Recipient of the 2015 UBC Continuing Studies John K. Friesen Excellence in Teaching Award
As an instructor and program advisor for Digital Strategy and Social Media programs at UBC Continuing Studies, Rochelle Grayson knows a thing or two about building online communities. But it's her unique upbringing that grounds her approach to teaching, her life and her career.
The daughter of an African-American professor and a Puerto Rican opera singer, Rochelle grew up playing backstage in opera houses. She and her family travelled around the world, and Rochelle called Germany, West Africa, and the US home. "I learned to straddle different cultures and different worlds from a young age. Because I've lived in so many places, I have had to look for things in common and build communities everywhere I have lived. I bring all this into my teaching."
After earning her degree in German literature and an MBA, Rochelle worked for one of the top brokerage firms on Wall Street. She would soon gravitate, however, to hands-on roles in marketing and operations because she wanted to "learn how to run a business."
After a few years in the private sector, Rochelle launched her first business in 1998, a blogging software company, which was an early success. Since then, she has launched six more start-ups, all based on – not surprisingly – digital technologies and services that build communities.
With her depth of experience – and having a father who taught for 37 years – teaching would seem like a natural step for Rochelle. She describes herself, rather, as an "accidental professor." Explains Rochelle, "There aren't a lot of people whose knowledge bridges technology, business, and liberal arts. When I realized I had this unique skillset, that's when I also realized I had something to share and teach."
She was motivated to join UBC Continuing Studies six years ago when she noticed that companies were focusing on the tactical part of social media, but weren’t thinking strategically nor critically.
"Too many people lead with the platform: Should I post on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter? It's your understanding of your community that determines the answers to these questions." She also teaches students how to listen. "The top social media professionals listen and respond to their communities. They are the ones who engage and pull, rather than push."
Rochelle is happiest when her students get the job they were after, land a new client, or polish off a great proposal. The best feedback she ever received was from a student who told Rochelle she taught her to ask why. "’Why’ is the most important question I teach my students to ask. My father was a philosophy professor, and always taught me the same."