Dr. Mandy Wriston
March 24, 2024, 3:49 a.m.

Empowering Appalachia: A Journey with Dr. Mandy Wriston

Welcome to our interview with Dr. Mandy Wriston, founder of Appalachian Queen Consulting and Public Relations, LLC. Dr. Wriston shares her journey from growing up in Appalachia to founding her consulting company, focusing on serving the needs of the region. Throughout the interview, she discusses the challenges and opportunities in Appalachia, offers insights into effective teamwork and unity, and provides valuable advice for startups. Join us as we explore Dr. Wriston's inspiring story and her dedication to empowering her community.

Early Life & Education

Tell us something about you, your early life, and your education

I have lived in the Appalachian region my entire life. I grew up between a very rural area and a small city. Some of the things I learned to do early in life were how to plant and care for a large garden, cure a pig, and cook on a wood stove. When I must introduce and share an interesting fact about myself in public, I always share that I have dug a hole for an outhouse. This usually causes a few comical reactions.

I was an average student in secondary education and college. It was because I wasn’t doing well in college that I decided to research the possibility that I have a learning disability. I was having a tough time staying focused and paying attention in class. I visited the disability services office of my college and was told it was too late to test me for a formal diagnosis. I left the office determined to conduct my research to see how I could help myself.

After learning a few tips and tricks on how to deal with my inability to stay focused and some test anxiety, my grades improved. In fact, in my last year of college, I realized I loved the classroom setting. I wasn’t just learning better; I was enjoying the new information. I graduated on the Dean’s list with an undergrad degree in Travel and Tourism with a concentration in Food and Beverage Operations. After graduation, I was an assistant catering director for a brief time. However, family responsibilities led me to full-time work in the tourism industry of West Virginia. I began working for a photography company that takes pictures of whitewater rafting. 

I worked in the rafting industry for four years until I was offered a position with a county recreation authority where I acted as the Director of Operations & Finance. It was here that I met one of my board members who would change the course of my life! He offered me a position working for him at a nine-county region convention and visitors bureau (CVB). I was so excited to work for an organization in the West Virginia tourism industry that I loved. The CVB is where I was able to network with group tour buyers from around the nation. I received two certificates in grant writing and coordinated a large grant with multiple partners. I learned about marketing including developing and maintaining a brand. We had a great director of public relations, and this helped me learn about press releases (we didn’t have social media at the time). Unfortunately, a change in leadership meant a change in industries for me.

In 2006, I transitioned to higher education by becoming a student life coordinator. Working at a university was another life-changing experience for me. During this stage of my life, I realized that I missed being on a college campus. I missed the routines of the fall, spring, and summer semesters. You might think that tourism and campus life are on two different ends of the employment spectrum. However, students are like tourists. Both are essentially guests/customers of the organization. Both want to be entertained for the duration of their visit and both need to be kept safe. The best thing about working at a university is that you can move around to different departments to learn different skill sets as a staff member. I spent some time in student affairs and was promoted to Director of Student Affairs. I then moved to the private on-campus middle/high school as an Assistant Dean. From that department, I transitioned to the Department of Leadership and Professional Studies to become the first coordinator of the Doctor of Executive Leadership program. 

Finally, I came full circle in the university and became Dean of Students and Campus Life. Throughout my journey at the university, I learned event planning skills, exercised my marketing and PR skills, I learned new software, how all the departments in a university worked together, and even how an academic program is built from the ground up. I was so fortunate to learn such a variety of skills in this context! I also enrolled in a Master of Strategic Leadership program while employed at the university. I was so excited to be re-engaged in the learning process. I have to say a master’s program is a lot more enjoyable than an undergraduate program. I reaffirmed to myself that I enjoyed learning, researching, and writing about new things. I learned the concept of leadership is so broad that it applies to everything!

The university I worked for closed in 2012 and I found myself back in travel and tourism. I landed a job at the local Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors Bureau. I was back home! This position was primarily marketing and public relations. I used skills from my previous position at the regional CVB as well as skills I learned at the university including implementing new software for the chamber to keep track of its members and events. 

We also coordinated the state’s largest one-day extreme sports festival, Official Bridge Day. This was event coordination on a state AND national level. It takes so many organizations and people to produce an event on this scale. What most people didn’t know was that there were only two full-time employees of the chamber of commerce who were ultimately responsible. I’m very proud of that.

During my time at the chamber/CVB, I enrolled as a doctoral student at Indiana Institute of Technology’s Ph.D. in Global Leadership program. This was another life-changing decision for me. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the program. I met people from all around the world. I not only grew as a researcher in the program but also as a person. Our faculty were more than educators. They were mentors as well. My dissertation chair became a mentor and a cheerleader for me. To this day she is a very dear friend. The last portion of my program took place during Covid-19. Doctoral students talk about how lonely the dissertation phase can be. However, this was on an entirely different level. I had lost the social interaction of my online courses and in my personal life. Therefore, I used the opportunity to focus on my research and writing. In 2021, I received my degree and was also awarded dissertation of the year in my concentration of Higher Education Administration. My dissertation is entitled, A Case Study of How Leaders in an Appalachian County View Themselves in a Global Society, and can be accessed for free on ProQuest.

