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How To Become a Communications Strategist with Tresa Chambers

Episode Summary

In this episode of the career interview series, we’ll be hearing from Tresa Chambers, a Communications Strategist from Newport News, Virginia. As a kid, Tresa was a news junkie and self-admitted nerd who developed a deep appreciation for French language and literature.

A move to New York City led to a chance encounter that could have resulted in her being on the back of a milk carton but instead moved her one step closer to her career dreams. In this interview we’ll discuss movement to achieve progress, defining and marking success, and being a resource for upcoming generations.


YouTube Video

Podcast Episode

Key Takeaways

  • The act of making progress whether by going forward or elevating yourself is movement. And sometimes the movement needed to achieve progress requires physically moving to a new space or place. This can be to either go where opportunities are or to leave constraints and obstacles behind. Put together a plan and then go.
  • Get out of your head and put your accomplishments on paper. Writing and reviewing your resume helps you take stock of your achievements and recognize your individual markers of success.
  • Read more to learn more and write better. Reading is one of the best ways to expand your mind. But, it’s also a valuable resource for learning to write better.

Learn more about Tresa

Show Notes


Can you give me a brief overview of your background? Where are you from? What were your interests as a kid and what were you like as a kid?

  • Tresa is from Newport News, Virginia, which is in the tidewater / southeastern area of Virginia.
  • When she was a kid, Tresa wanted to travel the world and be a lawyer.
  • She became interested in French language and literature in middle school.
  • Moving around a lot influenced her personality and made her very withdrawn and kind of shy. She was a self-admitted nerd who was known as the smart kid because she had skipped a grade. Having moved around a lot she didn’t know her classmates so she didn’t have much of a social circle when she got to high school.

Did you move around in Virginia or did you live in other states as well?

  • Tresa was in school during the era when America and certainly Virginia was just beginning to integrate. It was an interesting time in retrospect. She’s sure her parents must’ve been very concerned about putting their seven year old child on a bus to go to school outside of their community.
  • Because of redistricting community lines were redrawn on the other side of the block from where Tresa lived so she had to switch schools again.
  • At 13 years old she started high school and that’s where she spent the last four years until she graduated at 16.

Is your family originally from Virginia?

  • Generationally her my family has been born and raised in Newport News, VA.

Did you work while you were in high school? Was that when you had your first job or did that come later?

  • Tresa’s parents believed that her schoolwork was her job so she didn’t have her first job until the year between her first and second year of college. It was at a fast food restaurant and lasted for one day. Tresa was hired at a fast food chicken place and was on her way to visit a friend after her first shift when she was hit by a vehicle.
  • She attended the University of Virginia (UVA) for undergrad and needed to make money. At points UVA would offer students the opportunity to participate in research studies and clinical trials on breaks. Knowing what she knows now about the historical wrongs that have been done in the African American community, certainly in terms of research, she doesn’t know if she would still have participated then, but she didn’t know any better.


Let’s talk a little bit more about your college experience. What were you majoring in and what inspired you to choose that major?

  • Original major was government. As a news junkie, Tresa loved and was fascinated by politics so she wanted to work in politics or government in some form or fashion.
  • She decided to make a switch and majored in French language and literature with a minor in government.
  • Tresa chose to deeply study French because she fell in love with studying the language from her experiences in junior high and high school. with French. She had a really great eighth grade French teacher named Mr. Roseboro who was really hard on her. Unfortunately, he passed away toward the end of the school year but had a major influence on her life. He was an African-American man teaching French and that was very, very important to Tresa. She was also heavily influenced by an African-American woman who was her high school French teacher every year in high school.
  • Tresa ultimately received an undergraduate degree in French language and literature with a concentration in translation and a minor in government.
  • After college, she went into journalism. Tresa has always been passionate about written language and looks for opportunities to use French as much as possible. In journalism she’s had opportunities to use it for reading, translating content and resources, and as a contractor with the government of Quebec.

Once you got to college, did you find it easier to sort of adjust to the environment versus where you went to school earlier? Given that you were there for the entire four years. Did you have a better opportunity to make connections and form a social group?

  • In college, Tresa made friends because she attended school in Charlottesville which is a three and a half hours drive from where her parents lived. She stayed on campus and lived with her classmates the first year.
  • Making friends from other places was a nice experience which allowed Tresa to open up socially. There was was so much to learn about them and they were in an environment that supported community and learning about each other.
  • Tresa doesn’t stay in touch with a lot of folks. One aspect of her personality that was informed by her early life is that she’s pretty independent and not a group kind of person. She does have very close friends but not a lot of folks that she connects with on a regular basis.


