Downtown Spotlight: Brave
You can find this week’s alumna standout tucked away in a coffee shop or lounging in the Funk Zone Impact Hub with her mini Australian Shepherd, Michelson. Erin Erickson is a free-spirited entrepreneur who reminded me of the benefits of risk-taking and saying ‘yes.’ She thrives when problem solving and seeks out opportunities to innovate. Erin prioritizes relationships and ‘giving back’ alongside working three different jobs, managing two social impact projects, and launching a business in freelance photography. One can say she is a high achiever! Traditional schooling never resonated well with Erin and she will proudly say that the downtown semester is what kept her at Westmont. The program acted as a catalyst for her to pursue her passions.
When I walked into the French Press for our interview, Erin was already sipping her vanilla latte, full of morning energy. I asked Erin an open-ended question about her experience downtown and she declared:
“I don’t want to be dramatic, but Westmont Downtown changed my life!”
She paused, took a deep breath in, and then shared her journey beginning with her struggles through high school. Erin never saw college as part of the plan. She loved to learn and create, but lecture-style, linear learning never quite worked for her. After high school, she attended Wheaton College for a couple of years, took a year off, and then transferred to Westmont to give schooling another shot. After one semester, Erin was filled with uncertainties and she doubted her decision to transfer. It was during this low point that she came in contact with Rachel Winslow and the downtown program.
Erin’s demeanor brightened as she shared: “after a few minutes with Rachel, I was convinced that things could change and be better” (For those of you who know Rachel, you have probably had similar experiences). So, Erin took the risk, applied for the program, and 4 months later proudly walked across the graduation stage.
Westmont Downtown was just the thing Erin had been searching for. I asked Erin to expand on this and she said:
In past experiences, it was hard to find practicality in the work I was doing and I was always drawn to experiential learning. [In the program] every prompt and exercise had a lot of practical application and it seemed like everything we learned was necessary and beneficial. It has been a year and I am still using the things I learned in the program.
During the program, Erin interned at the Impact Hub where she coordinated events and monitored the facility as well as doing graphic design and marketing. Erin took advantage of her time at the Hub by networking with other entrepreneurs in the space. The resources and connections she built opened doors for her to continue creative work in Santa Barbara after graduation. She explained that after her internship ended, she “stuck around the Hub for a while.” Through friendships with other entrepreneurs, facilitated by the co-working context, she landed several fun design projects and developed what would soon be crucial career networks.
While visiting her family in Wisconsin, only afew months after graduation, Erin received a text from Rachel Winslow with an opportunity to work for a startup called Driving2Save. Before she knew it, Erin had interviewed over the phone and booked her one-way ticket back to Santa Barbara. She now works part time as Driving2Save’s executive editor. She keeps herself busy by also taking on the role of CCO with a creative agency called “Rivi Productions” (Another connection she made through the Impact Hub). With a smile on her face she said,
“It’s a lot of work, but every day is rewarding and different!”
With both Driving2Save and Rivi Productions, Erin wears multiple hats, primarily in graphic design. Her free-spirited nature aligns with her role to take on projects as they come and work at her own pace. With Rivi Productions, Erin is now leading editor for their magazine, IMPACT, which highlights inspirational people and projects in Santa Barbara. She is also using her entrepreneurial training to take initiative on a solo project tied to the company’s social impact. Her goal is to partner with Dining for Charities — a nonprofit based in San Luis Obispo — and bring their model of local, charitable giving through gift cards to Santa Barbara.
On top of balancing these three roles, Erin continues to pursue her Big Idea Project from the semester downtown. She is manufacturing personalized wooden lap desks for children in the foster system. Still in the early stages of this project, Erin continues to gather input from organizations and foster parents in Santa Barbara. This project, on top of her two other jobs, has pushed Erin to maximize her network, manage her time well, and use her resources. After naming victories and roadblocks with the project, she summarized, “Ultimately, this has taught me grace. Grace for myself and grace for others.”
Oh, and did I mention Erin is also launching a business? My eyes widened as Erin casually mentioned a passion for photography and her start-up aspirations. Her new business, inspired by time spent in Hawai’i connecting with tourists, offers complementary photo shoots to hotel guests with optional packages for purchase. She and a friend are working with the founders of the Maui-based business to launch a branch in Santa Barbara, but with a social impact twist. Erin expanded on how this dream along with her other work is connected to her downtown experience. She enthused,
Social entrepreneurship has completely reframed my approach to business. Instead of chasing the bottom line, I now find myself asking who is involved and who will be affected by my actions and the outcomes of the business. I’ve always cared about the individual, but I never realized that I could help people through my work, instead of it tacking it on to my free time.
Erin has fully embraced her identity as a social entrepreneur. She is not afraid to say yes and take risks. While Erin is involved with a number of projects, everything she does is rooted in her desire to use her passions to problem solve and make an impact in her neighborhood. Much undoubtedly lies ahead for Erin, but for now, she continues to build roots in the place God has her and seek life-giving opportunities. She concluded,
“I see Santa Barbara as the best place for me right now because there are abundant opportunities to make change”.