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Tyrone McCoy, Jr.
Public Affairs Specialist
Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business has created a world-class executive MBA program that enables working professionals to earn an MBA degree with minimal impact on their personal and professional responsibilities. Built upon the motto “Achieve Your Possible,” Auburn’s EMBA program is replete with examples of graduates who credit their Auburn EMBA with transforming their careers. Many, in fact, point to specific assignments they were tasked with during their EMBA tenure for life-changing professional success.
Tyrone McCoy, Jr., a 2022 Auburn EMBA graduate, is one example. He applied what he learned from completing a key assignment during his EMBA tenure to “boldly go where no man has gone before.” McCoy is now public affairs specialist at NASA and loves every minute of it. He sat down with Harbert to chronicle his journey to NASA, which was not a direct path, and how earning his Auburn EMBA was a key component of his success.
|Harbert:||Let’s start with your time as an undergraduate at Savannah State University. How did that shape your early career choices?|
One of the foundational principles that I try to follow and guide my career choices is, how can I help impact meaningful change in today’s world? When I started at Savannah State, I thought that meant I’d be directing the next Spike Lee-oriented movie as soon as I graduated. That’s what I envisioned I’d be doing coming out of college in 2011 with a B.A. in mass communication/media studies.
But that proved to be a bit unrealistic once I got a sense of what “mass communications for good” actually means and what role the media plays in effecting positive change.
|Harbert:||That sounds like an epiphany – was there an event or something else that happened during your undergraduate studies that you can attribute to that realization?|
While many of my classes touched on these issues, I didn’t really understand the complexities of it all until my junior year when I went on a tour of the local news station I’d been watching and asked to shadow Mike Cihla, one of my favorite anchors, who I met during the tour.
He had gone through what it takes to break into the industry, knowing your path and your story. I simply walked up to him after he spoke and said, “Can I come shadow you?” At that point, I had never been in a newsroom. Yes, we had a studio on campus, but it wasn’t being used for news, per se.
|Harbert:||And he agreed?|
|McCoy:||Yes, he did. And let me tell you, when I first walked into the newsroom, I didn't know what was going on, but I immediately realized that the type of chaos I saw is what I wanted in my life at that point. So, I just went in and worked for free for as long as possible so I could learn as much as I could about the TV news business. Oh, I knew a bit about production—how to put together a program, the inverted pyramid, some of the foundations of communications, etc., but I didn't know how crazy, fun and exciting news could be.|
|Harbert:||So, what did you do there at first?|
I got to do a little bit of everything, including managing the on-air camera graphics, the chyron system that runs along the bottom of the screen—all that. I got to run the audio bus, and I got to work the really amazing St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah.
All of that was cool, but what I realized I really wanted to do was to become a health reporter on air. I wanted to do health communications because there are a lot of health issues that run in my family on both sides and I felt that would also be a good way to do what I ultimately wanted to do, which was to tell stories that help people.
|Harbert:||How’d that work out?|
Not very well, unfortunately. I was told early on by the news director at the time that I would not do well as a health reporter in the South for two reasons: First, she said I looked young for my age (true…). But more importantly, she said that I looked “too ethnic.” By that she meant “Black.”
So, I started as a production assistant, a job they now refer to as a “news content specialist,” at WTOC in Savannah before moving on a year and a half later to a couple of on-air reporter positions—first in Augusta and then in Columbus.
|Harbert:||You then spent the next seven years on the “corporate” side of the mass communications ledger, so to speak, right? —first at Goodwill, then at a bank, a memory care center and a life insurance company. That’s a pretty broad spectrum—how did all that figure into your decision to get an EMBA?|
|McCoy:||I still harbored my original passion to identify, develop and report on-air stories about significant events – especially those that progress knowledge and understanding of the extraordinarily positive things happening in the world that all too often go underreported. I felt I needed a deeper, more formal education into the financial structure of the business in which I aspired to become a leader to make that possible.|
||“Achieve Your Possible”—right? Can you tell us how your experience in Auburn’s EMBA program helped you get to where you are today—specifically the “leading positive change” assignment you credit for at least a portion of your most recent career success?|
Back in November of 2020, Dr. (Joe) Colazzo and Dr. Stan Harris gave us all a “leading positive change” assignment, and I talked about my vision and desire to be a part of the NASA or the SpaceX PR team within the next five years. I wanted to lead a launch broadcast as a member of one of those teams. That was the ultimate mission I had—to be at the table where decisions are made, to equip myself with the tools to get me there and to look beyond my own biases and limitations to attempt the impossible. That assignment helped advance my career path forward at a much quicker pace and with more determination.
The result? I applied for an opening at NASA and accepted a public affairs officer (PAO) position there in August of 2021 and started in November. I hosted my first live engagement as a NASA PAO on Instagram Live discussing climate change across ecosystems of scale.
||In closing, what would you like to say to prospective EMBA students about your decision to choose Auburn’s EMBA program? Something we haven’t touched on yet?|
|McCoy:||Auburn’s EMBA program has been instrumental in my own growth—both personal and professional—since I enrolled and joined our EMBA cohort. To answer your specific question, the value of our EMBA cohort deserves a little more recognition here—it isn’t “just” about the classroom or field trip components, as important as they are. The members of our diverse cohort played an equally important role in my success as well as the success of my cohort colleagues.|