August 28, 2014
To say that senior Paris Winfrey is a multifaceted individual is a bit of an understatement. He’s an outdoor fanatic, singer extraordinaire, devoted volunteer and world traveler. Winfrey feels that his diverse accomplishments and experiences, coupled with his desire to continually grow and learn, will shine as he progresses through his academic pursuits and into the world of marketing.
Rewind to the summer of 2010, a few weeks before Winfrey’s first semester at WVU. He participated in the Adventure West Virginia program, which offers first year students diverse experiences to learn about themselves, future classmates, college life, and about beautiful West Virginia. This is where it all began.
“I was born in Clarksburg (W.Va.,) and grew up in Fairmont. Coming up to Morgantown for school, I’ve stayed up and down (interstate) 79 my whole life,” Winfrey said. “But I had really taken West Virginia for granted, and wasn’t overly excited about coming to WVU. But this trip gave me the opportunity to travel the state and experience things like camping, backpacking and whitewater rafting. I was energized to attend WVU. Coming to WVU is the smartest decision I’ve ever made.”
That initial experience led him to become an Adventure WV trip leader the following summer, which may have been the genesis of his decision to join B&E.
One of the trips Winfrey led was the B&E –focused Explore trip, where he met freshman advisor Brian Chang, who came along to provide insight for the incoming business students. After the trip, the two kept in touch and became travel buddies on a three-week backpacking trip to New Zealand that sealed their friendship.
Back in those days, Winfrey was only minoring in business and primarily studying exercise physiology. But as his lack of passion for the field became apparent, Chang suggested marketing as a good fit for someone with his creativity and charisma.
“Brian (has) been a great resource for me within the B&E,” Winfrey said. “It was a tough decision to switch to business, because I had already invested so much time (in exercise physiology.) But he helped me through the transition and encouraged me.”
It turns out that marketing has been a great fit, indeed.
“I was really interested in finding a major where I could use all my experiences - music, outdoor education, church, volunteer work all interest me,” he said. “I don’t want to limit myself. I want to take advantage of all the opportunities before me. Marketing can let me do that.”
Although Winfrey got a late start into the B&E curriculum, the extra time has allowed him to cultivate skills that will set him apart in the business world, such as leadership.
“It’s immeasurable at this point,” Winfrey said, explaining that he’s been involved with Adventure WV for four years now. “I’ve recognized personal leadership development, public speaking skills, decision-making skills, and have learned to work well as a group. I’ll probably never have to hang a bear bag (in my future job),” he said with a laugh, “but being responsible for others out in the woods for a week with finite resources…” he paused. “You have to manage those resources to the best of their ability. That’s valuable (experience), too.”
Winfrey has also held other leadership positions: as the 2012 Mountaineer Idol, President of the Outdoor Adventure Club, serving in a college ministry, and leading praise and worship at two Morgantown churches.
He has learned the value of giving back, whether it’s through local non-profits or international mission work - like this summer, when he was part of a group that spent 10 days in Honduras to offer housing, food, healthcare and childcare to a small town.
He has also learned lessons in independence, adaptation and drive through a month long trip to Nepal, also with Chang.
What started out as a jokingly made comment over lunch about climbing Mount Everest turned into the experience of a lifetime. They hiked a trail called the Annapurna Circuit, which provides a cultural experience through villages in Nepal, covering tropical rainforests and the Himalayan Mountains.
“We took (the trip) from random idea, to serious thought, to actually planning it, then actually did it. That gave me a lot of confidence in myself,” Winfrey said. “So often you sit around thinking it would be cool to do a certain thing, but to actually take initiative - that inspired me. I hope I keep that attitude going forward.”
Winfrey had some advice for younger students, particularly the class of 2018 who just began their collegiate journeys.
“All these opportunities (college life offers) will dry up one day, so take advantage of what lies in front of you. Whatever the task is, go at it 100%. One, it can help you learn if you like or don’t like something faster, and two, it helps you find success faster,” he said.
Another piece of wisdom is one he received from a mentor before going to Nepal.
“I was told to ‘Take what the mountain gives you’,” he said. It was a piece advice to be taken literally for the trip, and also metaphorically for life in general.
“He meant to go into the experience with open ears and open eyes,” Winfrey said. “Envision where you want to go, but be willing to be affected, changed and shaped by the environment. If you’re in a really amazing place – like Nepal, or college – allow yourself to truly experience what’s around you.”
Unsurprisingly, an area of career interest for Winfrey is the field of outdoor education and outdoor adventure sports. He takes interest in companies like Patagonia and KEEN Footwear, who are succeeding as the interest in outdoor sports grows.
“I’ve thought about the lifestyle around being an outdoor enthusiast. It would be an interesting niche market to explore. I think that market may grow,” he said.
While Winfrey isn’t certain what the future holds, he still has three semesters left to figure that out. He recognizes that he has been fortunate to explore varied topics – science, travel, the outdoors, volunteerism, music – and that he will have a lot to bring to the table one day. In the meantime, he has upper level courses to tackle, outdoor activity certifications to attain, and plans to make the most of every minute.