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College of Arts and Sciences

Graduate combines love for outdoors with telling a good story

As communications manager for the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, Bates Whitaker gets to combine his love of the outdoors with his passion for storytelling. He’ll always remember the encouragement and valuable help he received from his Anderson University professors as he honed the skill sets he uses each day to tell the story of a state with a richly diverse plant and animal life.

Why did you choose Anderson University?

I grew up in Chapin, South Carolina, which is 20 minutes north of Columbia, so I had actually never heard of Anderson University until I started my college search process. I came and toured and by far it was the best tour of any college that I went to. Everyone stopped and smiled at me and talked to me on my tour, which was amazing—that never happened anywhere else. They treated me with respect and acted like they were excited about the idea of me coming there. 

I was very scared going into it because I was homeschooled. I hadn't been in a school setting much at all. Since I was going into Homeland Security at the time, I got to talk with Dr. Howard Murphy and with Dr. Turner at the time, who has since passed. They were just fantastic with just providing encouragement, letting me know that it was the right place for me to be. I think that's important anywhere, but particularly moving from high school to college.

Tell me about what motivated you to become a communication major. 

I decided to switch my major into something that was more storytelling-focused, something that was multimodal. I love photography. I love videography. I loved copywriting and creative storytelling and finding a bunch of different ways to tell fun stories and to tell other people's stories and to relate to people in that way. Whenever I get to tell somebody else's story, I feel like I've become a part of that story as well. And so that was very important for me. Communication gave me a great window into that and to help build on some of the skills that I already had and some of the talent that I already had to be able to tell stories better in a more convincing, engaging way. 

What does working in communication look like for you now professionally?

It was kind of a circuitous route. For the first two years after graduation, or one and a half years, I worked as a full-time beekeeper. I've always been really plugged into the outdoors, and so that's kind of what led me into beekeeping. But then I came out of that and combined the two together, kind of outdoor engagement and communications. Now I work as the communications manager at the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. It's worked out really well because I get to use so many different elements of what I learned at AU through communications—the writing, the photography, the videography. A lot of what I do is copywriting and communication strategy for the organization. That branches across newsletters, social media, press releases and philanthropy work. 

What were some of your favorite activities as a student?

I wrote stories for AU Communications and I did campus photography for a while. So a lot of the time I went to just campus events. My wife Anna, who I met at AU—we went hiking a lot up Table Rock. We went to Greenville to hike a good bit. I went fly fishing on the Chauga and Chattooga rivers, which are about an hour away from campus. I spent a lot of time out on Lake Hartwell with some friends at Sadlers Creek State Park. Any time that I wasn't working on school stuff I was out in the woods.

Sounds like you grew up enjoying the outdoors.

I did hunting, fishing, camping, backpacking—all those things. Also, thanks to my communication degree, I started a podcast with my brother—an outdoor podcast. I’m trying to educate people on how to get plugged into the outdoors. We try to do an episode each week. It's called “The Okay Outdoorsmen.” 

How did you land at the North Carolina Wildlife Federation? 

My dad kept bees since I was in first grade, and when COVID hit, we couldn't stay on campus, so Anna and I went to live with my parents for a while during COVID and did school from there. During that time, I started beekeeping with them and got really into it. We moved to Durham so that Anna could go to Duke to get her master's after graduating. While she was at Duke, I worked as a beekeeper, and it was really fun work and really emphasized in me a passion for conservation, conservation of pollinators, but also just wilderness conservation in general, especially given my past, growing up in the outdoors. 

North Carolina is a huge hub for conservation and I realized that quickly after moving here. I just started applying around, having meetings with people. I wanted to do Communication—I knew that—but I didn't know what conservation organization I wanted to work with. NCWF had an opening. 

Our main thing is that we're a voice for wildlife and habitat. As a communications guy, that means that I'm the primary voice for wildlife in North Carolina, which is super cool. I actually started on as a grant writer and stuck with that for a few months, and then they had a need for a communications manager and asked me to hold the position.

What is typical day-to-day like for you as a communications manager?

I work mostly remotely. Sometimes I work hybrid. Sometimes I go out to work sites like habitat restoration work sites, where they're doing trash cleanups, plantings or conservation education events. I do more writing than anything, so I spend a lot of time behind the computer. I interview a lot of people, including a lot of different conservation specialists in the state. I’m drafting and scheduling social media posts, doing a lot of communication strategy with my CEO and my supervisor who is the VP of philanthropy and communications. 

Being a one-man shop, do you get some assistance and collaboration?

I supervise two folks. One guy, Tim Morin, he's the website manager and also does some SEO work for us. And then I supervise another guy named John; he's the Google AdWords guy. 

At the end of the day, what gives you a feeling of accomplishment?

Probably the biggest thing in terms of communications, especially since I've come into conservation work, is just being able to be a voice for the voiceless, the wildlife and plants habitat. I'm passionate about the southeast because it's where I grew up, and North Carolina was where I grew up going on vacations, going on camping trips and hiking trips. So that's just an overarching conservation level that's super rewarding to me, to know that I'm fighting for something that has helped me grow.


Bates also published his book, Idlewild, which includes his poetry and creative nonfiction essays. More information can be found here.

Bates Whitaker
Bates Whitaker
Graduated from Anderson University: 2021
Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Media Communication
Title: Communications Manager, North Carolina Wildlife Federation