American Studies grad applies diverse lessons to career
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
Shannon White credits much of her career success to her 2016 American Studies degree from Oklahoma State. She has been the program manager for Tulsa’s Riverfront Park, Gathering Place, since March 2017.
White plans and executes many of the events and festivities at the 66.5-acre park, which offers amazing attractions and world-class programming for all ages. It is committed to creating a recreational, civic and cultural destination while preserving the area’s natural ambiance, with plans to expand to 100 acres. White is proud of being part of a team of dreamers that work hard to make the impossible happen.
“The work we do, the hours we put in, it’s all worth it because of the memories, inclusion and joy the community gains by experiencing it,” White said.
She attributes her ability to design and implement diverse programs at Gathering Place to her education at OSU. However, she didn’t follow the traditional college career path.
After graduating from Tulsa’s Edison High, White attended OSU but was overwhelmed with the desire to travel and took a position in Los Angles before graduating.
“I actually traveled for work for most of my 20s,” White said. “I worked in experiential marketing. We had teams and would go out into different markets and represent different brands in a fun way. I worked for different agencies that represented AT&T, Kraft and Keds shoes.”
This line of work helped build her career and took her across the country.
“It allowed me to go all over the place,” White recalls. “One week we went from a basketball tournament in Anaheim with AT&T, drove cross country in the worst snowstorm I've ever been in, and we were in Miami a week later. Within that same week, I went to Disney World (Florida) and Disneyland (California).”
When White returned to Oklahoma in 2010, she came across for pamphlet for OSU-Tulsa’s American Studies program and within a week also saw a social media post from a friend who was in the program. She found the program to be interesting and saw how it could benefit her career.
“This could really help me where I am now,” White recalled. “I was looking at the program as a way to learn and understand more about different cultures and history. In the long run, it really helped me create these events and programs within the parks that we have. Going through American Studies, I was able to pull from a ton of different types of courses to help me enhance my career.”
Professors David Gray, Teresa Miller, Justin Prince, Lindsey Smith, Stacy Takacs and Margaret White, along with courses in diverse topics such as nonprofit management, gender studies and Native American art, are what White remembers most about her education.
“Those six people, I will never forget them,” White said. “I may have been a little more focused because I was an older student when I was going through the program, but those professors are amazing. What I remember most about being there are those guys. And you can tell by the variety of courses that I took. I was able to apply them to my program and it made sense. It wasn't like I was all over the place dabbling in everything. Everything I took was very specific in what I thought I needed.”
The degree has helped her greatly with her work.
“It definitely elevated my skills to apply to my position,” White said. “When I saw the program, I just felt pulled to it because I felt like my career would benefit by completing that program and going through it.”
She now works on all types of events from concerts to children’s programming to cultural events and holiday celebrations. She was also instrumental in planning the 100 Days of Opening Celebration, which included various programs for 100 days straight.
“It was one of the biggest things I've ever done in my career,” White said. “It was a year of planning to develop and build multiple opening festivities at Gathering Place. We have such a diverse city and so many people that travel here now. It was fun to work together in developing diverse programming in the beginning to make sure everyone felt welcomed to the park and that our team was being inclusive in our planning and programming.”
White came to OSU in part because of her grandfather. He transferred to OSU from West Point, where he played football under Vince Lombardi.
“He graduated with a civil engineering degree,” White said. “He went on to just do such great things. My family lived all over the world because of OSU, because of that degree and getting his career started out of Stillwater. It was really important to my papa that I went.”
White believes that you should always take pride in your investment, especially in college because you’re investing your time and money but also your heart. She says because you are putting so much into your education, it’s important to have a love for it.
“I have so much pride for myself as a Cowboy,” White said. “Achieving everything I did during my time at OSU because giving Stillwater a shot when I was young and then going back to Tulsa later. I invested so much time and I really had to shift my focus. And once I learned to do that, there was no stopping me and OSU gave me that that platform to succeed.”
White is proud to be part of the Gathering Place team that has earned several honors, such as USA Today's Best New Attraction and Best City Park, TIME Magazine’s World’s Greatest Places, Urban Land Institute’s Global Excellence Award, National Geographic’s 12 Mind-Bending Playgrounds Around the World and Tulsa World’s Best in the World.