Let’s talk about your first job out of college. What were you doing and how did you end up in that position?

  • After graduation, Tresa stayed in Virginia for a couple of months. But, the true start of her work life began when she moved to New York City.

I imagine that was a huge transition?

  • Tresa had never been to New York but it was always the dream place that she wanted to go and she was fixated on publishing and media. She wasn’t getting really great opportunities in Virginia so decided to move to New York.
  • After relocating, she went out every day, submitted resumes, and applied for jobs. But, nothing happened. She was learning the city at the same time that she was trying to find a job for the first time and also trying to figure out how she was going to support herself and survive. After a couple of weeks she was getting ready to go back home and was feeling really defeated about the opportunities that hadn’t been presented to her.
  • One day she met a man on the street and followed him into a building. (And luckily lived to tell about it.) It turns out that he was someone who recruited for an employment agency. And so she registered with that agency and the next day had an interview for a job as an Administrative Assistant at the American Lung Association. And that was how she ended up staying in New York.
  • Working as an admin wasn’t her career desire. She could type and had great communication skills but wasn’t a good admin.
  • During the time that she was there, Tresa made a friend who remains her friend to this day. She introduced Tresa to someone who introduced her to the Human Resources Manager at Time Magazine. One year later she was working in the Editorial Department at Time Magazine. This was how she really got her footing in New York and started building her career as a communications professional.
  • The lesson in that for anyone is don’t be afraid to step out and do the thing that is driving you and your heart. And if it is the right thing, then you’ll find a way and a way will be made for you.

How prepared did you feel for your early career coming straight out of college? You spoke about your relocation and how things didn’t quite work out in Virginia. But overall, how prepared did you feel for doing the actual work?

  • Tresa felt absolutely prepared with the capacity to achieve anything. She’s an advocate of liberal arts education because it teaches you how to think and to be resourceful. A benefit of having a good liberal arts education is that it allows you to gain knowledge and to explore and investigate in a way that will position you to be able to have something to offer in a number of fields.

Looking back at your college self, from your perspective now, is there anything that you wish you’d known when you first graduated that you think might’ve made either the transition a bit easier or would have served you better in your early career?

  • Today, Tresa talks to young people and mentors as much as she can. As a first generation college graduate, she wishes she could have known where her opportunities laid and gotten more guidance on strategies to help her find a job. She would have liked to know what mentoring meant and how to really leverage that.
  • Tresa would have also liked to understand money. Financial literacy is so important and she would have really loved to learn about budgeting and planning. On the other hand, if she had gotten too focused on that it might have limited her in terms of the decisions she made.
  • She was fortunate to be in a position where she had her mom and dad and stable household. It allowed her the opportunity to take some risks early on.
  • “It’s important for young people to know that everybody in your community wants you to succeed and they are willing to do what they can to help you. And so it’s important to reach out to your community, your circle. Think beyond the immediate and don’t feel bad or ashamed if you have a question or if you haven’t been in touch with someone for a very long time. Let them know what you’re doing. Let them know your progress and let them know what you need.”


Let’s take a step forward to the present and talk about your current profession and the more recent positions that led to where you are now.

  • Tresa is the National Communications Director at the American Heart Association corporate headquarters in Dallas. She’s also a business owner and a strong advocate for entrepreneurship.
  • She does the same thing no matter where she goes. So as a marketing and publishing consultant she helps creative entrepreneurs, artists and other individuals find and connect with their markets. Work at the American Heart Association means helping the association tell the story of it’s brand to other potential donors and sponsors. Tresa leverages her experience in the publishing industry to help individuals tell their stories and to help brands tell their stories.
  • In addition to an undergraduate degree, Tresa has a graduate certificate in advertising and public relations and a master’s degree in publishing management. Her experience and education span communications in all forms which is her love and expertise.
  • Tresa believes 2019 is an opportunity to reinvent herself based on the process that she’s gone through over the past year and a half when she relocated to Texas. She was previously living in south Florida and moving to Texas was a major change. There’s a cultural shift that she’s experienced and it’s been a very positive and exciting one.

You spoke about the opportunities that opened up to you having moved from Virginia to New York and then now moving from New York to Florida and also to Texas. What advice would you offer for professionals that might be thinking about or haven’t quite taken the step to branch out and maybe move beyond the places where they’ve always lived, the communities where they might’ve grown up?

