As a freshman, School of Communication Studies alumnus Drew Griggs (’12) was ready to follow through with his plan to eventually become a pastor. He figured the combination of communication studies classes plus religious studies would be the right precursor to a master’s in divinity, but the divine guided him in a different direction—and he couldn’t feel more grateful or blessed to have followed that direction.
“I loved UT, but really didn’t love school. Then I got into a couple of comm studies classes and fell in love, honestly, with a person: John Haas,” Griggs explained. “Just his teaching style, the way he talked to students as if they were peers and not students. We weren’t a number in the system, he wanted to know us, and it was just really cool in a 30,000 person university for somebody to care about each of his students as if they were his own kids.”
The way Haas (director of the School of Communication Studies at that time) treated Griggs made a significant impact on the alum. The College of Communication and Information feels like home to him, even though he ended up double majoring in accounting. The life-changing move to add some business classes to his schedule can also be credited to Haas, who told Griggs it would benefit him as a pastor to have some business acumen.
“I got into those business classes and I was like, oh, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I loved my business classes, I loved accounting, I loved all of it,” he said.
Once he realized he was headed towards a business career rather than a religious one, Griggs dove headfirst into the internship opportunities afforded him. He used internships as a way to test out what type of job he would want upon graduation, and discovered he loved sitting down with people to discuss their finances and help guide them through the maze that is the financial world.
While he embraced the business world, Griggs said the communication skills he gained from his Comm Studies courses have been invaluable in every aspect of his professional life.
“The Comm Studies degree is annoying because you can do anything with that,” he said, chuckling. “It’s also wonderful because you can do anything with it.”
His advice to students is to take Comm Studies courses and pair them with a passion, and they’re bound to be successful. He has plenty of Comm Studies alumni friends who translated their degree into consulting roles to help companies communicate internally and externally—all because they have those sought-after soft skills in communication.
“It was really cool to watch how Comm Studies coupled well with business and accounting. The combination of learning how to formulate written and verbal communication is really rare, that’s the skillset that takes you to the next level,” he said.
Success and Giving Back
Upon graduation, Griggs initially thought he’d land in an investment sales position similar to what he did while interning at Northwestern Mutual. But he had a friend who encouraged him to take a look at State Farm, instead.
“I said, I don’t want to sell auto and home insurance, but he said ‘No, no, we do everything here!’ So I thought, I’m 22, if you’re ever going to take risks, do it now,” he said.
He took that risk and went to work as a team member for State Farm Agent Neal Schmitt, who told the recent graduate that, if he worked hard, he’d help Griggs set up his own agency. True to his word, two years later Griggs opened an agency in South Knoxville on Chapman Highway.
His business success over the next four years caught the eye of those higher up at State Farm, and they offered to buy out his business if he’d be a consultant for them in Louisville, Kentucky. He currently has a team of 50 agency owners and a total team of 250 team members under those agents; he describes his job as simple: he helps them take better care of customers, be successful, and have fun while doing it.
Griggs is aware that his life is charmed; he says he has the best parents in the world who gave him a great middle-class upbringing in a country he loves. Because of this, he believes it is his responsibility to give back to people who may not have been as privileged as himself.
“It’s really hard for me not to be generous when I basically struck the life lottery. ‘Thank you’ is giving of my time and money, that’s how I view the big picture, and my wife Grace is on board, so there’s no rub there between us,” he said.
While he does enjoy giving to his church, when he moved and was in between church homes, he looked for other opportunities to enrich people’s lives. That’s when he realized he could give back in a way that would directly impact students at the College of Communication and Information.
“The one thing I wish I could do, if I could go back in time, was to study abroad. I didn’t at the time because of the money, I was trying to get through school without student debt loan, and those trips would have put me in debt. So most of the donating that we do [at CCI] is to support someone to go on a trip or study abroad,” he said.
Griggs said he did go on several shorter trips that were not out-of-country, such as the annual Washington, DC trip, and those experiences enhanced both his education and the sense of community he had at CCI. He hopes that sharing his story here will encourage others to fund various initiatives at the college that are important to them.