed the way I was always trying to help others, and he told me one day, “I'm graduating in December. I want to nominate you to be the Phi Beta Lambda President in my place.” They voted, and I was elected.
At that time, attendance was really low, and I wanted to change that. I also wanted to get us up and doing projects that would build relationships within the community – places like battered women's shelters or foster homes.
To do that, we needed some help. So I began to recruit. I walked around with my flyers and built that team from four members to about 15 committed, dedicated members, two new advisors, and an art director.
We reached out to Safe Passage, a local shelter for domestic violence survivors that had come to one of our campus service day events, and asked if we could visit their facility. I’m a problem solver, so during our visit, I kept trying to brainstorm ways that we could help them.
Then they took us to the children’s room. My first impression when I walked in was… not good. There was nothing that said, “Welcome! This is a safe, happy space.” So we asked if we could redo the playroom – add a fresh coat of paint, maybe a mural with stencils, buy some new toys – and they were all for it.
At York Tech, clubs fundraise to purchase materials to do their projects. We were doing that but were still short the money we needed, and our deadline was quickly approaching. But Jennifer Roberts and her colleagues knew about our project and were talking it up and building excitement around it, and I was sitting in the Learning Commons one day when I received the news that our club had been selected to receive $500 to fund our project.
Because of that support, we were able to go out and remodel the playroom over the course of a weekend. The people at the shelter were in tears when they saw the finished product!
After getting your associate degree, you matriculated to USC and later graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Business Administration. You wanted to further your education beyond that and were given an incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Tell us about that.
Right around the time I graduated from the undergraduate program, a gentleman named Dr. Robert Pozen reached out to USC about sponsoring two full-tuition fellowships for minority students interested in earning their International MBAs. Several of my mentors reached out to let me know that they were considering me for the fellowship, and in mid-April, I was notified that I had been selected!
As part of that program, I spent this past summer interning at Gilead Sciences, a biotech and pharmaceutical company, in California. I was on their global strategic marketing team for the oncology division, learning about the landscape of breast cancer research. Because immersion is such a big piece of the fellowship experience, I’ll be going to Paris in January to study at the ESCP Business School, one of the most prestigious business schools in Europe.
Where do you hope all of this leads you?
Well, I’m a storyteller and a problem-solver, and I really want to impact the healthcare space in pharmaceuticals, on the side of innovation. I want to work with teams that are creating compelling and consistent stories across their omni-channels so that we can remove barriers to access and provide equity and diversity in clinical trial settings. I also want to work alongside people who are looking for cures to cancers and other life-threatening diseases, especially as they impact people with unmet or disadvantaged medical needs. I want to live my life on purpose!
If you are interested in receiving career, executive development, or leadership coaching from Troy Etta, you may contact her via LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/troyettak/ or email her at Troyetta.firstname.lastname@example.org.