  • “One of the most powerful experiences I had was witnessing an exhibit, an art exhibit about migration in America. And what I’ll tell you is that progress doesn’t happen without movement. And so wherever you are, if you’re not achieving the goals that you set for yourself, if you’re not getting the opportunities that you want, then look to where those opportunities are.”
  • “It’s really important to listen to that inner voice. Avoid the naysayers. Don’t live in fear and go for it because this is the time. Now is your time. When else are you going to do this? When else are you in a step out? You’re ready. That’s what I said. You’re ready now. So go for it and make sure that you don’t listen to people who are telling you to focus on your limitations. Focus on your strengths.”

Looking back over your career and from your personal perspective, how would you define success?

  • Tresa was brought up to be an overachiever and that’s her framework. She has also been extremely self critical so identifying what success looks like has been a challenge.
  • The most important thing for identifying a success is marking. Having markers where you have grown, where you can look back and say, “I conquered something that was really challenging. I made progress.”
  • There are times when success looks like tangible things like money, property, travel, etc. And there are times when success looks like the accomplishment of goals that are personally fulfilling like achieving degrees.
  • Who do you stand shoulder-to-shoulder with and where have you come from? These markers are for you to be able to identify where you have grown in some way that is important and significant to you.

Looking at the current reality of you career and your aspirations and expectations both now and let’s say when you were first starting out. Overall, would you say that where you are in your career at present, has matched, surpassed, or fallen short of your goals and aspirations for yourself?

  • Tresa never imagined that she would be an entrepreneur. So the fact that she has committed to that path and am learning about what that means and how to do it is something that has obviously, surpassed her expectations. Yet, she has great expectations for her future in that realm.
  • She’s a high achiever and very critical of herself so she never feels like she has actually achieved enough.
  • “We can get into our heads a whole lot with all the things that we didn’t do, we didn’t accomplish or the ways in which we fell short. But, I tell people all the time that it’s really important to remember the markers of your success. Looking at your resume and writing your resume is really a powerful exercise because it does tell the story of your achievement. And you have to not only write it, but read it and read it as someone other than yourself. If someone, if you were that person, if you were reading this person’s resume, would you be impressed? Would you feel that person has accomplished success? And so when I take that measure, I do believe that I’ve been successful.”
  • As long as we’re living, there’s opportunity for growth and higher challenge. If we’ve made it this far, as much as I have succeeded, obviously there’s more for me to do. And so that means there is more room for me, more successes for me to have. So, yes, I’m successful and I’m going to be more successful.


You’re workin on your first book. Tell me a little bit about and any other goals that you might be working towards in 2019.

  • Over time the book has evolved to one that isn’t just about Tresa, but is about those foundational experiences that she’s had. Also things that we all have in common that allow us to be able to overcome the challenges that we experience in our careers, in our learning process, in our personal lives. That’s what the first book is about and it’s called Storm Proof.
  • Tresa refers to it as the first because she’s really interested in building a platform and a community around the idea of overcoming the challenges that we face. She would really like to be a resource for people with particular regards to first generation college graduates and young people who are starting out in their careers. To be able to help them talk through the challenges that they have and any frustrations. To offer insights and be that resource that they may never have had before because they don’t have family or close friends or mentors who can give them guidance at those key moments and pivotal times when they’re trying to make decisions about what to do next. This area is something that’s really important to her and she believes that the book is the point of entry to that conversation.

Keeping with that theme, you spoke about what you’d like your book to be to other people. Have there been any books that you’ve read that have been inspirational or provided you with what you’re trying to provide to, to your readers?

  • Tresa is currently reading Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime (which she thinks is amazing), Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going to Need More Wine, and Unforgivable Love by Sophfronia Scott which is fiction and a reinterpretation of Dangerous Liaisons. One of the main reasons that she loves to read is that all of the authors give information about how to write better.
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has inspired her to begin the day with the end in mind.
  • The Bible is important for Tresa because she believes in spiritual grounding and is spiritually based. She learns from a Christian perspective and respects and believes that all faiths and religious beliefs have value to people.
  • She likes reading about history. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is one of her favorites as she does have kind of a militant perspective. Bell Hooks is also one of her absolute favorite authors.

Imagine it’s years from now and you’re nearing or already retired. When you look back on your career and your life, what accomplishments or achievements do you think you’d be most proud of or would make you consider your life overall a roaring success versus mediocre or disappointing?

  • I think the thing that would make me feel like I have been most successful is when I have people who are younger than me, around me in friendship and relationship, who have credited me, credited me in some way with making a difference in their lives. That to me lets me know that I have made a difference in the world, that I have lived my life with purpose. That to me when mark a life well lived.

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