Leenika Belfield-Martin | Lifestyle Editor
Courtesy of Stephanie Walters
Stephanie Walters was only 7 years old when she knew she wanted to have a robust career in journalism. Now the ’08 Hampton grad has an impressive resume that includes owning her own media company with her husband, being the lifestyle correspondent for WAVYTV-10 and even working as the program manager for Pharrell Williams’ nonprofit, From One Hand to Another.
Read how the Hampton almuna and media powerhouse reached her successes and what she’s up to now.
HS: Tell me a little about your upbringing, and what made you come to Hampton?
SW: I grew up around the Richmond area in Chester, Virginia. Both of my parents are graduates of HBCU’s, and my grandparents are graduates of HBCU’s, too. My mom, my dad and my grandma all went to Virginia State University. My granddad went to North Carolina Central University. So I always was around HBCU culture, and I definitely knew I wanted to go to a HBCU. It was never an option for me. I think I had only applied to HBCU’s.
My freshman year, I actually started off at North Carolina Central University and then ended up transferring to Hampton my sophomore year. Hampton had a better journalism program, and I wanted to be a part of Scripps. From then on, I was totally in love with Hampton and the culture.
HS: So, you talked about how journalism was a big reason why you transferred to Hampton. When in your college career did you decide that you wanted to go into that field after college?
SW: I always knew. Since I was like 7 or 8 years old, I always knew that I wanted to be in journalism. I grew up watching TV, and every night we would watch Entertainment Tonight and shows like that. I wanted to have my own TV show or become a media personality because I love to tell people’s stories. I was also an only child growing up, so I never had anyone to talk to except for friends. I was always a talker and loved to get to know people and their background.
So for me it was never a question of what I was going to do, but more like how was I going to get there to do it. When I was in college, I actually got to do an internship at Entertainment Tonight in New York City. It was one of the most amazing things I got to do while I was in college because I had used to watch the show, and I got to intern there!
I love producing and getting to see what happens behind the scenes. So, whether it was in front or behind the camera, I knew I wanted to do something in media.
Courtesy of Stephanie Walters
HS: What were you involved in while you were here at Hampton as a student?
SW: I was a part of WHOV 88.1 FM and had my own talk show. I was really passionate about entertainment news, so I created a talk show around it. It was called Media Mixer, and it was the first entertainment news talk show that WHOV had ever had. I later became the talk show director, so I was in charge of all the talk shows, and I was able to win talk show director of the year. I was also a part of the CORE, which was a special program in Scripps where we did the news. Anything Scripps related, I was involved in.
HS: Thinking back to when you were here, what was your favorite Hampton tradition?
SW: I liked the Ogden crossing because it just signified that “I made it.” It was one of the most awesome experiences ever. I remember that night at midnight, me and all my friends went into the circle and just jumped around and acted like a complete fool! It was so special to us because we had worked so hard to make it to that point.
HS: Did you have a mentor while you were here as a student? Someone you looked up to, whether it was a student or professor?
SW: Yes! I had Professor Leonard, and he was so instrumental in my career. He actually helped me secure my first two jobs in media after I graduated. I actually still keep in touch with him to this day. Whenever he had any projects at Hampton, he would always call me and say, “Hey, do you want to be a part of this?” or “Hey, do you want to help produce this or be a journalist for this?” He was always making sure that I was taken care of and prepared for the real world.
HS: What’s one piece of advice that you were given while you were in college that stuck with you?
SW: People who came before me let me know to “learn how to do everything.” In this field, some people are like “Oh, I just want to be on camera” or “Oh, I just want to write,” but I was taught to just be open and learn to do everything. And if you don’t know how to do something, say “yes” and figure it out. Don’t turn down an opportunity because you don’t know how to do something or because you think it might not be for you. You never know where your road might lead you, so say “yes” and figure everything else out on the way!
HS: I know you’re involved with Pharrell’s foundation. Can you speak a little about that?
SW: So I’m the program manager for Pharrell’s nonprofit called From One Hand to Another. We run summer camps around the country. So we run several summer camps here (in Hampton Roads), and we expanded a couple of years ago to different locations across the country. My role revolves around developing the curriculum for the kids, train the teachers and make sure the camps have everything they need in terms of supplies.
Right now we are in festival mode with Something in the Water around the corner. It’s really awesome that we get to be a part of the festival in terms of getting stuff together and working on some of the conversations that are going on.
HS: So how did you get involved with that?
SW: Having really good connections. For seven years, I worked as a STEM and entrepreneurial program specialist. So, I ran different programs throughout high schools, and I did all the media for the technology department. About two years ago, the COO of the corporation became one of my friends and told me, “Hey, we have an opportunity for a full-time position. Would you be willing to come on board?” And I said “Oh my god, of course! I love what you guys stand for.” So, that’s kind of how that happened.
Before that, my husband, who is also a Hampton grad, and I had owned a media company. We had been contracted through them and used their curriculum. So we were already in the mix when they asked me to work with them. So everything was about just building genuine connections with people and making sure that you keep in touch with them. I’ve gotten a lot of my jobs by building relationships and not burning bridges.
Courtesy of Stephanie Walters