Hoping to get a part-time job to help pay her tuition, Kenya Woodard went with her best friend to a job fair on the Indiana State campus. The experience changed Woodard’s life.
“My best friend was a journalism major. I was an education major,” Woodard recalled.
When the two stopped at the table for the student newspaper, The Indiana Statesman, both friends were handed a job application. “I filled it out, and the next thing I knew I got a call,” Woodard said. “I wrote for The Statesman for four years.”
It was Woodard’s very first journalism job. “I had never written for the newspaper in high school. I always wanted to be a teacher.”
Instead, Woodard went on to become a journalist and still works in the communications field today. She also left behind the cold winters of Indiana for sunny Florida. Most of her Hoosier family followed her there.
So, if she hadn’t gone to that job fair, what might have happened? “I would probably be rich. I wouldn’t be a poor writer,” Woodard answered with a laugh. “But I do love what I’m doing. That’s why I’m still doing it.”
Born in Gary, Woodard was the first in her family to go to college. “I had some really good teachers all through school. That’s why I wanted to be a teacher,” she said.
At the end of her junior year at Gary’s West Side High School, Woodard went to a 1996 summer program at State. “I really liked it. The campus was not humongous, and it was easy to navigate. The really important thing was that I felt like I fitted in there.”
When it came time to choose a college, Woodard chose State. “I had a couple of scholarships but nothing big, so I had to work all through school,” she said. “At one point, I worked three jobs and took 18 credit hours of classes.”
Living on campus, Woodard joined Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, worked for the Statesman and iQ Magazine and was active in other student organizations. “ISU offers so many ways for students to get involved,” she said. “There was a real plethora of activities and interests — so many things you could pick. I had a really tough time turning down stuff.”
She also had two majors and three minors. “Let’s just say, my advisor said I would have to figure out what I wanted to be, or I would be 45 years old before I got my degree,” she said, adding that she chose English, journalism and African-American Studies.
While at the Statesman, Woodard oversaw the redevelopment of an online publication. She also managed a staff of writers, photographers, copy editors and designers and wrote for print and online publications covering college, local and national issues. One of those news story concerned the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
On June 11, 2001, 33-year-old McVeigh was put to death by lethal injection for killing 168 people when he bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. All federal death row inmates are kept at the high-security federal prison in Terre Haute.
“It was my first time being in a media pool,” Woodard said. “We didn’t cover the actual execution. We covered the happenings outside the prison when the execution was taking place.”
Outside, hundreds of death penalty opponents held a vigil. Supporters of McVeigh’s execution also gathered to cheer his death. The two groups were separated a thousand feet and sectioned off with orange tape.
“We had to talk to both factions, and they were on opposite ends of the property. We had to drive a golf cart back and forth,” Woodard said. “What was surprising to me was how much media attention the execution got. There was media from all over the world, people speaking in all kinds of different languages.”
However, the newspaper story she was most proud of writing while at State concerned a student council meeting. “At that meeting, the student council was not being transparent, they were not abiding by the rules,” she said. “What they were doing was going to affect all of the organizations on campus.”
Not only was it Woodard’s job to report on the meeting, she also had to be a speaker for an organization being affected by the council’s actions. “I had to speak up and I had to write about it,” she said. “It was a very interesting experience.”
After obtaining her degree, Woodard accepted an internship at The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. “I ended up staying there three years,” she said, adding that her next job at The Daytona Beach News-Journal came as the result of a telephone call.
“I got a call from the managing editor saying, ‘Would you like to live near the beach?’ What kind of question is that? Of course, I would like to live near the beach,” Woodard said. “I stayed at the News-Journal for five years.”
Although she loved living in Florida — “It’s summer here all year round. It used to seem strange to be wearing flip-flops in January, but I’m totally acclimated now” — and enjoyed working for the News-Journal, Woodard said she could see the writing on the wall. She decided to leave her newspaper position for a job as public relations coordinator for Step Up For Students.
“The newspaper industry was going through some really tough times,” she said. “Turnover was ridiculous. They were laying off people and not filling those positions.”
Beginning in August 2010 and for almost two years, Woodard worked with Step Up For Students, an education program in Florida.
In April 2012, Woodard decided to use her journalism and business backgrounds to open her own company — Sigma 7 Communications LLC. Located in the Tampa/St. Petersburgh area, the company creates, implements and manages public relations strategies for clients. It also handles social media content and coordinates and manages events, including fundraisers and meetings.
In addition, Woodard is a freelance host for “In The Know,” a monthly show that highlights interesting events and activities in Tampa.
“It’s fun to sniff out stories, to talk to people and get them to tell you their life stories,” she said. “But in this business, you are starting over every day. You are only as good as your last byline.”