Business Overview

Business Overview

Tell us about the business and its presence in the target market

I resigned from my position at the chamber/CVB to work on my dissertation full-time. That might sound a little crazy. However, I have been in two different terminal degree programs. The first one was at my university that closed. This meant I had to start from scratch in the new program. I felt as if I needed to focus on this huge project that had been dragging along for several years. 

As the reader may remember, it was difficult to find a new position during the pandemic. This prompted me to start my own small consulting company. I decided to put all the skills and experience I had gained over the years under one roof. The concept of an Appalachian Queen is the result of many hours of consultation with my dissertation chair, Dr. Brenda C. Williams. During one of our mentoring sessions, she referred to me as her Appalachian Queen. I had never heard those two concepts in the same sentence. As a result of my studies, I am acutely aware of the strength and resilience of the Appalachian citizens.

Appalachian Queen Consulting and Public Relations, LLC is also the product of several conversations with Appalachian citizens who are trying to make a difference in their communities. These people have families and full-time jobs yet find time to participate in volunteer organizations. They expressed a need for assistance with event promotion, grant writing, and content writing. I also volunteer in my community and recognize a need for board consulting services that would provide solid research before making decisions on behalf of the organization.

Since opening my business, I have provided consulting services to a wide range of clients. For instance, I’ve helped coordinate and handle public relations for events in the local paranormal community. I’ve consulted with members of the pagan community about grants. I am currently working with three different non-profits to create programming for Appalachian youth, strategic marketing plans, and long-term strategic planning. I currently assist two businesses with social media and marketing. I’ve done very well by keeping an open mind.

Growth & Expansion Plans

What are some of the growth and expansion plans you have in your pipeline?

Growth and expansion in the Appalachian region are slow processes. I found in my research of global leadership in Appalachia that our residents are still very much focused on what it takes to get by day to day. Resources still need to be improved in the region. We still don’t have access to good broadband because of the geography. Good-paying jobs with benefits are hard to come by as is adequate healthcare. So, to answer your question, right now I am worrying about taking care of the clients I have with a limited workforce. My first goal is to help the Appalachian professionals around me. It is too early in the game to start thinking about expansion. If I do expand it will be further out into the Appalachian region.

How has the year been for your company?

2023 was a slow year for me. I like to think of it as the year I tried to get my name out there. I had a few small projects that allowed me to prove my competence and abilities. You see, the Appalachians are not very trusting. This is mainly because so many outsiders have taken advantage of our people and resources. This year, however, has been great! My business has taken off. I have several new clients. I even made some great connections with people who can refer clients to me.

What does your business offer as per the current competitive market? 

My business offers public relations, grant consultation, content writing, motivational speaking, leadership development, resume writing, and board consulting at an affordable price to people who live and work in the Appalachian region. Most people in Appalachia, especially small entrepreneurs, can’t afford current competitive market prices.

Effective Teams

Building Effective Teams

What measures do you think employees and organizations can take to build effective teamwork and unity?

From what I have witnessed most leaders go off to leadership programs but don’t implement what they learn. To begin, try implementing what you learn in these programs. It’s not enough to say, “I’ve been to the program so that makes me a great leader”. Do some research about the individuals who make up your team. For instance, in my dissertation research, you will find that my recommendations are that Appalachian employees should be recognized as minorities just like any other minority group. Appalachians should be treated with cultural sensitivity as global leaders and by the global organizations they interact with. Furthermore, orientation and training programs of global organizations should acknowledge that Appalachian employees think and lead differently than their colleagues. Stop thinking in terms of team first. Think in terms of the individual and then build your team.

Tell us about the company’s focus and investment in research and innovation

My company’s focus is on Appalachians living in the region. I am a professional researcher. I do a lot my own research. Going in a different direction from the above question, I want to be part of the movement that has begun to control the narrative that has been perpetuated about the people who inhabit the Appalachian region.

Startup Tips

Any tips for startups looking to get onto a similar pathway?

Keep an open mind. Don’t limit yourself until you see what your clients want. Meet them where they are, and their needs are. Keep going even if your pace is one step at a time or one day at a time. Find someone you trust to be your cheerleader. Don’t be afraid to brag or talk about your successes. If you can’t do it, have your cheerleader speak the words and use them to your advantage! Patronize local businesses as much as you can. That’s how I’ve made several great connections and have been able to connect with other people. 

In conclusion, Dr. Mandy Wriston's journey is a testament to the resilience and determination found in the Appalachian region. Through her consulting company, she is not only providing valuable services but also reshaping the narrative and empowering her community. As we conclude this interview, we invite you to learn more about Dr. Wriston's work by visiting her website. Additionally, we encourage you to connect with  Dr. Mandy Wriston on LinkedIn to stay updated on her endeavours and join the conversation on transforming Appalachia for the better. Thank you for joining us on this enlightening journey with Dr. Mandy Wriston.

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Recent Comments:

Dr. Brenda Williams
  • March 24, 2024, 9:11 p.m.

Outstanding chronicle of your journey. You continue to make me proud. BRAVO Dr Mandy!!!

Patsy Noland
  • March 26, 2024, 11:22 a.m.

Hi, Mandy. What a great article! Congratulations on your amazing accomplishments.

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