Empowerment Through Entrepreneurship
From the moment Stephanie Campbell (BSBA ’13, MBA ’17) stepped into Sennott Square as a first year student, she knew she wanted to join every club and organization she could — and she did. She even started one.
Inspired by her mother, who started the same organization herself as an undergraduate at Robert Morris University, Campbell founded the Pitt chapter of Enactus, a student organization that applies business concepts to develop community outreach projects.
The early days of Enactus consisted of a few friends meeting in Campbell’s Tower B dorm. “Once I ran out of space to swipe students into my room, we went down to the café, and all of a sudden we had about 20 people meeting around tables to talk,” Campbell says. “And I thought, ‘You know what — I need help and I’m going to go to Pitt Business and tell them about this.’” She recalls that the College of Business Administration (CBA) was always there to offer support and resources, especially Audrey J. Murrell, associate dean of CBA and director of the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership.
“Audrey Murrell was one of the first people to recognize Enactus, its potential, and even the potential in me to lead the organization,” Campbell says. “She’s always been exceptional — bringing so much professional support to my colleagues and the organization. It really just cemented my decision to choose Pitt Business.”
As Enactus continued to grow, Campbell and her team set out to teach financial literacy to young people at a homeless shelter in Pittsburgh’s Uptown neighborhood. She recalls coming back to campus after an amazing day of volunteer work when one of her teammates grabbed her hand and said, “I finally get it. That was the best day ever, and I know I can make a difference.”
That moment defined Campbell’s career. “When my teammate realized she had changed someone’s life for the better, I realized that I had not only helped her discover her potential, but that it had a tremendous cascading effect,” Campbell says. “It’s about helping others develop their own potential that can give them the opportunity to grow themselves and make a difference.”
During her time at CBA, Campbell had the opportunity to study abroad in London, where she completed internships with Rotary Watches and Juicy Couture. She worked in Piccadilly Circus, providing her with an authentic London work experience. The internships allowed Campbell to experience the different sides of marketing and solidify her decision to go into fashion marketing.
She became the first-ever social media intern at Aerie, a division of American Eagle Outfitters, Inc. (AEO), which is headquartered in Pittsburgh. The social media industry was still growing, so Campbell developed her own social media experience in hopes of accelerating a career path.
“I built myself a website and started creating Facebook ads, even though there was no need to have Facebook ads,” Campbell says. “I just wanted to be able to tell a future employer, ‘I’ve done this before, and I feel confident about it.’ And I think that’s always my biggest advice for others — if you’re not given an opportunity for an internship or in the career path you want, just do it and start making it yourself.”
The next summer, Aerie brought Campbell back as a search engine optimization (SEO) intern to discover the way organic traffic was being driven to its website. At the end of the SEO internship, Aerie offered her a full-time position in social media upon graduation.
Inspired once again by her mother and Katz alumna, Ellen Langas (MBA ’80), she decided to return to Pitt for the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business Professional MBA program in strategy, with a certificate in technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. She fondly remembers her favorite class — Negotiations, Teamwork, and Change with Professor Frits Pil. Campbell says that
Pil is full of knowledge, but also knows how to make class fun. She continues to practice the skills she learned in class, whether it’s inside or outside the workplace, and even in planning her wedding.
“I loved being able to take what I was doing at work the day before, thinking about it during class at night, and applying what I learned the next day,” Campbell says. “I became a huge advocate for my colleagues to make sure that they know negotiation tactics. And I think every woman should know it too. I’m very open to share and say, ‘Hey, are you having trouble talking about pay or salary? I’d love to talk with you and help you get ready for that conversation.’”
This immersion class gave Campbell the resources to start having these conversations before transitioning into a leadership role at Aerie, where she had the chance to work on the iconic #AerieREAL campaign. In 2014, Aerie vowed to stop Photoshopping its images, and the brand made a major commitment to the body confidence movement. Since then, #AerieREAL has grown into its own movement focused on diversity and inclusivity, representing Aerie’s mission to empower all women to love their real selves. The campaign has significantly increased sales across the AEO brand, earning double-digit sales growth since its launch in 2014.
“It was so powerful to see #AerieREAL making a change in stores and on our website for our customers,” Campbell says. “But it was on social media where #AerieREAL sparked and ignited a conversation.”
The company reached out to customers and asked what #AerieREAL meant to them, without defining it for them. “At first, it meant no retouching, but now with the help of our customers, it means empowerment, body positivity, self-acceptance, and so much more,” Campbell says.
Aerie’s social media team works to celebrate and share the voice of the consumers up to the designers, the marketing team, and departments making brand decisions. Since 2014, the customers have been telling the brand where they want to go next, and Aerie is listening. One-third of Aerie’s social media feed is made up of regrams, or user-generated content (UGC), which allows Aerie to interact with its consumers on a more personal level.
“It’s amazing because our team listens, and I think that’s what makes the brand so special,” Campbell says. “We’re continually able to innovate, to go through the evolution of what a brand can mean.”
When Campbell isn’t working on Aerie’s social media or volunteering with CBA’s Mentoring Match program, you can find her hosting the Brava Podcast, dedicated to highlighting innovative women transforming their careers. “Brava is the feminine version of bravo, which directly translates ‘to applaud women,’ and that’s exactly what the podcast set out to do,” Campbell says.