Who’s that ‘Career Guy’? Getting to know Trent Payne, Part 1

Posted on March 10, 2016

Trent Payne close shot

Trent Payne

Erskine’s Coordinator for Student Transitions Trent Payne, using his “Career Guy” moniker, issues frequent invitations for students to join him in Java City to talk about their careers, their majors, or graduate school. Free coffee is often part of the invitation. A graduate of Wheaton College and Wheaton College Graduate School and the parent of an Erskine graduate, Trent lives with his wife Lisa in Pressly Hall on the Erskine campus.


Here, in Part 1 of our interview, Trent talks about his own career trajectory, speaks about the shift in focus that landed him at Erskine, and explains his enthusiasm for working with college students.


When did you join the staff at Erskine?

I joined the Erskine staff in January 2014, so I’ve been here for two years now. It feels like only one because the time passes quickly, especially when you enjoy what you’re doing.


What were you doing before that?

Prior to Erskine I worked in database marketing for a mid-size company in Charlotte, N.C. For approximately 20 years I served in client services and project management roles, growing the company from seven employees to more than 100. Those early years were fast and fun. The positions I served in suited my strengths, and I enjoyed the people I worked with, but my primary motivation for working the job was financial. It paid the bills, and we had some challenging ones to deal with during that time. That’s another story.


What happened to make you think about a change?

Fast forward a few years. My wife Lisa and I found ourselves approaching the empty nester stage of life. Others had told us it is a great stage because the weight of responsibility for your children is lifted, and that is true, financially speaking. However, Lisa and I enjoy having young people in our lives, so it was a transition we struggled with. We had more time on our hands, and were financially OK, but we missed having young people around.


So what did you do next?

Our two sons had graduated from college and were situated in their careers, so I started talking about transitioning to a new career myself. My job in Charlotte was very process and data driven, and my heart was yearning to work with and invest in young adults. As I imagined the next 10 years of my life, and we explored the options, it became apparent that the best way to work with young people was either in a church setting or on a college campus. In order to taste what it is like to work with young adults on a college campus, I volunteered with the career services team at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. It was a positive experience and confirmed for me that this is the direction I should take.


What made you look toward Erskine in particular?

I wanted to work on a small Christian college campus, so that my work would be more personal in nature, and we wanted to still be near our sons, so I applied to various jobs, mostly in the southeast. Our youngest son, Greg, graduated from Erskine in 2010 after having a constructive experience here, so Erskine was at the top of my list of places to work. It took some time and hard work, but God blessed me with this position in January 2014.


Pressly Hall

Pressly Hall

How did you end up becoming an R.D. in addition to your job in Student Services?

When my wife Lisa and I came to Erskine, we were torn between living in Due West, Anderson, or Greenwood. For various reasons we settled on Greenwood. We were afraid to live in Due West because we were used to living in suburbs around large cities—Chicago, Cleveland, Charlotte—and Due West is so small and unique. However, we wanted to try it. We also wanted to be closer so that we could be more involved in the variety of activities around campus. In the back of our minds we had the idea of sampling life in Due West by temporarily living someplace here for a couple of months, but we never pursued it.

But at the end of the summer of 2015, a vacancy in one of the guys’ halls, Pressly, suddenly became available. Due to the transition on campus, I was searching for additional work to supplement my income, and I told this to Wendi Santee, the new dean of Student Services. When the position came open she approached me about it. Lisa and I discussed it and thought about it for a couple of days, then accepted the offer. The Lord Jesus Christ takes care of his people, and he did so through this opportunity. I had a need for supplemental income, while Erskine had a need for a couple to reside in Pressly Hall—a win-win situation.


So you and your wife had to prepare for new roles pretty quickly?

The start was fast and furious as we moved from Greenwood to Due West with students soon arriving and the beginning of student training and orientation quickly approaching. We were afraid! We had thought we might live in Due West, but we had not considered living in Due West with 85 young men. It was a shock, but we settled in quickly and actually had a good first semester. Actually, it was better than expected. There are a lot of fine young men in Pressly, and Lisa and I now have the privilege of sharing a little bit of life together with them.


What has it been like so far?

I remember watching a basketball game toward the end of last semester. It was a competitive game that called on our guys to play hard to the finish. They did! And as their R.D. I felt a sense of pride watching them finish strong.

This does not mean that everything with residence hall living is rosy. But the down side to residence hall living is not that consequential. Lisa and I are adjusting to the late night and early morning noise—several of our athletes start their day early. But the joys and meaningful experiences outweigh the inconveniences.

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Trent Payne tells more about his work with Erskine students in  Parts 2 and 3.