From TV Reporters to Disney Entertainers, Lander Alumni Inspire Future Communicators

March 10, 2024

What do two television reporters, a popular radio host, a marketing executive and a Disney World entertainer have in common?

They are graduates of Lander University’s popular Mass Communications Program, and their success has put them in the spotlight throughout the Southeast and nation. At a recent Media & Communications Alumni Panel, the group shared tips for success with Lander students seeking communication-related careers.

The panel included Ashley Ferry ’10, known as Brooke Taylor on iHeart Radio in Nashville, Tennessee; Jessica Riley ’08, an account manager at Riggs Partners in Columbia; Brian Sherrod ‘16, the First Alert Traffic Tracker Reporter at CBS News in Denver, Colorado; Miya Payton 15, a reporter and anchor for the ABC Columbia News in Columbia, and Ryan Wiley ’11, a Disney World entertainment leader in Orland, Florida.

Their stories about leaving Lander for their first jobs were practical in nature – often starting from ground-level positions and then moving up to the jobs they now hold and love.

Taylor told of working first at a small radio station in Florida and recounted days with “a lot of crying” and eating Pop-Tarts and ramen noodles while working to land her dream job at iHeart Radio. “I love what I do,” said Taylor, whose show is broadcast on stations throughout the United States.

Taylor’s Backstage with Brooke podcast features interviews with country music’s leading singers and songwriters, as well as others in the entertainment industry. “I took my time at Lander for granted. But I have to say that my classes prepared me for the future. Coming to this University is one of the best things I ever did.”

Payton worked at WIS-TV in Columbia and WFXG FOX 54 News Now in Augusta before starting her job as a weekend anchor at ABC Columbia News. On weekdays, she is a reporter covering major stories in the state’s capital. Payton called on students “to find their passion” and to be willing to give their best every day. “I knew that I had to do this,” she said. “This is the passion that I’m talking about.”

Wiley worked at a radio station in Greenwood before beginning his career at Disney World, where he has been a voice actor for 10 years. Having worked in a variety of jobs at the world-famous resort complex, Wiley said success is “all about the networking we do in our careers and the people we know.”

He also credits Monique Sacay-Bagwell, a Lander speech and performance professor, with helping him develop the acting and communication skills he uses in his job. “If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have landed some really cool gigs.”

Sherrod, who grew up in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, began his traffic alert job a few months ago after working at WCSC-TV in Charleston and moving on to jobs in Nebraska and North Dakota.

Jessica Riley

“It is my job to cover everything traffic related from crashes to major backups and to provide information on how to avoid or detour around those accidents,” said Sherrod, whose workdays begin at 4 a.m. I enjoy being on air and helping people the most. It feels good having viewers say I’m a big asset for them.

Sherrod has wanted a career in television news since age six and said his “professors and the classes truly helped me get where I am today, especially those in speech and radio. Those classes made me a better speaker and helped me pronounce really complicated words.

His move from the Palmetto State to Nebraska in 2017 didn’t seem too challenging. “I felt my home made me feel comfortable enough to want to take the big move, knowing I had family and friends backing me up,” Sherrod said. I enjoy being able to see the scenery no matter what story I cover. The mountains (in Colorado) are breathtaking.

As a wife and the mother of a 2-year-old son, Riley said, “A big focus of mine over the next few years will be obtaining work/life balance. It’s extremely hard to do but incredibly important.

At Riggs Partners, Riley is an account manager, whose responsibilities include working with our strategy team to outline tactics that will reach the client’s target audience and then managing each of those projects with our creative team. Within each project, it’s my responsibility to make sure the creative side stays on track with strategy and the client’s budget.

Her interest in marketing came at a young age when her twin brother was always coming up with a plan to sell something.It then became Riley’s job to promote the sale of his items. “As I got older, I started having an interest in event planning and writing, so I tried to find a field where I could do both.

Her clients work in fields as varied as state government, higher education, nonprofit organizations and senior living facilities and services. As a firm, we always start at the highest level and focus on the overall strategy for the brand,” she said, noting that clients can be so entrenched in their daily operations that they don’t realize the importance of having someone to come in and ensure everything is in alignment on a brand level.

A volunteer in numerous community organizations, Riley said, “It’s important overall to be invested in the community in which you live to make sure that the environment and activities you enjoy continue to thrive and are there for those who come after you.”

These activities, she said, “are also another way to network with others outside of your field by connecting witha cause that you’re passionate about.

Regardless of their career paths, one factor is true for all. “Challenges make you stronger,” Taylor said. Sometimes you have to struggle a bit. But don’t be afraid to fail.”

Cover image: Brian Sherrod