Basketball, ventriloquism, and faith: the unique Anderson University journey of Pam Bryant-Ross
It was 1977, and Pam Bryant was on the fence about pursuing a college degree.
Anderson, South Carolina, was the closest “big city” to her hometown of Elberton, Georgia. She always liked visiting the area. A forward on her high school basketball team, Bryant was first invited to visit Anderson University by a local pastor.
When she stepped foot on campus, she immediately felt at home.
“With my trust in the Lord and assurance of a future basketball career at Anderson University, I took a leap of faith that would lay the foundation of my future career and shape the rest of my life,” Bryant-Ross said.
For the next 37 years, following her experience as a student-athlete, Bryant-Ross used the lessons she learned about coaching, communication and faith to recruit thousands of students to Anderson University. She has served as a recruiter, admission counselor, coach, admission director and now serves as vice president for enrollment management.
It’s a critical position at the University: she leads teams that recruit and support prospective students.
Bryant-Ross’s journey at AU required her to wear many hats, but it all began with a young woman pursuing her future.
“I had an amazing experience here as a student. It became my second home,” she said. “Because of the investment of so many wonderful people in my life in the late 1970s, I have always felt a sense of paying it forward on behalf of my dear alma mater.”
Then there’s Bryant-Ross’ little friend, Freddy.
After completing her degree, Bryant-Ross took her first step into employment at Anderson University in 1983 as a “college representative,” a position designed specifically for her talent in ventriloquism, a skill that she started developing when she was 12 years old. She stumbled upon a skilled ventriloquist at a tent revival and was inspired.
“I just seemed to have the natural skill for it, and people really liked the voice and personality of Freddy,” Bryant-Ross said. Local churches invited her to speak at meetings for children and senior adults and at Sunday evening services. “Things just took off from there,” she said.
“Our show consisted of fun and laughter,” she said. “He was always the funny one between the two of us. The way Freddy and I saw it, I would pull his string and he would do his thing.”
After Bryant-Ross completed her bachelor’s degree, she continued to perform with Freddy as she began searching for a career. During one of her performances, the chair of the Anderson University Board of Trust, who knew her from her student days, arranged for her to meet with then-president Dr. Mark L. Hopkins.
Dr. Hopkins asked Bryant-Ross to bring Freddy to the interview. Freddy was dressed in interview attire, and the duo captivated their presidential audience. On the same day in 1983, Dr. Hopkins hired Bryant-Ross—and Freddy. They represented Anderson University during performances across the southeast, pitching the institution to receptive audiences.
With my trust in the Lord and assurance of a future basketball career at Anderson University, I took a leap of faith that would lay the foundation of my future career and shape the rest of my life.
— Pam Bryant-Ross
Vice President for Enrollment Management
After a year traveling with Freddy, Bryant-Ross began recruiting students, assisting with the women’s basketball program and helping to launch Anderson University’s softball program. She also served as an admission counselor and head softball coach.
When Anderson University transitioned to baccalaureate status in the early 1990s, it experienced a vastly different future.
“It was a time of pruning for the Trojan Family, and one that led to my next role as the director of admission in 1996,” Bryant-Ross said.
At first, she resisted the new opportunity. After all, she’d just started a family.
“But with the guidance of God, I felt called to serve in this capacity,” Bryant-Ross said.
Bryant-Ross accepted the challenge and learned all that she could about best admission practices for student recruitment. She used her experience as a coach to motivate the admission team and teach them to recruit students using the same fervor coaches use to draw talented athletes to their programs.
“Recruiting is very intense,” Bryant-Ross said. Then again, so is she.
“My coaching background served me well,” she said.
Under her leadership, Anderson University’s traditional student enrollment grew from 892 students in 1995 to 1,283 students in 2007. Today, Anderson University is the largest private institution in South Carolina, boasting an enrollment of more than 3,900 students.
In 2004, Anderson achieved university status with the introduction of graduate programs. In 2012, Bryant-Ross was named dean of admission, and in 2016 she was promoted to her present position.
Bryant-Ross enjoys watching the journey young people experience at Anderson University.
“Knowing the purpose behind what I do and the many stories I get to see is why I love this place so much,” Bryant-Ross said. “These brilliant young people make my job worth doing.”
Bryant-Ross is proud of helping Anderson University grow. Over the last 37 years, she has only one regret: a self-described “workaholic,” she felt she could have found a better work/life balance over the years. Nevertheless, her two adult daughters—Jessie and Callie Tallman, both Anderson University alumni—assure her they could not have imagined a better childhood than one spent on campus.
Bryant-Ross said her favorite job at Anderson University is where her story first began: as a college representative having fun while proclaiming Anderson’s virtues with her best pal, Freddy.
“Little did I know that I would be here this long, but as my life changed, I changed,” Bryant-Ross said. “The Lord continued to provide opportunities for me here that made me recognize his divine direction was to keep me here.”