“My junior and senior years in the Graphic Design program at Penn State taught me a lot about hard work, determination, and perseverance, but most importantly, they gave me a passion for thoughtful and conceptual design that is still with me today,” said Jennifer Owens Appleby (’85 B.A. Graphic Design).
That passion continues to drive Appleby, president and chief creative officer of Wray Ward, an independently owned marketing and communications firm in Charlotte, N.C. She explained that her work plays a significant role in a global economy. “It’s really exciting that the business world finally values and understands the importance of creativity and innovation…and that the creative class now has an important seat at the table.” While she acknowledges that creativity isn’t specific to her field, she said she loves being “part of an industry that helps make the world a more beautiful, user-friendly, and intuitively functioning place.”
Appleby comes from a Penn State family—her parents, siblings, uncle, and cousins all attended the University, and her grandfather grew up in the area. However, as a creative, independent teenager, she wanted to carve her own path, and didn’t plan on attending Penn State. The death of her grandfather changed her perspective, and she “wanted to continue the family’s legacy while beginning my own. State College was the place where I could do both.”
After graduating, Appleby went on to make Wray Ward the largest marketing communications firm in Charlotte, and one of the largest woman-owned businesses in the region. In 2008, she was named Charlotte Businesswoman of the Year.
Appleby said that her great instructors, including Lanny Sommese, had a profound impact on her career, but the most influential and supportive people during her time at Penn State were her classmates. “There was no way I could have made it through all those sleepless nights at the studio and intimidating project reviews without my core group of friends,” she explained.
Her time in the Graphic Design program also taught her “the value of getting involved and giving back, the importance of working as a team, and, thanks to Joe Paterno, I developed a real passion for winning.”
Appleby advises graphic design students on the verge of beginning their own careers to stay true to themselves. “Follow your passion and heart and be open to where it might take you. Work really hard and find great mentors. Be willing to take risks, and don’t fear failure; learn from it. Lastly, use your talent for good and leave the door open for those following behind you.”