UNT Journalism alumna Terri West couldn’t have imagined that a short-term job right of high school would parley into a career at the highest levels of technology, but then she also couldn’t yet see the power of storytelling as taught by the journalism program at the University of North Texas.
A 1982 graduate of UNT – then North Texas State University – West would eventually become a senior executive with Texas Instruments, overseeing a staff of hundreds of communicators, journalists and storytellers at TI locations around the world. But that all started with a one-month summer assignment following high school graduation.
“I loved the company and they loved me back,” she said. “My first summer job there led to another and before I knew it I was on leave of absence throughout my college career at UNT. So, I had a great thing waiting for me when I graduated.”
West worked her way through a variety of entry level assignments at TI, including corporate communications and investor relations, and quickly found herself interfacing with all parts of storytelling at the company. This included advertising, public relations, community affairs, internal communications and more. A rapid-fire ability to quickly learn the facts and frame up effective ways to share stories with a variety of audiences became West’s stock in trade.
“Richard Wells (former journalism professor) was my biggest inspiration in college,” she said. “I especially enjoyed reporting stories. You learn how to think critically and ask the right questions in journalism school – and that led directly to shape messages and create communications that worked.”
West, who as senior vice president of Texas Instruments ultimately led a worldwide group of 350 communications professionals, demonstrated how the common skills learned in journalism at UNT fed directly into framing up messaging for her group worldwide. “The core thing that has run throughout my career at TI is the ability to influence and tell a story. Everyone sees a common mission and understands the goals. Then no matter if it’s digital marketing, college recruitment, government relations or whatever, they all have the same story to tell,” she said.
Retiring early in 2017 after a 35-year career with the technology giant behind the integrated circuit and dozens of other products that have helped to change the world, West says that the ability to quickly drive to the heart of a story and communicate effectively will always be an important skill. Whether creating recruitment programs for new employee prospects or developing a global advertising and public relations campaign to support individual product lines, a solid ability to look at challenges and opportunities, and then craft stories that lead to solutions, is perhaps the one thing that hasn’t changed with technology, she said.
“At the end of the day, in the engineering world, it’s the ability to write, communicate and influence others that makes big things happen,” said West. “It was never the technology at Texas Instruments that kept me there. It was the challenge of using good journalism to connect the dots so that great things could happen that kept me excited.”
Among the experiences at UNT that meant the most to West’s career? “I certainly can’t forget the Friday afternoon ‘slash’ sessions where the professors would come in and tear our newspaper stories to shreds,” she said. “That was perhaps the biggest single thing that helped to shape me into the communicator that I became at Texas Instruments. That was a sometimes-brutal but incredible learning experience.” The staff of the North Texas Daily continues to undergo weekly slash sessions in advance of releasing the paper.
Asked for the challenges she sees facing the journalists and storytellers of today and tomorrow, West says, : “Iit’s the ability to not only tell a good story but to do it quickly. Audiences have shorter attention spans than ever and we take in so much more. Ask all the right questions and then write a really crisp lead paragraph – that’s the key to success.”